The State of the Solar Industry
Inside this Article
Though life is never boring on the Solarcoaster, the start of SolarPro’s tenth calendar year seems especially eventful. It is the start of a new year, of course, as well as the start of a new administration in Washington, DC. Adding to the excitement, the 4-year presidential term just happens to coincide with the 3-year National Electrical Code development cycle. This means California has finally adopted NEC 2014, and Massachusetts and others have leapt boldly into NEC 2017.
To celebrate and reflect upon the confluence of all of these milestones and transitions, we decided to reach out to some of the solar industry’s best advocates and brightest stars to get their take on the current state of the solar industry. Against a backdrop of what at times may feel like an ever-revolving series of new challenges, many of these experts project that the US solar industry will continue to make big gains. As a Nobel Laureate in literature once said: “For the loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a-changin’.”
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA at seia.org)
Dan Whitten, vice president of communications
As the national trade association in the US, SEIA represents all organizations that promote, manufacture, install and support the development of solar energy. SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to expand markets, remove market barriers, strengthen the industry and educate the public on the benefits of solar energy. Dan Whitten was previously an energy reporter for Bloomberg News and Platts, and is now SEIA’s vice president of communications, overseeing all of its internal and external communication efforts.
Which developments or events in 2016 had noteworthy positive impacts on the US solar industry?
This was a landmark year for the solar industry on a number of fronts. We celebrated policy successes in several states, from Massachusetts in the north to Colorado in the west and Florida in the south. In each of those states, voters or policy makers took action to expand potential markets for the solar industry. We also marked an incredible milestone—1 million solar systems installed in the US—and we’re already rapidly accelerating toward 2 million. In 2016, prices continued to decline, making solar a cost-effective option for a growing number of Americans. We also saw solar jobs grow to an impressive 209,000 strong.
What event stands out as having had a negative impact on the industry?
The Nevada Public Utilities Commission’s decision in early 2016, which changed the state’s net-metering rules and rates, was a tough pill to swallow. We saw thousands of people lose their jobs and rooftop solar applications plummet due to a dismal policy decision. In September, the commission reversed its initial stance on grandfathering and adopted regulations that protect the investments of NV Energy customers who installed a solar system or submitted an interconnection request prior to December 31, 2015
What are SEIA’s priorities as we move into the new year?
It’s vital that we continue our education efforts so those in office fully understand the benefits—both economic and environmental—that solar energy provides our nation. You will see us continue to push for pro-solar policies in a number of states. We expect to work in close collaboration with state affiliates and other interested groups toward priorities that make a difference to all of our members.
In Washington, DC, there will be a large number of new policy makers in the executive and legislative branches. It’s going to be increasingly important that we expand our education efforts and demonstrate that communities all over America are seeing increased jobs and more economic activity, thanks to the burgeoning solar industry.
We also will continue to advance and expand our efforts in codes and standards, PV recycling, consumer protection and solar energy finance. We are aiming these particular efforts at establishing a strong base on which to grow the solar industry.
What is SEIA’s current membership profile? Has it changed notably in recent years?
As the industry has matured, our membership has grown increasingly diverse. Our member companies consist of installers, project developers, manufacturers, contractors, financiers and nonprofits. Going forward, lines are going to start to blur, especially as community solar and commercial projects expand.
How does SEIA balance initiatives to support what may be competing interests among its various member groups?
SEIA represents all sectors of the solar industry, whether they be utility scale or distributed generation, and those lines are starting to blur. It’s true that there is intense competition in our industry among companies.
However, we are stronger together than apart, and we will continue to fight vigorously for policies that advance the entire solar industry, to the benefit of all of our members.
What recent state-level solar policy efforts have been particularly effective or notable?
California’s January 2016 decision extending net-energy metering (NEM) through at least 2019 was a big step for us, and we were proud of the role we played in providing expert witness testimony and advocacy. In New York, we have worked with a coalition to maintain net metering for rooftop customers until 2020; establish fair, value-based compensation for larger solar projects; and establish a community solar market in the state.
The defeat of the deceptive utility-backed Amendment 1 in Florida was also extremely notable. It let our detractors across the country know that while we might not have their bottomless bank accounts, public support is on our side. The resounding rejection of Amendment 1 should send a message across all states that you cannot curtail solar choice.