DMR: Iowa's solar power could outshine Florida's
Jan. 31, 2014 |
Written by Donnelle Eller
The sun could power more of Iowa’s energy needs, with solar potential that exceeds sunny states like Florida, Georgia and Utah, a new report shows.
“The potential for solar in Iowa is quite significant,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, the Des Moines group that released the report Thursday looking at solar energy in Iowa.
“There are a number of important benefits that we’ve seen from wind that can be true for solar as well — from cleaner air and water to more jobs and more economic investment. ... It’s time to catch up,” Baer said.
Iowa could create an average of 2,500 jobs annually if it added 300 megawatts of solar energy over the next five years, the report says. Baer said 300 megawatts would be enough energy to power 39,000 homes for a year.
The study comes as Iowans are beginning to embrace solar energy. For example, Iowa’s $1.5 million solar tax credit program was maxed out last year, and the state is carrying over $471,000 in tax credit requests into this year. The tax credits are designed to spark investment in building solar arrays.
Baer said lawmakers should consider expanding the tax credits and making them refundable, so cities, schools and universities could benefit from the incentives.
At the same time, the Iowa Supreme Court is considering a case in which Iowa’s utilities are challenging whether a Dubuque company can sell solar power to the eastern Iowa city.
The private solar energy provider argues that it can lower upfront costs and pass along the state — and federal — tax credit benefits to its non-taxpaying users.
The utilities argue that the arrangement violates Iowa law, which gives utility companies exclusive rights to sell electricity in defined areas.
Other policy issues the state will need to address include how utilities and electric cooperatives treat solar energy production. “There’s a patchwork of policies out there,” Baer said.
Baer said it’s hard to say where Iowa ranks in solar power generation now. “We’re kind of lumped in with a third of states that lag from behind,” he said.
But Iowa could change that.
The amount of solar energy Iowa could reasonably produce would place the state 16th in the nation, the report says. That would put it ahead of states like Florida, Georgia, Utah, Missouri, North Carolina and South Carolina, “even though as much or possibly more sun reaches those states.”
The report says Iowa could generate a maximum of 7 million gigawatt hours of solar photovoltaic, or PV, energy.
It’s an amount that far exceeds the 57,000 gigawatt hours generated by all energy sources — coal, gas, wind and nuclear — in 2010, the group says in the report, or the 45,000 gigawatt hours Iowans consumed that year.
“This means that Iowa’s potential for solar PV — if fully utilized — is many times larger than Iowa’s need for electricity,” the report says.
Solar power is most available when consumers need it, according to the group, and can be used to supplement traditional sources of power. “Iowans can rely on solar energy when demand is at its highest, during hot, sunny afternoons, and solar PV can provide substantial energy all year long,” the report says.
The cost is declining as technology improves, the report says. “While the cost to install a watt of solar PV averaged $7.50 in 2008, that cost had come down to about $4 per watt in 2012.”
“Much of this decrease was caused by a reduction in the price of solar PV panels themselves. Costs are expected to continue to decline in future years as well. The U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Vision Study identifies goals of reaching $1 per watt for utility-scale PV, $1.25 per watt for commercial PV, and $1.50 per watt for residential PV by 2020,” the report says.
“We need to set some goals, determine what our long-term vision is,” Baer said.