When the first edition of Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble came out in 2003, author Lester Brown was cautiously optimistic about the potential for solar energy to help stabilize the climate. But in the updated Plan B 4.0, Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, is even more sanguine: Having observed the exponential growth of solar power since 2004, Brown now believes that a 100-fold increase in PVs and solar water heaters is within reach by 2020.
Germany leads the world in solar PV installation, followed by Spain, Japan and the U.S. (China is the biggest producer of PV panels but most of the panels are for export). Germany and Spain stimulated their solar markets with generous feed-in tariffs that paid homeowners for the extra power they generated. Japan too offered generous subsidies that helped make rooftop systems more affordable. With the recent adoption of a feed-in tariff in Ontario, Canada, that cold province is poised to become a hot spot for solar.
In the U.S., solar incentives are modest and vary considerably from state to state. (The only area in the U.S. with a feed-in tariff is Gainesville, Florida, where homeowners have stampeded to solarize). Even without incentives, the cost of going solar fell 30% in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008. But most solar power advocates agree that widespread adoption of feed-in tariffs and other financial incentives are key to further driving down the cost of solar.
With enough solar-generating capacity in the southwest alone to meet the nation’s electricity needs seven times over, the U.S. is indeed the sleeping giant of the global solar industry. Stay tuned as we reveal our own little Plan B to awaken the giant.