“The results may surprise Americans, since solar currently supplies less than 1% of of our electricity,”
The report shows that the falling cost of solar will make it more affordable – without subsidies – than utility-provided electricity for 1 in 3 Americans by 2021. Residential rooftops in these cities could provide 61,000 megawatts of solar capacity, as much power – during peak sunshine – as provided by 30 large coal power plants.
The report cautions that more affordable solar doesn’t suggest prematurely ending solar subsidies.
“I’m sure that a few people will read this report as a call to end federal solar incentives like the 30% tax credit,” says Farrell, “but given historically high subsidies for fossil fuel energy and the existing barriers to distributed renewable energy development, that line of thinking is premature.”
For example, most states impose an artificial limit on the amount amount of solar power allowed onto local grid systems and many cities charge excessive fees for permitting, two roadblocks to the rooftop revolution. Terminating solar subsidies would also overlook the particular economic benefits of rooftop energy democracy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that community wind projects generate twice the local jobs and 1.5 to 3.4 times the economic impact of absentee owned projects.
Instead, solar subsidies should be modified to maximize the expansion of solar power, the report suggests. Subsidies could be reduced in areas where solar is already competitive – places with ample sun and high electricity prices – and the funds shifted to support solar opportunities for Americans in more moderate areas, like the East Coast or Midwest. Instead of tax credits, the funds could be dispersed as payments for actual electricity production, much like international solar leader Germany has done with its feed-in tariff program, and where half of all renewable energy production is locally owned.
Supporting widespread solar installations through modified subsidies can deepen the meaning of the rooftop solar revolution.
“A residential rooftop solar array isn’t just a few kilowatts of electricity capacity,” remarks Farrell, “it’s also the transformation of two Americans from consumers into producers, and into local clean energy advocates. The rooftop revolution could overturn a century of remote and centralized control of the electricity system and build a political base for a grid premised on the local ownership of clean energy.”
The report, Rooftop Revolution: Changing Everything with Cost-Effective Solar, is freely available at http://energyselfreliantstates.org/
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