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The Solar+ Decade Takes Flight: A Radical Transformation of Energy Use in America

Monday, Sep 23 2019

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The following is the speech that Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) delivered at the opening general session at Solar Power International and North America Smart Energy Week. 

You know, they said we couldn’t come to Salt Lake City and draw the kinds of crowds we got in Vegas and California and you have proven them wrong.

Thanks to your vision, your entrepreneurship, and your determination, our industry continues to exceed the expectations of others.

Think about this: in 2000, the Energy Department predicted that solar would account for just 2 gigawatts of electric generating capacity by 2020.

Well, it’s almost 2020, and we’re on track to eclipse 95 gigawatts.

We’ve increased solar deployment by a factor of 188 in 20 years. It’s amazing!

But I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who’s ready to pack it up and say that’s good enough.

And that’s why I’m here with you today. Despite growing at a breathtaking rate over the past decade, solar accounts for just over 2 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

Just 2 percent.

Over the next few minutes, I am going to share my vision of how we dramatically increase that number. And if I don’t accomplish anything else, I want you to remember three things.

One, the next decade will be one of radical market transformation for energy in the United States, and SEIA is going to lead that effort.

Two, it’s a whole new world when it comes to the politics of clean energy and climate change – and that world is ripe with opportunity for each and every person in this room.

And three, you have both the power – and the responsibility – to make this new solar and storage age a reality.

First things first: let’s talk about the vision. Where are we headed?

As we announced earlier this year, I believe solar will comprise 20% of electricity generation by 2030.

That’s a huge shift – remember I said we are only a little more than 2% now – but it’s a shift that this industry is absolutely ready for. Take a moment – right now – and imagine what your business will look like when solar combined with storage comprises 20% of electricity generation . When we are installing more than 70 GW per year. How much of that marketplace will you control? How many employees will you have? What will your profit look like?

We are calling this radical market transformation the “Solar+ Decade,” and I want to emphasize how important that “plus” is.

The energy system in this country is transforming in front of our eyes. You don’t have to look far – the show floor that opens tomorrow will be teeming with companies all across the energy system, from solar and wind development to battery manufacturing, electric vehicles, fuel cells, and more.

If we hit our 2030 goal, it won’t just be reaching 20% of generation for solar. It will be about achieving a complete and total shift in how we generate, distribute and consume energy in this country.

SEIA is 100% committed to leading this radical transformation and it will be a war, not a battle, for leadership of the U.S. energy market.

Over the next 10 years, SEIA will be taking on tough opponents, providing industry expertise and aggressively collaborating with partners.

And we’ve done that already.

In Washington, we have secured multiple Investment Tax Credit extensions and other legislative victories and engaged in complicated regulatory proceedings. Just this year, we helped pass legislation in South Carolina that opened up business opportunity worth billions of dollars – and are fighting like hell for good policy in states across the country.

With your help, SEIA will drive the next decade of solar and storage prosperity.

How are we going to get there?

Well today we released a comprehensive roadmap for achieving our 2030 goal. Check it out on our website. We are not just throwing out lofty goals, we are providing details about how we’re going to get there.

The roadmap is organized around four main pillars, and in keeping with the “Plus”, it starts with aggressive collaboration.

We must collaborate closely with the wind and storage industries and related technologies to create a comprehensive renewable mindset in this country.

We need to work with others to get additional infrastructure and transportation charging.

We must expand our list of allies and fend off well-funded challenges from fuel sources that are moving toward obsolescence.

Second, we must fully capture the opportunities presented by market accelerators, such as energy storage, wide-scale electrification and increased political will to act on climate.

Third, we have to pull every market lever and push every policy driver possible to make this a reality. We need to extend the federal solar investment tax credit, advance state renewable portfolio standards, protect residential and community solar incentives, develop better building codes, and pass national climate policy.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must manage our growth.

We must protect our customers by being ethical in our sales tactics. We need to be good stewards of the land. Our ability to tackle other challenges such as recycling and cybersecurity will also dictate our success.

One of the most critical components of managing our growth is ensuring that we make equity a priority in this radical transformation.

When I started at SEIA, one of my first priorities was making sure we create opportunities – both in our workforce and in the energy solutions we provide – to all Americans.

As our workforce grows to more than half a million people, it has to reflect the diversity of our population. And we are only going to achieve our collective deployment goals if clean energy is available to people in all communities.

I don’t think of this as a choice, and neither should you. I think of it as an absolute imperative. That’s our north star. Our success in the Solar+ Decade depends on it.

I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that the politics and public attitudes around climate are radically different than they were just a few years ago.

In years past, we haven’t always talked openly about climate goals on this stage. But let me be clear: climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and our industry present a tangible solution. Under our Solar+ scenario, solar would account for 20% of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord, a meaningful step toward addressing this crisis.

By 2030, solar would offset more than 500 million metric tons of CO2, more than one third of all electric sector emissions.

This is not a partisan position. Politicians and business leaders worldwide are looking for ways to address climate change. They’ve seen the same polling numbers we have. 73% of all voters and 65% of all Republicans properly recognize that solar can help address climate change.

I’ve had hundreds of phone calls and meetings with lawmakers, and they understand that they can address climate change right now by removing policy barriers and establishing market structures that allow solar, wind, and storage to flourish.

In addition to addressing the climate crisis, generating 20% of electricity would spur more than $50 billion of investment in solar in 2030 alone. Again – go back to your vision for your company. What part of that $50 billion will you take?

The final point I want to make today is that we can, and in fact we must, take action now to reach these goals – and you have a critical role to play.

We’re already hard at work to make the Solar+ Decade a reality.

To start with, SEIA is fighting tooth and nail on your behalf to extend the Investment Tax Credit. The ITC is one of the most important tools in our toolbox for hitting 20% of generation by 2030.

Wood Mackenzie is releasing brand new data tomorrow showing that an ITC extension would result in an additional 82 gigawatts of solar deployment – that’s more than is currently online today.

To put that in context, extending the ITC would generate $87 billion in additional solar investment and create an additional 113,000 new U.S. solar jobs. Those are real results for our industry – and for our country. And those are real results for your company.

We’ve been hard at work convincing policymakers of the importance of the ITC extension, and it’s your turn. Your legislators need to hear from you directly. And you can do that right now. Everyone take out your phones and text DEFENDTHEITC to 52886.

It will take no more than 60 seconds of your time, and I promise you it will be worth it.

Let’s light up this map and show Congress that people all across America want a strong clean energy future.

The American solar success story is still being written, and we have a chance to build on it with an extension of the ITC.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture.

As I said at the beginning, I want you to remember three things.

We have a bold vision for the 2020s. A vision that will benefit your company.

There is an enormous opportunity as politics change around tackling climate change and investing in clean energy.

And, working together, all of us can make the next decade the Solar+ Decade.

In the days and months ahead, we will be calling on you to get involved in many ways.

Because I believe that if we stay focused, if we stick together, if we are clear about what we want and why, we will achieve that radical market transformation.

So thank you for being here for another exciting SPI, ESI and North America Smart Energy Week. I can’t wait to work – side by side with each and every one of you – to make the next decade our best one yet.

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