Big Year Ahead for Solar Industry, If It Can Woo Congress

Here comes the sunAs 2009 drew to a close, solar companies faced uncertainty as to whether the new year would bring recovery or a continuation of challenges stemming from oversupply and difficult financing. But Rhone Resch, head of the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, expressed optimism this morning in a press call held along with leaders of the wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal industries.

“I’m hopeful that 2010 will be the year that we actually break a gigawatt for just the photovoltaic industry alone,” he said. “We all thought 2009 was going to be a dreadful year in terms of installations and jobs,” and yet the sector created nearly 20,000 jobs. “We are just starting to regain our foothold to become a leading country in solar. This was not by accident,” he said, but largely because of provisions in the Recovery Act.

Resch anticipates this year could bring another 35,000-45,000 jobs — if Congress enacts several key policies, including a national renewable energy standard and an extension of tax credits. Noting that the Recovery Act “is not a one-year shot in the arm,” he said, “I think 2010 is going to be a bigger year than 2009.”

Soon enough, however, incentives rolled into the stimulus package will end, and that could dramatically slow the solar industry’s momentum. “There are several provisions that expire at the end of this year from the Recovery Act. If those provisions aren’t extended,” said Resch, “you’ll have a push that reaches a cliff.”

While Resch cited gains for the U.S. solar industry on the global market, recent analysis of 2009 wind market data held a surprise that American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode said should “add urgency for Congress to act” and establish long-term policies: China finished the year with more new wind installations (13 gigawatts) than any other country. “We thought we would still be number one for the second year in a row,” said Bode. “We need to move forward into 2010 to not just doing this on-again-off-again tax policy.” If strong policies come into place, she said, “We’re ready to rock and roll.”

Image courtesy of Flickr user Itiro (Creative Commons)