Join Us for a Live Chat 1/19 at 11AM MST: Transforming the U.S. Solar Market

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As a part of Rocky Mountain Institute’s mission to drive the efficient and restorative use of natural resources, RMI is dedicated to catalyzing a shift toward a low carbon electric system in the U.S. As outlined in our latest book, Reinventing Fire, RMI envisions a future U.S. electric system based on efficiency and renewables that’s efficient, renewable, distributed and affordable. Central to this vision is distributed solar energy.

Right now, photovoltaic solar plays a very small role in the national electricity mix, generating less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. But things are beginning to change. Approximately two gigawatts of solar energy (equivalent to two traditional nuclear plants) were installed nationwide in 2011 alone, and prices for electricity produced from solar systems is cost competitive with utility rates in an increasing number of markets.

The challenge is now upon us to both capture and integrate solar energy at a greater scale. RMI’s Reinventing Fire blueprint for a 2050 electric system powered by 80 percent renewables will require over 100 gigawatts of solar energy installed by 2020. RMI’s solar program is working to close this gap between current installation rates and the amount of solar in our vision of the U.S. electricity future.

The overarching goal of our solar program at RMI is to accelerate photovoltaic solar deployment across the U.S. However, this isn’t easy for a number of reasons: PV solar still entails high upfront costs; distributed generation often conflicts with traditional utility business models; permitting and interconnection processes are expensive; and the prevalence of an uncertain and inefficient federal regulatory environment deters widespread investment.

To overcome these barriers and help the solar industry grow sustainably, RMI’s solar program is collaborating with industry and focusing on three major avenues of change:

1. Reduce PV balance of system costs — work with regulators and private industry to reduce hard and soft balance of system costs.

2. Streamline investor access to PV systems — collaborate with the investment community to establish solar as a safe and reliable asset.

3. Assist utilities with the integration of distributed PV — partner with electric utilities and unregulated electricity providers to drive adoption of distributed PV systems and supporting regulation. While we’ll be able to track progress on a number of fronts, one major goal is driving RMI’s solar program and, to a large extent, the industry as a whole: we want to contribute to PV being cost-competitive in an increasing number of markets without existing federal incentives by 2016.

In the collaborative spirit of RMI’s solar program, Jesse Morris and Ned Harvey will host a live chat on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 11 AM MST. At this event we’ll give an overview of RMI’s solar program, briefly discuss several of our current solar projects, and dedicate most of the web chat to answering questions from participants.

We hope you’ll be able to join us on Thursday for this interactive web chat!