DOE Still Betting Big on Solar, Says Energy Secretary Moniz at SPI

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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Photo credit: Tanner Swenson

October is National Energy Action month, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reminded attendees at Solar Power International (SPI) last week. While this may not lead to partying on our part, he said in his keynote address, there is certainly much cause for celebration — especially when it comes to solar.

“Some of the world’s largest companies are deploying solar on a massive scale – Apple, FedEx, GM, Google, Walmart, and many more,” Moniz said. He pointed out that 85% percent of America’s energy is now homegrown — with a big boost to that number coming from renewable energy sources such as solar.

Helping along all that deployment, as those of us in the industry know, has been the plummeting cost of solar.

“Cost reduction, as we have seen dramatically in solar energy, is very much a part of shaping our clean energy future,” Moniz said. “We’ve seen costs of modules decline by nearly 80 percent.”

All has not been rosy. Solar is certainly encountering some challenges: the winding-down of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the ongoing rate debate, trade cases, and more. Moniz also made a passing reference to the failed solar company that must not be named. “We know we have a famous incident from the solar sector from a few years ago,” he said — yet the DOE’s loan program has actually been a huge success, with a tiny 2% default rate. In addition, every dollar invested has let to more than $18 in private follow-on funding, another sign that these are solid investments.

This led up to Moniz’s big announcement. More money is available to commit to good projects in the next two years, he said: $53 million in new SunShot Initiative investments, with the goal of further lowering the cost of solar.

We’re already two-thirds of the way to the SunShot goal of reducing the total installed cost of solar systems to $.06 per kWh by 2020. Cost reduction will continue to be “very much part of shaping the future,” Moniz said.

Solar jobs have been another major success story, he noted, growing 10 times faster than the general job growth rate over the past two years. The DOE intends to support further growth in this area, in particular for women and veterans — good news all around.

While we wish natural gas had been a bit less prominent in his speech — not surprising given the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy — we were glad to hear Moniz call solar “critical to the United States” in meeting the country’s carbon reduction goals.

Moniz said, “We are big on solar. The fundamental case is extremely strong, built on both technology and business model innovation, but we have to keep working together to grow solar in this country.”