MILWAUKEE -- Today at the Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Environment will release a new report outlining a vision for using the sun to meet 10 percent of the United States’ total energy needs by 2030. The report is the first in a two-part series the group is releasing to build support for state and federal policies to promote solar energy.
“Wisconsin sends 18 billion dollars out of state each year to meet our energy needs with dirty fossil fuels,” said Dan Kohler, Director of Wisconsin Environment, who will release the report during a plenary session at the conference. “Solar energy provides an opportunity to utilize homegrown, clean energy and be more energy independent. It’s time to seize that opportunity.”
The report, Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy examines a wide variety of solar technologies and tools, including photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, solar water heaters, solar space heating, and passive solar design. Solar energy can play a major role in weaning the nation from dangerous, polluting, unstable and, in many cases, increasingly expensive forms of energy.
“Homes and businesses in my district are already using solar power to save on energy bills and create jobs but this report indicates we aren’t living up to the full potential,” said Rep. Steve Hilgenberg who cited the example of Jerry and Penny Koerner’s PV and solar hot water installations near Ridgeway. The couple participated in Alliant Energy’s Renewable Energy Buy Back program that guarantees a price for the energy they produce.
“This program has proven effective and I’m working very hard to expand the program in the Clean Energy Jobs Act,” said Hilgenberg, who believes strongly that when policies provide investor confidence, entire supply chains can be developed that create jobs at places like Cardinal Glass, a solar panel glass manufacturer in Mazomanie. Hilgenberg also noted that solar is just one type of renewable energy that will support emerging industries, along with wind, biomass and manure digesters, that will further create jobs and reduce our dependency on out of state fossil fuels.
The report finds that by achieving a 10 percent goal for solar energy, within two decades the sun could provide more energy than the U.S. currently produces at nuclear power plants, more than half as much as it currently consumes in American cars and light trucks, or nearly half as much as we currently obtain from burning coal.
“This report illustrates the opportunities that renewable energy systems such as solar can provide,” said Shaina Kilcoyne, representative of ACRE (Advocates for Creating Renewable Energy), a broad coalition of over 40 renewable energy businesses, labor groups, and environmental organizations advocating for passage of an Enhanced Renewable Portfolio Standard and Customer-Owned Renewable Energy provisions in the Clean Energy Jobs Act. “Renewable energy buyback rates would encourage customer-sited renewable energy generation by providing a fixed, long term price from the utility for excess electricity generation. Wisconsin’s solar resources, coupled with a consistent policy for renewables, will allow us to create a reliable market for solar energy generation.”
Wisconsin Environment applauded the city of Milwaukee for establishing a program to make it easier for customers to install solar energy on their homes. The group called for the expansion of these types of policies throughout the state including financial incentives, advanced building codes, public education, workforce development, research and development, and a strong renewable electricity standard requiring utilities to get a percentage of their electricity from renewable energy, like solar.
“We want to see the legislature act now to unleash the power of the sun, create new jobs and reduce pollution,” said Kohler. “They have a chance to accomplish these goals right now by passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act with a strong renewable energy standard, along with a buyback rate to make it easier for consumers and businesses to install solar panels.”
The report also profiles various applications of solar energy currently in use across the country, such as:
Walmart’s use of skylights in some of its big box stores has cut energy costs by 15 to 20 percent by reducing the need for electric lighting.
Laundry facilities, hotels, hospitals and even baseball’s Boston Red Sox have adopted solar water heating to reduce their consumption of natural gas for water heating.
A Frito-Lay plant in California uses solar concentrators to provide heat for cooking snack foods.
Solar energy can be paired with advanced energy efficiency techniques to create zero net energy homes, which produce as much energy as they consume. Zero net energy homes have already been built in parts of the country, are possible in all climates, and often save money for consumers over time.
As more plug in electric cars and trucks enter the marketplace, solar energy will power our nation’s transportation system as well.
Next week, the group plans to release a report assessing Wisconsin’s solar potential.
Wisconsin Environment is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space.