Solar set to shift from “cute and fuzzy” to relevant

Posted on October 15, 2010. Filed under: Solar |

From a blog post by Tom Content on JSonline:

Solar power can become relevant in the nation’s power mix as utilities look to retire coal-fired power plants to meet environmental mandates.

That was the message Julie Blunden, vice president for public policy and corporate communications at SunPower Corp., a solar cell and panel manufacturer in California, brought to Milwaukee during the Solar Decade conference Wednesday at the Frontier Airlines Center.

Solar represents but a fraction of the U.S. power mix but the pace of solar is accelerating as the cost of components used in solar panels falls.

The United States is on a pace in 2010 to double the power capacity from solar panels it installed last year, she said.

But she laid out a plan – that incorporates increased efficiency in solar cells as well as efforts to bring down costs through scaled-up manufacturing – that could make solar a bigger piece of the energy pie.

The industry needs to deploy on a much larger scale to be taken more seriously, Blunden said.

“Adding a few hundred megawatts a year is cute and fuzzy, but it’s not real or serious,” she said. “Therefore, this five-year period is our opportunity to go from being interesting but irrelevant to serious and very relevant.”

Several companies looking to capitalize on global growth in the solar industry and said they’re hiring.

“Our market is red hot. If we were operating right now, we’d be we’d be sold out,” said Steven Ostrenga, chief executive of Helios USA, which is in the process of opening a solar module factory in the Menomonee Valley. He projects one of every two modules his company will sell will be exported.

The cost of solar is coming down at a time when electricity prices overall are going up — leading Ostrenga to forecast that solar will become more economical every year and reach parity with electricity rates within several years.


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