A new energy vision from the world’s largest solar conference

By Emma Searson
Director, Go Solar Campaign

Industry sets ambitious goals, counting on everyone to help reach them

Last month, nearly 20,000 solar and clean energy professionals from around the world traveled to sunny Salt Lake City for the 2019 Solar Power International conference. This annual event is an opportunity for folks throughout the sector -- from solar and energy storage developers to policy and technology experts -- to both share knowledge and learn about the latest improvements, policies and growth opportunities.

Before speaking on a panel about how solar customers should be compensated for the clean energy they provide, I snapped a photo with my colleagues Dan Jacobson (director of Environment California) and Rob Sargent (Energy Program director at Environment America).

Sometimes, there’s also news. For example, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) unveiled a new plan this year to supply 20 percent of all U.S. electricity generation by 2030. While solar energy and critical storage technologies are sweeping across America, SEIA’s proposal is quite ambitious considering only 2.4 percent of U.S energy currently comes from solar power. Still, it’s one that’s attainable.

In fact, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. We’re tapping into more of that potential than ever before. America now produces over 40 times more solar power than it did just a decade ago, and experts expect the number of solar systems installed in the U.S. to double within the next five years. To not only meet SEIA’s bold solar generation plans but also take further steps to entirely shift away from polluting fossil fuel energy by mid-century, we’ll need to to keep picking up the pace.

In its new “Roadmap for building the solar+ economy,” SEIA lays out a step-by-step strategy for how to make that vision a reality. From collaborating with a broad array of stakeholders to driving key policies that support solar development, the path forward for the solar industry seems pretty clear. What may be harder to wrap our heads around is what those of us who don’t work in the industry can do to support the solar revolution.

We, as citizens, have an enormous role to play. An electricity system powered by at least 20 percent solar energy will require solar panels on most homes and businesses. We’ll also need large solar farms that feed clean power directly into the electric grid. So, considering solar for your home is one powerful way you can help build a clean energy future.

Companies must also step up. Even if you don’t own a business, you can still support those that deliver clean energy leadership. More than 200 companies, including giants like IKEA, Google and Anheuser-Busch InBev, have made commitments to 100 percent renewable energy, and more are hopping on the bandwagon every day in response to consumer demand. 

Perhaps most importantly, citizens should call on local, state and federal leaders to act. There is so much that governments can and must do to drive clean energy adoption. Cities and states across the country are setting their sites on 100 percent renewable energy, but we need more to join the list. California became the first state to require solar panels on all new homes last year. There are scores of other creative programs out there that can help more people go solar. If options are limited in your neighborhood, let your elected officials know that you’d like to see more action on solar. 

While thousands of policy wonks, researchers and clean energy developers can rally behind a bold vision for solar energy growth, that simply isn’t enough. Everyone must lean in and row in the same direction on clean energy if we want to usher in the kind of future imagined at Solar Power International 2019.