From “the expected to the controversial” at Solar Energy Forum

Posted on March 20, 2012. Filed under: Solar |

A report on the Solar Energy Forum by Carl Siegrist, Renewable Energy Strategist,

We had a very lively discussion during the Solar Energy Forum at the 9th Annual Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee on March 7. The topic was Solar Energy Opportunities: Transitioning to a Mature Solar Market. The exchange of ideas ranged from the expected – the challenges of dwindling incentives – to the controversial – the looming trade war with China over solar “dumping.”

As the moderator, I was pleased to have Nick Hylla (MREA), Mark Wilkerson (Helios Solar Works), and Matt Neumann (SunVest Solar) on the panel and to be able to fill in for the 4th panelist, Jeff Vercauteren (Cullen Weston Pines & Bach) who could not be there. Although there was not a total consensus on all issues, I did hear some patterns emerge.

1) Chinese solar manufacturers are flooding the U.S. market products, which allegedly are being sold at below cost. This has resulted in lower cost modules and helped installers sell more projects but at the expense of domestic manufacturing. This is an extraordinarily complicated issue and a group of U.S. manufacturers formed the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, which filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission charging illegal “dumping” of crystalline silicon solar cells into the U.S. market (see We should expect to hear more about the outcomes later this spring.

2) The installed price of solar PV has come down dramatically over the past year. A variety of incentives and credits from utilities, Focus on Energy, and the federal government (Investment Tax Credit or ITC) originally helped drive the market and lower costs in Wisconsin but many incentives have disappeared. The ITC is scheduled to end in 2016. No one – manufacturer, installer, or consumer – should ever assume that incentives are stable. There was agreement that ultimately ending incentives for solar – and all energy sources – would be desirable. And there was acknowledgement that solar incentives won’t be what they used to be. Costs reductions in the future will have to come primarily from balance of system costs that include installation labor, inverters, racking, permitting, and interconnection, as well as continued efficiency in both module output and scaling of manufacturing.

3) Although selling solar PV on the basis of “payback” or return on investment is still important, and looking to price parity with retail electric rates is desirable, the true attributes of solar – energy independence and a cleaner environment – need to be better explained to potential customers. Few people try to calculate “payback” before the purchase of a granite counter top, a new car or a smart phone.

4) Passage of a 3rd party solar ownership policy in Wisconsin might be possible in the next state legislative session and some bipartisan support on this is likely. It makes little sense for government or regulators to intrude into a decision on contractual arrangements between a property owner and the supplier of solar power on private property, i.e. whether one owns or leases the solar equipment or buys the power from a 3rd party owning the equipment on the customer’s property for their own use.

If you missed attending the Solar Energy Forum, the presentations should eventually be available from a link at Even if you view them through this link, you will have missed the majority of information: the questions, answers and conversation. So plan to attend next year’s forum.


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