This year marked the 35th anniversary of Sun Day – May 3, 1978. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that day as “Sun Day” and called upon the American people to observe the occasion with appropriate activities and ceremonies to demonstrate the potential of solar energy.
In Arizona, that day 35 years ago was marked by solar fairs that demonstrated the latest in solar technologies. A gathering at Encanto Park was representative of all observances throughout the state. A number of homemade solar ovens, homemade solar water heaters and attached solar greenhouses were on display. Solar energy in the 1970s was a backyard, do-it-yourself industry.
As we close out 2013, it is a good time to look back at how far we have come since those days as we remember the top ten solar new stories of the year in Arizona.
1. Solar growth. Solar installations grew by leaps and bounds in 2013. Arizona utilities reported more than 500 rooftop solar systems being installed each month, and the total cumulative number for all installations to date approached 30,000 by year’s end. Utility solar power plants also increased substantially during 2013 with one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) plants (Agua Caliente near Yuma) and solar thermal power plants (Solana near Gila Bend) coming online.
2. Prices plummet. The cost of PV systems hit all-time lows in 2013, dropping more than 75 percent since 2008.
3. Working on it. The Solar Foundation ranks Arizona number one in solar jobs per capita.
4. Abengoa Solar hits the big time. Abengoa Solar commissioned a 280-megawatt solar thermal power plant near Gila Bend in October. The solar electricity is being sold under a power purchase agreement to APS. The Abengoa solar farm benefited from a $1.45 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. The loan guarantee program is supported through the Obama Administration’s stimulus act of 2010.
5. Middle class adopts solar. A September 2013 report by the Center for American Progress concluded that Arizona rooftop solar installations are overwhelmingly occurring in middle-class neighborhoods that have median incomes from $40,000 to $90,000.
6. Everybody claims victory. Both sides in the Arizona net metering debate declared victory after the ACC imposed a $5 per month fee on new solar customers in the APS service territory. Solar supporters said the $5 fee is a victory in that utility didn’t get the $50 to $100 a month fee it requested. APS claimed victory in that the ruling affirmed its position that a cost shift should occur.
7. Solar water heating incentive approved. Arizona regulators approved a new incentive for APS customers who install solar water heaters in 2014. This action will make $500,000 in rebates available for APS customers in the coming year. SRP allocates more than double this amount with funds available through at least April of 2014.
8. Solar home tour success. Several hundred Arizonans participated in a series of solar home tours held throughout the state. Tours were held in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson and the White Mountains.
9. Expensive battle. The net metering battle in Arizona cost more than $4 million. APS outspent the solar industry more than 10 to 1 on its public relations campaign.
10. ASU/UNM contest success. Arizona State University students teamed with students from the University of New Mexico to compete in the US Solar Decathlon event for net zero energy home construction. The Arizona/New Mexico entry, Shade, finished in the top ten during the October competition.
Jim Arwood served six Arizona governors in various capacities managing federal energy programs, culminating in his appointment by then Governor Janet Napolitano, as Director of the State Energy Office in 2006. After nearly 25 years serving the state of Arizona, Mr. Arwood retired from government service in 2010 and today consults for a variety of energy related organizations and serves as Director of Communications for the Arizona Solar Center.