Solar Power International, the major industry event of the year, is taking place in Anaheim this week and has drawn record attendance — about 25,000 solar entrepreneurs, investors and executives have gathered to showcase new technology, make deals and chart out the future of what may be the fastest growing renewable energy sector in the U.S., if not the world.
Despite the slugging economy, 2009 has been a great launchpad year for many solar companies. The new White House’s support for solar, paired with stimulus package funding and revamped interest from venture capitalist, has diversified the market, and made several large-scale capital projects possible. At the same time, solar now accounts for 13 percent of power purchase deals with utilities, up from 6 percent last year at this time.
All of this momentum has apparently emboldened solar leaders, who yesterday laid down a “Solar Bill of Rights” emphasizing consumers right to choice when it comes to their energy mix, and the solar industry’s right to compete on equal footing with traditional energy generators like coal and natural gas. The list of rights was delivered by Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Rhone Resch during the opening session of the SPI conference.
“We declare these rights not on behalf of our companies, but on behalf of our customers and our country,” he said. “We seek no more than the freedom to compete on equal terms and no more than the liberty for consumers to choose the energy source they think best.” Here are the eight rights, as announced:
1. The right for homeowners and businesses to install rooftop solar panels without having to cut through excessive red tape, like permitting and zoning regulations, unnecessary inspections, and additional fees — all tactics the industry believes are being used to keep average citizens from going solar (especially since so many companies like Solar City and SunRun are making it easier than ever to have panels installed and maintained).
2. The right for those who have installed these systems to plug into established electrical grids. In order for solar to catch on, connecting panels can be no more difficult than turning on a phone line, broadband or installing an appliance. There should only be one standard for how to do this so that average consumers don’t have to jump hurdles to begin harnessing the sun’s power.
3. The right for customers who generate extra power with their rooftop solar systems to be compensated for the energy they contribute back to the grid by their local utilities. If people are compensated at retail electricity rates, they will have even more incentive to transition to solar.
4. The right for the solar sector to compete in a fair environment with heavily-subsidized fossil fuel companies. (This will probably take some convincing, as Congress has very clearly leaned toward supporting traditional coal operations in discussions of the climate bill).
5. The right for the solar industry to access and use public lands — at least equivalent to the rights given to the oil and natural gas companies using millions of acres of public land to drill.
6. The right to build new transmission lines to carry solar-generated industry across distances and grid interconnections. Because most large solar arrays need to be built in remote locales, like the southwestern desert, it is important that they be hooked into existing grids with distance load-bearing lines. This is the only way solar will grow as a primary source of energy.
7. The right for average consumers to buy solar electricity from their utilities. As is, some utilities in the U.S. simply don’t offer the option of using solar energy, and there’s nothing their customers can do about it. The industry believes that every consumer, regardless of their location, should be able to opt in to solar energy use.
8. The right for consumers to get the most ethical treatment possible from the solar companies they interact with. This right is different than the others. It’s not asking for acceptance from the establishment, rather, it’s advising itself to deliver on all the promises inherent in solar’s potential. Consumers who take the initiative to use solar energy should be able to rely on the fact that it is better for the environment, reliable and being charged for fairly.
Look for more news from Solar Power International as the week progresses.
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