State of the (Solar) Union

02 February 2014 Renewable Energy Outlook Blog

Viewers of President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening may have noticed the President making a strong, albeit brief, statement in support of solar energy in the United States.

The President commented, “It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.” SEIA seized the opportunity to participate in the free publicity for solar by commenting, “With an estimated 13,000 megawatts of solar currently installed in the U.S., we’re generating enough clean, reliable electricity today to power more than two million American homes – or every single home in a state the size of Colorado. Like the President, we see 2014 as a year of action, a year of progress and a year in which more and more Americans turn to solar to save money, help meet their energy needs and improve our environment.”

Data published by the US Energy Information Administration indicates that solar power, while rapidly growing, still accounts for only 0.2% of the country’s electricity supply (up from 0.02% in 2008). While still a very small share of the overall supply, these percentage numbers reflect a 900% increase over this period.

As we have seen, changes in tax policy are certainly no easy accomplishment, especially given the current extreme partisanship prevailing on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Of course, the issue of reducing tax credits and incentives for fossil fuel companies is a topic that has been the subject of much discussion in the renewable energy industry. It will be interesting to see if the administration develops any specific proposals for changes to energy tax policy. Hearing the President’s remarks did remind me that he caused solar panels to be installed on the White House roof in 2013. What I did not know, before doing some quick research, is that former President Jimmy Carter caused 32 solar panels to be erected on the White House roof back in the late 1970s. Those panels were removed during the Reagan administration, but President George W. Bush then placed multiple solar installations on White House grounds in 2002, with little publicity.

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