June 29, 2013


The Revolution Will Be Solarized (Chris Warren, 6/07/13, Oxford American)

Almost unnoticed, a market-driven solar revolution is underway that promises to smash the already outdated notion that solar can be viable only when propped up by lavish government incentives. A precipitous and ongoing drop in the price of solar equipment has transformed this clean energy source from something we ought to pursue to avoid baking the planet into something we'd be stupid not to use more for selfish, economic reasons. For all the pessimism engendered by solar company bankruptcies and ferocious trade wars, the United States is poised to take large steps toward solar power. And it's here in the South, a region with relatively few panels installed, where the forces propelling this quiet insurrection are most obvious.

North Carolina, which has followed a traditional policy-dependent approach toward encouraging solar, is now consistently one of the top ten state markets in the country. In September 2012, Georgia Power, that state's largest investor-owned utility--and a subsidiary of the powerful Southern Company, one of the staunchest opponents to federal climate-change legislation--announced the most ambitious voluntary solar initiative of any electric company in the nation. Solar is even making progress in Texas, where San Antonio's municipal utility is building 400 megawatts of new solar power plants capable of producing enough energy to power 70,000 homes. Solar's inroads in the South extend to manufacturing as well. Most of San Antonio's equipment will be manufactured locally, and both Wacker Chemie, a German company, and Michigan's Hemlock Semiconductor have chosen Tennessee as the location for huge factories to produce and export polysilicon, a key ingredient in the solar cells that are electrically connected to form a panel. North Carolina's growing solar demand and its proximity to eastern markets have led Schletter, a German company that makes solar equipment, to build a facility in Shelby, a small town west of Charlotte.

This is all happening because of simple economics. "The reality is the solar industry overall has really invested in getting more competitive. Their costs have come down considerably," said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, an arm of the North Carolina-based utility Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric power holding company. That's important in ways that are obvious and tangible to Wolf, whose job is to build wind and solar projects all around the country. But the financial logic will also help shift the conversation away from purely ideological debates. In other words, it gets people to stop talking about Solyndra. 

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Posted by at June 29, 2013 7:17 AM

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