President-elect Tump + the future of solar

So, it happened. President-elect Donald Trump. The ramifications are yet to be seen, but based on more than one-dozen conversations since the election with prospective solar investors (residential and commercial property owners), a valid concern has been floated: What will happen to the 30% federal solar (renewable energy) tax credit?

First, what we know: Mr. Trump has bemoaned climate change as a “hoax.” He has committed to revitalizing the coal industry and boosting national development of non-clean (read: natural gas and oil) energy sources. And, he has — for selfish reasons, given his on-the-coast golf course in the UK — denounced wind farms. Furthermore, he has floated climate science denier Myron Ebell as a potential director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Clean air, clean water, viable species, and solar tax credits be damned.

But, in my conversations with concerned folk, I’m trying to apply logic and common sense. First, the solar industry has created more jobs in the US over the past five years than any other industry, and it’s the fastest growing sector in the economy -- more than 200,000 patriots are employed in the solar industry. The solar industry is growing 12x faster than the overall economy. Solar creates jobs; republicans like job growth. Second, when property owners opt to invest in and create their own energy, they are exercising their (energy and investment) independence. Who’s to argue with an individual’s right to create their own energy? Decentralization of energy — creation, distribution, investment — is something both sides of the aisle should logically agree with. (Fact: 85% of Americans and 84% of republicans support solar.)

My fear: Uneducated idealism will trump logic, facts, statistics and applied common sense. The reality that the fossil fuels industry receives more than 10x the incentives (tax credits included) of renewable energy will be cast aside by powerful coal and gas industries. 

My hope: Renewable energy (and solar in particular) is a roaring bonfire in our country that ideologues and industrialists can’t stop. Our economy and our environment benefit every time a property owner opts to invest in clean energy. It’s their choice, and it makes sense; if it did not, they would not do it.

The reality: Those of us who believe in and champion clean energy investment cannot simply apply logic and common sense. We will need to fight, use facts, and trumpet the job-percolating, economic-resonating virtues of our profession and passion. Solar is now and it is happening … we cannot allow the momentum to become no-mentum.

SAS: Solar Acronym Soup

All industries are plagued with too many acronyms; the solar industry could top the charts, cluttering myriad technical, utility and financial acronyms into confusing babble-babble. Here are but a few solar sugar plums, from the basic to the sublime:

- BoS: Balance of System (the soft costs — aside from equipment and installation labor — that complete the cost of your solar system).

- CCA/CCE: Community Choice Aggregation/Community Choice Energy (an alternative form of cleaner energy supply … coming to Yolo County in 2017!).

- CPUC: California Public Utilities Commission (the governing/regulatory body that oversees PG&E and other investor-owned utilities in California; aka, friends of solar and consumer choice).

- eV: Electric Vehicle (aka, peanut butter to solar’s jelly).

- GHG: Greenhouse Gas (a [horrible] gas in the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range).

- IRR: Internal Rate of Return (the interest rate at which the net present value of all the cash flows [both positive and negative] from your solar investment equal zero).

- ITC: Investment Tax Credit (the 30%, one-time federal tax credit you receive when you own your solar system).

- kW: Kilowatt (1,000 watts of energy).

- kWh: Kilowatt Hour (a measure of electrical energy equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts for 1 hour).

- NEM: Net-Energy Metering (the program/mechanism by which solar system owners are credited for the electricity they generate).

- PTO: Permission to Operate (notification from your utility that your solar system is connected to the grid, thus commencing monetary credits).

- PPA: Power Purchase Agreement (an agreement to purchase electricity generated by a solar system [on your roof] that is owned by a third-party, tax equity fund … aka, a bad deal for homeowners vis-a-vis solar ownership).

- PV: Photovoltaic (PV cells in your solar panels are specialized semiconductor diodes that convert visible light into direct current electricity).

- TOU: Time of Use (a utility rate schedule whereby you are credited [for solar] and debited [for electricity use] based on the time of generation/use).


And, finally:

- PG&E: Our favorite utility (though they fight solar at every juncture :)