Solar Freight Train Builds Momentum

In some ways, 2016 was a remarkable year as much as for what didn't happen in solar as for what did. It was the year projected as the last for federal tax credits, causing a "run on the sun" in its waning moments to interconnect systems. It was the year in which many thought America would elect as president the candidate who promised gigawatts of new solar buildout across the nation during her campaign. It was also the year that started with a sucker punch to the gut from a state that shut its doors to solar, setting off alarms of a potential copycat effect in other states.

Of course, none of those predictions became reality.

The extension of the investment tax credit in the closing weeks of 2015 spun last year into one of enormous solar buildout, with expanded construction flexibility and a sudden longer-term horizon that permitted smarter business decisions. The numbers won't be final until later this winter, but we do know 2016 shattered U.S. solar market records-- by a long shot.

As we approach inauguration day, Mr. Trump's election victory brings a different type of leader to the White House whose views on solar are not apparently established, but whom I strongly believe can and will be a promoter of solar energy. In fact, solar's resume over the past few years sounds like a speech from Mr. Trump's playbook: create jobs across every state, cut costs for American consumers and businesses and enhance grid and national security. And born in the 50's right here in the U.S.A. What's not to like?

Meanwhile, Nevada has not fully recovered from its self-inflicted injuries, but Governor Sandoval did weigh in on solar's merits and the state's utility commission wisened up in allowing existing solar consumers to benefit from the low-cost energy they expected in choosing solar. Other states did not follow Nevada in its jump into the abyss of bad policy; in fact, in states such as California, Massachusetts and Florida we saw clearly that, although we have battles left to fight, solar is the people's choice.

So what to expect from 2017?

First, a no-doubter. Under the leadership of its new president, Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA will advocate aggressively for its members. From core areas such as aggressive state and federal policy campaigns, hard-hitting media coverage, high-quality events, and world-renowned research, to newer areas of expertise, such as codes and standards coverage, consumer protection and education campaigns, and a just-announced solar finance advisory council, SEIA will fight for solar across the U.S.

Expect 2017 to be another very strong year for U.S. solar deployment as our industry works hard to drive down costs and make utility-scale, commercial, and residential solar more affordable. Once again, the world will see that America is the best place in the world to do business in solar. We'll see more state markets open as policymakers and homeowners realize that solar is the low-cost power of choice. Because the ITC extension allowed developers the ability to position and sequence projects most effectively over the next several years, 2017 may not top 2016 in terms of total deployment, but should be close. While California will continue to lead the way, we'll again see some new market entrants, such as Mississippi and Montana.

To answer one question I've been asked at least twice a day since November, the new powers in Washington will not slow down the solar freight train in 2017 that has been gaining speed over the last decade. In some ways, no matter who is in the White House, our industry is going to thrive due to its amazing advantages, including its increasingly winning hand on costs. Nor do I see the Congress retreading old ground by monkeying around with an investment tax credit that is strongly bipartisan and has its own phasedown--it's already been "tax reformed." Leadership from both parties have recently expressed similar views.

Look for continued innovation here in America on products considered at one time to be "ancillary" to the core solar hardware. Expect significant technology and software advances in storage, grid integration and modernization, system optimization and logistics. Reliable and sizeable data will continue to grow increasingly important in all aspects of solar markets, from customer acquisition to individualized project valuation. Homegrown innovation is the bread and butter of American economic leadership.

Together, we're building a strong solar industry to power America. There's no better time than now to kick it into the next gear and show our neighbors and our nation just how strong solar can be.