NREL Director Martin Keller kicked off the first full day at Solar Power Colorado in front of a standing room-only audience. In a provocative keynote address he presented the successful history of solar research, which has been accompanied for decades by a dizzying descent in solar costs. Combine that with the way the solar industry improves environmental conditions and creates high-quality jobs – and you have an important good-news story to tell. But, said Keller, the solar industry needs to do a better job telling that solar success story to different audiences. Solar technology doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Whether it’s economic advantages – which are readily apparent to utilities that are seeing solar costs on a par with natural gas – environmental quality, or job creation, there is an appeal to solar for almost any audience one can imagine.
On Tuesday, March 14th, the Opening Plenary of Solar Industry Leaders took up a similar theme, comparing strong solar trends at the state, local and international level with political challenges in the national landscape. Yes there are some important victories, but solar energy has been continuously challenged by utilities that want to protect traditional business models and economic interests that compete with renewable energy. That scenario is finally changing, for utilities at least, and 2016 was a boom year for utility-scale solar installations. That trend raises important questions about who should own solar resources. How much rooftop and community solar should be owned by utilities? One other important theme presented by the solar industry leaders was the need for solar to be accessible to everyone. Grid Alternatives co-founder and CEO Erica Mackie strongly advocated projects that were designed and priced to be available to low-income consumers whether in rural or urban settings.