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There was considerable anxiety earlier this year when President Donald Trump approved tariffs on solar cells and panels of up to 25 percent for four years. It was just the latest – but not the only – sign that both the public and private sector in the U.S. must expand the use of rooftop and utility-scale solar.
While the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris climate deal, climate change isn’t going away. At the R20 Austrian World Summit in May, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that much more needs to be done to combat global warming, which continues to pose an “existential threat” to humanity.
Since the U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it must take a leading role in the transition to a clean energy economy.
The Trump administration, unfortunately, has made fighting climate change a non-priority. But the fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. continues in apace, with a number of state and local governments developing or joining initiatives aimed at reducing their respective carbon footprints and expanding the use of solar energy.
The U.S. Climate Alliance, for instance, is a coalition of state governors who have pledged greenhouse gas emissions consistent with those of the Paris agreement. To date, 17 governors have joined the initiative, including those of California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, and New Jersey. A similar effort, We Are Still In, is led by some 2,770 American “mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, college and university leaders, businesses, faith groups, and investors” who “will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.”
The continued interest from state and local governments in fighting climate change is an important sign that now is the time to push for more solar energy in the United States.
Corporations also see the benefits of solar. In 2017, Target increased its solar capacity from 160 to 200 megawatts, a 25 percent increase. That same year, Google announced that it had switched all of its data centers over to run on renewable energy, which includes about 300 megawatts of solar capacity. And Anheuser-Busch, the Belgian company that brews Budweiser, said it plans to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2025.
These companies are driven not only by a desire to establish their commitment to sustainability, but also by economic calculus: solar energy requires a significant up-front investment, but over the long term, it offers substantial savings on energy costs.
Earlier this year, Apple announced that its facilities and data centers are now powered completely by renewables. About 75 percent of that energy capacity comes from solar. And in May, Microsoft signed a deal to purchase power from 315 megawatts of a 500-megawatt solar project in Virginia. It’s the single largest corporate purchase of solar energy ever in the U.S. and means that Microsoft has met its 2018 goal to power 50 percent of its data centers using clean energy.
These companies have global reach, and to ensure they stay in the U.S., it’s important they they have access to utility-scale solar energy. Increasing corporate demand for clean energy means that now is the time to push for the expansion of solar across the country.
Another reason to push for the expansion of solar is that the industry is an economic powerhouse. In January, the National Solar Jobs Census announced in its annual report that the solar industry creates more jobs than any other in the U.S. According to the report, the industry is adding jobs at a rate 17 times faster than the economy overall.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics backs that analysis. According to the most recent BLS data, between 2016 and 2026, demand for photovoltaic installers will grow 105 percent, making it the fastest-growing occupation in the county. (It’s worth noting, incidentally, that the second-fastest growing job in the country is wind turbine service technician.)
The expanding U.S. solar industry is a product not only of increasing domestic demand, but also increased demand abroad. A 2016 report from the U.S. International Trade Administration anticipated that solar would account for more U.S. exports than any other renewable energy technology through 2017, with significant markets in Japan, India, and Canada.
By expanding the use of solar energy in the United States, we can ensure this important job-creating industry continues to power both our economy and our homes and businesses.
Finally, solar incentives are set to expire soon. The residential renewable energy tax credit offers homeowners a 30 percent tax credit on solar energy systems. For instance, a homeowner who installs a $25,000 solar energy system could claim a tax credit of $7,500. The credit essentially functions as a 30 percent discount on a solar installation.
But that tax credit is set to decline significantly over the next several years. Solar systems installed in 2020 will only be eligible for a 26 percent tax credit, and systems installed in 2021 will receive only a 22 percent tax credit. In 2022 and beyond, homeowners won’t be able to claim a tax credit on their solar systems at all, though a 10 percent tax credit for commercial and utility credits will remain available.
That means that homeowners who have been interested in going solar but for whatever reason haven’t now have a significant incentive to make the jump.