Abigail Ross Hopper
President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
As head of the trade association that represents one of America’s fastest growing industries, it isn’t just the pace of growth that has heartened me, but also the urgency with which policymakers in both parties are talking about clean energy.
Where it’s headed
Because of its promise, solar energy has long enjoyed popular support, polling consistently at an eye-popping 90 percent approval rating. It has struggled, however, with transforming that popularity among consumers with political support among lawmakers. That is finally changing. Elected officials are becoming more assertive in their support for solar, because they’ve seen evidence that it can grow the economy, provide low-cost energy and address broad public desire to confront climate change.
The demand for carbon-free electricity is growing by the day and the solar industry stands ready to meet those needs. Forecasters show that within the next five years, the total amount of solar panels installed in the U.S will more than double. The industry will create thousands of new jobs and generate hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity.
A look back
To properly understand where things are headed, though, just look at what has happened in the last six months. In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that limiting global warming would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. In December, a U.S. government interagency research program found that “more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems.”
These findings resonated with the public. We recently released polling showing that 71 percent of all voters, including 63 percent of all Republicans, view solar power’s address of climate change as a positive. The Conservative Energy Network and CRES Forum, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization, found that 81 percent of U.S. voters across all party affiliations said they would vote for elected officials who support clean energy development.
The midterm elections demonstrated that climate change and clean energy are powerful issues to run on, and despite an assumption by some that this is a Democratic issue, Republicans have been articulating proposals for advancing clean energy and addressing climate change.
In February, Republican energy stalwarts led by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote an op-ed saying climate change is real and called for a “serious solutions-oriented discussion.”
The business community also is taking notice. America’s biggest corporations are buying solar energy in record amounts, utilities are announcing new solar investments every week and the world’s largest integrated oil companies are investing in solar.
It all starts to make sense when you see that in many parts of the country, solar is the lowest-cost form of energy. Over the last decade, solar prices have dropped by more than 70 percent, making investment in solar a common-sense business decision. And it is growing like gangbusters. Every 100 seconds, the U.S. solar industry flips the switch on another new solar project.
With 10,000 solar businesses in the U.S. and nearly 243,000 solar workers, the transition to a clean energy economy is inevitable and underway. We believe solar can hit 15 percent of all electricity generation by 2030, up from about 2.5 percent today.
In the same way that the advent of the internet defined the 1990s and smartphone advances have defined the last 10 years, we expect the 2020s to be “The Solar Energy Decade.” This will require smart policies, open markets and private sector commitment, but it can be done. It’s rewarding to know that leaders in both political parties, the public, and the business community agree and are advocating for greater use of solar power.