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Americans Ready for More Solar Energy

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2012 at 4:19 pm by Solar Energy USA
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solar-raleigh-north-carolina-commercial-install-seusa-logoA recent article from Bloomberg Businessweek spells out the facts related to the booming number of solar power installations in America. Yet, compared to solar energy installations in foreign countries with less access to sunlight, the United States has only scratched the surface.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group, says almost 52,000 residential rooftop systems were installed in the U.S. last year, up 30 percent from a year earlier. Total rooftop installations, including on commercial buildings, grew 109 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to SEIA data. Total photovoltaic installations are projected to grow an additional 71 percent this year from 2011 levels.

Nationally, the average cost of a residential solar power installation—including hardware, permits, and labor—has plummeted from $9 a watt in 2006 to $5.46. Averaging in commercial solar energy installations, the national installed price plummets to $3.45 a watt.

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Germany is one of the leading nations in terms of installed renewable energy generation, producing about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from renewable sources like solar power. A cloudy location like Hamburg, Germany receives approximately 2.5 hours per day of peak sunlight each year. By contrast, a sunny location like Los Angeles, California receives an average of 5.5 hours of peak sunlight per day each year.

While some large utilities are embracing solar—California’s Pacific Gas Electric has 40,000 solar connections and an easy-to-follow guide encouraging consumers to sign up—many utilities and their political backers are standing in the way of changes that could boost U.S. energy independence, reduce carbon emissions, and save consumers billions. The U.S. needs more initiatives like the SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge, launched by the Department of Energy to find ways to lower installation costs by cutting down permit times and removing siting restrictions in 19 states. The goal is get these so-called soft costs down to $1 a watt—which would make homegrown solar competitive with commercial power rates in many states.

Congress should also extend beyond 2016 the 30 percent federal solar tax credit for rooftop installation, then gradually phase it out. Five years from now, solar—without subsidies—will be competitive with conventional power prices in 17 states, and the credit could greatly increase that number.

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