One on one with SEIA's president, CEO

Dave Yates' in-depth interview with SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch about the state of the renewable energy industry and what it means to contractors.

During SPI (Solar Power Intl.) in Anaheim, Calif., last October, I had an opportunity to interview Rhone Resch, president and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). What was to be just five minutes, turned into an in-depth discussion about the state of the renewable energy industry and what challenges need to be met. I asked Rhone to look into his crystal ball and tell us what the future looks like for the folks we represent — designers, installers and technicians.

Question: Rhone, I feel as if I witnessed the death of solar in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan eliminated solar financial incentives. I was in the middle of touring a water heater manufacturing facility that week, and its solar division went from bustling to bust in one day's time. I was present for solar's rebirth in 2005 as one of 1,800 people attending the World Solar Congress in Orlando, Fla., when President George W. Bush signed the new energy bill, which included the first solar incentives in more than two decades. On that same day, oil passed $84 a barrel, which was considered the threshold for solar being viable and competitive. The buzz that energized the 2005 Congress was electrifying. This week marks our second visit to SPI and the numbers of visitors (27,000+) and vendors (930+) doubled from last year's SPI in San Diego and, once again, the excitement on the show floor and in the seminars is spectacular. Where does the solar industry stand at this point in time?

Answer: Since 2005, deployment of solar systems in the U.S. has exploded. Today, the solar industry has reached a crossroad, and crossroads require a decision. First — we must make inroads for shaping the U.S. energy policies. We can no longer afford to survive on the goodwill of those who decide where billions of your tax dollars are spent — in the form of subsidies. The fossil fuels industry received in excess of $72 billion in subsidies last year: solar and wind less than $1 billion. That will not change unless we act. Second — go big or go home. We witnessed an 82% growth in PV systems installed this past year; 50% for thermal solar; and growth from 6% to 13% in utility-scale installations. We must ask for — no make that demand — that solar be given a level playing field to compete side-by-side with the fossil fuel industries. The battle is not won — in fact it's just begun!

Q: I have friends who have run up against homeowners' associations that either denied or so restricted solar installations that it drove the cost sky high and the onerous covenants were so demanding that their customers gave up. Tell us about your “Solar Bill of Rights” and how you came to formulating the eight declarations (see: www.seia.org/cs/solar_bill_of_rights).

A: It's the Fourth of July for solar — we're declaring our rights — the rights of all consumers to have the freedom to choose how they purchase power for electricity or hot water and the freedom for installers to compete without having to fight for those rights. It's our Bill of Rights. We (SEIA) looked closely this past year at what's required for solar if it's to have any chance of being universally available to anyone who wants access. One of the hurdles we face is that there are no universal standards. We want to ensure consumers have the right to solar, the right to purchase green energy, and that you, as an installer, have the right to sell and install alternative renewable energy systems with universal standards applied coast to coast.

Q: What's the biggest challenge the solar industry faces today — aside from the subsidies and political challenges?

A: There are three essential pillars for the solar industry: technology, policy and education. We have the technology in place, we're moving forward aggressively to maintain existing policies while, at the same time, pushing hard for new policies, yet we fall down when it comes to education. Ninety-two percent of Americans surveyed by SEIA approve of solar energy use and, of those, 60% want to purchase solar for their homes or business within the next five years. However, only 12% are well enough informed to feel comfortable about purchasing solar. Clearly, education is lacking. This week, SEIA kicked off the Solar Foundation, which will be our educational outreach to help those interested in purchasing, or becoming installers, obtain the education required.

Q: Last year in San Diego you challenged the crowded hall to “look to your left and right, and ask your neighbor if they are a member of SEIA, and if not, ask them why not.” I was not, but because of your speech, became a member upon my return home. What challenge would you add this year?

A: Memberships this past year helped solar gain in stature; enable SEIA to lobby for and get long-term solar incentives; remove the $2K limit for solar thermal tax credits; secure billions for the 1705 Loan Guarantee Program; ensure $16.8 billion for DOE solar incentives; and a 30% tax credit for U.S. solar manufacturers to help with expansions or additions. So here's the challenge for 2010: Enlist in the SEIA solar battle by joining or renewing membership; invest time and effort by engaging your local and state policy-makers — invite them to your next solar installation, so they can see you're creating jobs; support those who are supporting you by donating to the SEIA PAC fund; and write at least one opinion piece for the media — get out the word that solar is ready to go big — right here and now. Fight or surrender. Go big or go home. Nothing less than our country, our life styles, the economy and our future are at stake. We need your passion, energy and patriotism.

Q: Where does solar stand today, and what does the future look like to Rhone Resch?

A: There's never been a better time to become involved. The cost for solar products dropped by an average of 30% this past year, making the cost of solar competitive with utilities and reduced paybacks to just five to seven years. Solar has seen an 82% growth during a down economy. We are not an industry in decline! As for the future? We've just barely scratched the surface: solar and wind comprise less than 1% of energy produced/consumed in the U.S. We have the best solar resources of all the developed countries in the world. Those solar resources are available when peak-demand for electricity occurs. Twenty-five percent of renewable energy by 2025 is a realistic goal. In the near-term, we anticipate solar generating 100,000 new jobs.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]. All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Web site is protected by Copyright 2010. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via e-mail at: [email protected].

All Dave Yates material on this website is protected by Copyright 2008. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates. Please contact via email at: [email protected]

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