Tony ITC panel

By Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar

Phew……those cross-country flights sure take a lot out of a guy. But I don’t regret for even a second attending the Solar Power International show in Anaheim, Calif.

The gathering of thousands of solar professionals always leaves me invigorated about the future of the industry. Innovative minds are everywhere, and I get to see and hear from many of them.

Oh, and they tapped yours truly for a couple of panels. I won’t belabor my appearance on the “How To Save The ITC!” one because you’re probably sick of hearing my thoughts on that (but you can read them here, here, here and here).

But I will mention the amazing panel I sat on before some guy named Biden spoke (more on his inspirational speech later this week). Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), which represents the solar aspirations of utilities, gathered a group of us on stage to discuss what future opportunities we saw in solar. On stage were me, Doyle N. Beneby, president and CEO of CPS Energy and Gregory C. Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables.

The discussion centered on crystal-ball predictions about the future of solar, including how utilities and solar can come together. I’ll let Doyle and Greg speak for themselves, but here are four things I discussed as either enhancing or inhibiting solar’s continued growth:

  • Net-metering must evolve into a program that benefits both parties. Right now, net-metering is weighted in the direction of solar expansion. We have to help utilities understand how solar can enhance their energy portfolios instead of threaten them.
  • We need to get for all public utility commissions to get on the same page. Each time solar comes under the scrutiny of different public-utilities commissions, I’m amazed at how much wheel re-inventing there is. It often requires the 412th study on whether solar is a net-benefit to other ratepayers (here’s a secret: Numerous studies prove it is). These unnecessary delays need to end, and it’s up to us to end them.
  • President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) will boost the solar industry — if we can just get through the next five years. I’ll return to my favorite issue briefly here. The investment tax credit (ITC), the mechanism that has fueled solar’s explosive growth for the past nine years, is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2016. We need an extension for five years to serve as a bridge until the CPP kicks in. It simply must happen — and it’s up to us to make sure it does. Then the CPP will do the rest.
  • The commercial and industrial (C&I) market is poised to be solar’s “next big thing.” From where I sit, all the signs are positive for the C&I market. Data centers, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, other commercial buildings and community solar operations are investigating and choosing solar energy, and I believe the market will expand exponentially in the coming years.

As always, SPI was a crazy show for us, but it was a crazy good show, too. We shared a lot, but we learned just as much. If you’re in the solar industry and aren’t attending SPI, you’re missing out on the best show in the industry.

Now it’s back to the grindstone to make sure we do our part to keep solar moving forward.