When Solar Ambition Becomes Reality

Many opportunities full of great ambition were also born during historical times of crisis. Today is no different. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wear on, there are signs that the United States is starting to get serious about rebuilding it infrastructure, including massive deployment of clean energy.

Last week a far-reaching climate plan was unveiled in Congress that envisions both implementing a national clean energy standard and extending the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) with a “direct pay” option, among a number of other measures.

The ITC extension/direct pay has made it into actual legislation, which will be voted on in the coming weeks. And while it is a long road to get through both the House and Senate, the odds of the bill passing may miss the point. This plan is a combination of ambition and attention to detail more aggressive than anything we’ve seen yet, and as a result, the national conversation about energy is shifting.

The House’s clean energy plan follows on and cites a breakthrough report put out by UC Berkeley which modeled moving to 90% clean electricity—solar, wind, batteries and legacy zero-carbon generation—by 2035 nationwide. Unlike other plans, this one did not rely on a nationwide HVDC grid. And perhaps what is most promising is that it showed that even with a lot of batteries, electricity costs would be lower than today.

Both the plan in Congress and the Berkeley study envision a massive role for solar, with a scale of deployment unlike anything we’ve seen in this country to date. There simply aren’t any more excuses to delay a massive transition to clean energy: distributed generation is more reliable and solar is less expensive than fossil fuels in more and more parts of the country—and getting cheaper all the time.

But it isn’t just national policy and academic findings that are hopeful. The introduction of more and more 500-watt modules show that the solar industry is also continuing to evolve. Who would have thought, even a few years ago, that you could get 1 kW from just two modules?

With SEIA and WoodMac predicting that the United States will install a record 18 GWdc of solar in 2020—despite the pandemic—it’s a good year for ambition. And it is times like these that we have to ask ourselves what we are waiting for to make the promise of the future a reality on the ground.