SPI panel shows strong solar policy requires team effort

Despite 2018’s solar challenges with tariffs and trade war, a panel on regional solar market trends at Solar Power International made it clear that the industry is still pushing toward growth.

Bret Sowers, VP of development and strategy at Southeastern solar company Southern Current, said the keys to entering new markets are advocating for strong solar policy and investing in education to create a foundation of solar interest in an area. He said a big challenge is that utility interconnection queues are extremely backlogged in this region.

“There’s a real resource issue, and a lot of this has come on fairly quick,” Sowers said.

Madeleine Klein, managing director of policy and market strategy for Engie North America expressed similar frustrations with solar development in Michigan. Although the utility Consumers Energy has an ambitious solar plan, many bureaucratic roadblocks have popped up. There’s lots of development interest, but interconnection queues are clogged and holding up plans.

Sowers said one of the first things that must be done to increase solar in the Southeast is to create a strong and deliberate net metering structure instead of hitting caps constantly.

Corporate access to renewables is a major possibility for solar growth in that region, yet net metering across the Southeast isn’t addressing this sector. Sowers said the solar industry can let the C&I players who are really driving the solar market in the Southeast deliver the message to the utilities that the region needs good solar policy. It doesn’t have to be the solar industry delivering the message.

On the utility trend side, Kent Walter, manager of customer technology at Arizona Public Service, said since solar power is so commonly used in the Southwest region, the utility is making sure to include considerations for the amount of solar customers are installing themselves in APS’s resource planning. He said APS is “really trying to engage people in terms of how they use energy, much like they think about recycling.”

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