SEIA plays defense with new strategic vision

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With little press fanfare, yesterday Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) published a post on its website laying out the organization’s strategic vision. The page lays out goals in terms of expected market volumes, as well as the four areas that the organization intends to focus on.

The first point and biggest goal of SEIA seems to be hanging on to what the industry currently has in terms of policies. Below “Ensure that existing solar markets remain open and robust while opening new ones” the organization notes that it intends to focus on defending the Investment Tax Credit as well as state-level policies.

Donald Trump (R) serving as U.S. president is a big factor here.

“We are constantly being challenged in this presidential administration and in certain states with regard to existing policies,” SEIA VP of Communications Dan Whitten told pv magazine.

And while the ITC may seem safe, the policy has already been undermined by Congressional Republicans in the latest tax reform, with the BEAT provision making it more complicated and less desirable for multinational corporations to participate in the tax equity market.

Another big focus will inevitably be state-level net metering policies. Whitten describes net metering as “maturing” in states with high levels of solar deployed, but also says that defending net metering in states with more nascent solar markets is a big priority.

“When you look at Iowa, Kentucky, and these smaller states, it’s a huge challenge because they are trying to kill solar in the cradle,” notes Whitten.

These are important statements for an organization that has traditionally worked more on national policies, and may represent the increased focus on state-level policies that has come under new President and CEO Abigail Hopper.

 

Slowdown expected

The report also puts some numbers behind SEIA’s goals, calling for a more than doubling of installed solar capacity to 100 GW by 2022, and for solar to represent more than 5% of annual U.S. electricity generation.

Both goals are conservative, and look more like business as usual than ambition. Given that the United States had over 50 GW of installed solar at the end of 2017, SEIA’s call to add another 50 GW is exactly in line with GTM Research’s forecast, which is not a goals but rather an expectation of what will happen.

As for the 5%, this is below current growth rates. U.S. electricity generation from solar increased 44% from 2015-2016 and 40% again from 2016-2017. Under a 40% growth rate the nation would be getting 5% of its electricity from solar in 2020, not 2022.

When questioned about this, SEIA’s Whitten described the Strategy Vision as an “evolving document”, but also defended the conservative nature of the targets. “We pushed hard on the idea of how can we be more ambitious while recognizing some of the projections that credible organizations are putting out there,” noted Whitten.

However, it is important to note that all major market analysts have underestimated the growth of solar over the past few decades, so SEIA may be shooting for less than will be accomplished.

The strategy has also been criticized by marketing guru Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza for not endorsing 100% renewable energy by 2050. Whitten says that while SEIA does not oppose calls for 100% renewable energy, he called the target “a bit of a stretch”, and stressed the need to present policymakers with “credible proposals”.

 

Section 201 and manufacturing

One of the major points in SEIA’s strategy includes “ensuring free and fair trade policy”, and in its messaging SEIA appears to be continuing to fight against the tariffs imposed under the Section 201 trade case.

What is less clear is how SEIA will represent the portions of U.S. solar cell and module manufacturing which opposed its position in the Section 201 trade case, including three of the nation’s largest PV makers.

“We’ve been very clear when we talk about this that we do support a strong U.S. solar manufacturing sector, we just didn’t think that tariffs were the right way to get there,” stated Whitten.

However, many U.S. module makers, including three of nation’s largest – First Solar, SolarWorld, and ITEK Energy – did not agree with SEIA’s position on the Section 201 case.