Just a few miles from the shuttered Solyndra plants where 1,100 workers were laid off seven months ago, former presidential candidate General Wesley Clark called for putting the fledgling solar industry at the front of a new U.S. national economic strategy focusing on being a world leader in the production of low-cost clean energy.
“This is an industry central to Americas future” but it will require government support beyond 2016 “for the technology to mature and stand on its own feet,” he said, getting a standing ovation from some of the several hundred attendees at thePV America West conference here.
The U.S. solar industry now employs slightly more than 100,000 people, more than twice the level it employed in 2009, thanks to deployments that jumped nearly a gigawatt to 1,889 megawatts last year, said Rhone Resch, the chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The solar industry could employ as many as 250,000 people over the next five years, he added.
Eight utilities plan to invest $2.5 billion in various solar programs, said Julia Hamm, the chief executive of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) which includes about 400 utilities among its members. “We’ve often heard it said utilities hate solar, but that’s not true–utility skepticism has diminished dramatically, but it has not vanished altogether,” she said.