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US Senate considers legislation for 10m solar roofs

A US Senator has introduced legislation to incent more than 10 million solar electric and solar thermal systems over the next decade.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is chair of the Senate's green jobs subcommittee. His proposed legislation was introduced with 9 co-sponsors, which would pay half of the cost of 10m solar electric systems and 200,000 solar water heating systems, when combined with other incentives.

Homeowners and commercial operations would be eligible, as would non-profit groups and state and local governments.

The legislation would ensure that participating homeowners and businesses receive information on incentives to improve energy efficiency.

“At a time when we spend US$350 billion importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries every year, the United States must move away from foreign oil to energy independence," says Sanders.

"A dramatic expansion of solar power is a clean and economical way to help break our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, improve our geopolitical position, and create good-paying green jobs."

The legislation's co-sponsors are all Democrats, and include the Chair of the Environment & Public Works Committee Barbara Boxer from California. The measure is patterned after state programmes which promote solar energy in New Jersey and California, where prices have declined as the number of solar units increase.

The legislation, 10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act, would cost US$2-3bn a year, he estimates, and would incent 30 GW of solar power by the end of the 10-year period. A federal tax credit covers 30% of the cost for solar installations, and many states pay 10%.

Huge potential

“Congress finds that there is huge potential for increasing the quantity of electricity produced in the United States from distributed solar photovoltaics and solar water heating systems,” explains the preamble of the Bill. “The use of solar photovoltaics on the roofs of 10% of existing buildings could meet 70% of peak electric demand.”

“A key barrier to increased deployment of solar photovoltaic and hot water heating systems is the upfront cost of capital, even though over time the systems are cost-effective,” it continues. An investment in solar PV technology will create economies of scale that will allow the technology to deliver electricity at prices that are competitive with electricity from fossil fuels.

“Rebate programmes in several states have been successful in increasing the quantity of solar energy from distributed solar photovoltaics and solar water heating systems” and California leads the country in installed solar PV systems and has used rebate programmes to promote the installation of 500 MW of grid-connected solar PV.

New Jersey is second in installed solar PV and has used incentive programmes to achieve 90 MW of solar capacity, while Hawaii leads in solar water heating and will require all new homes to have solar water heating systems starting this year.

“Despite inventing solar technology, the United States has fallen behind nations with less solar resources because those nations have set in place policies to promote solar energy, and the United States now ranks fourth in installed solar behind Germany, Spain, and Japan,” the legislation continues. There are 1.5m solar water heating systems in the USA.

The legislation would limit a homeowner to total solar PV capacity of 2 MW and the rebate (US$ per watt) would decline from US$1.75 in 2010 to US$0.50 in 2019. Solar water heating system would receive US$1 for each watt-equivalent of installed capacity during 2010.

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Energy efficiency  •  Green building  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling