America has the potential to obtain a large and increasing share of its energy from the sun. In the near term, America should aim for at least 10% more of its total energy consumption from the sun by 2030 according to a report Environment America. Achieving this target would produce more energy than currently provided by the State’s nuclear power plants, or nearly half as much currently obtained from burning coal. There are now many technologies available to take advantage of the sun’s energy. Solar energy can be converted to electricity, or used for lighting, heating and cooling, but the report argues that a comprehensive set of public policy strategies are needed in order to overcome barriers to solar energy development and help to make this vision a reality.
- Financial incentives, such as grants, tax credits and feed-in tariffs help to compensate homeowners and businessowners for the benefits their investments in solar energy deliver to society and can create a robust early market for solar technologies, building the economies of scale needed to lower the price of solar energy.
- Renewable electricity standards (RES) can ensure that utilities integrate solar into their energy profiles. Solar carve-outs, which require that a share of the RES be met with solar energy, can ensure a diversified mix of renewable resources and encourage the development of distributed renewable resources.
- Advanced building codes and standards: solar-ready building standards will guarantee that new homes are built with solar energy in mind. These can also be broadened to require that solar energy be offered as an option on new homes.
- Public education and workforce development efforts are critical to expanding the use of solar energy. Meanwhile, energy labelling requirements for buildings can ensure that the energy-saving value of passive and active solar energy systems is fully understood when properties change hands.
- Investments in a solar grid: a well-designed “smart grid” can ensure that solar power is an asset to the electric grid, while limited investments in new transmission capacity can help to tap the nation’s best solar resources.
- Research and development programs: these will help to ease the integration of existing solar technologies, further develop emerging technologies with great promise for the future, and investigate new potential uses for solar energy.
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Photo from Creative Commons: Flickr: dooderose