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Solar is here, it’s expanding and its popularity is growing

SolarFifteen years ago flat-screen televisions were a rare luxury item, and the era of cell phones was just beginning. Video chats happened mostly in Star Trek reruns, and few homes had broadband Internet service.

Just as all these technological advances have become commonplace, solar energy, a rather exotic power source at the start of the millennium, is growing faster than you might think. In 2013, across America, every four minutes, another home or business went solar. Here in Arizona, solar energy grew 142 percent in the last three years.  That’s fast enough to make a goal of 25 percent solar in Arizona – a goal once thought ambitious, if not as impossible as personal video devices – readily achievable.

“Star Power: the Growing Role of Solar Energy in Arizona,” a recent report by Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center, shows that growth could actually slow down to 20 percent and solar would still provide 25 percent of our power in the next decade.

This is a critical finding at a time when fights over net metering, commercial solar financing, and our state’s renewable energy standard have become commonplace in our Capitol and at the Arizona Corporation Commission. In fact, all our policy leaders need to do is keep their foot on the accelerator to reach a significant amount of solar energy. And certainly, they should not put on the brakes.

Solar is here, it’s expanding and its popularity is growing along with its expansion. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that the public ranks solar as the top priority for energy development in every region in the country.  In total, 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans agreed that we should place more emphasis on solar. Solar is not a partisan topic.

Boosting solar energy power production is more urgent than ever. Scientists have never been more certain that global warming is real, happening now, and will only get worse without meaningful action. In Arizona, we’re already feeling consequences like the drought-induced wildfires that have become all too common every summer.

Arizona should utilize its vast solar resources as a part of our nation’s solution to climate change. Achieving 25 percent solar energy would cut as much carbon pollution as 2.8 million cars emit in a year, and put Arizona more than halfway to the benchmark set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which requires cuts in power plant carbon pollution of 52 percent.

More solar isn’t just good for the environment. It’s also good for our economy.  Solar is currently the fastest-growing industry in the country, adding 143,000 jobs nationwide in 2013. According to the latest solar jobs census from the Solar Foundation, the solar industry employed more than 8,500 people in Arizona last year. These are clean jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Of course, 25 percent solar is just a sliver of the possible. Already, the state is home to more than 800,000 residential and commercial rooftops that could host solar panels, and it has enough technical potential to meet the state’s energy needs 320 times over.

Twenty-five percent solar is a small fraction of our vast potential, but it would make a big difference in the quality of our lives and our children’s future. It would also put us on the path to the 100 percent clean energy future we need for the health of our planet.  And in 2025, we’ll be writing about how odd it was that 10 years ago some homes still had phones that were connected to the wall, and only a miniscule amount of energy came from the sun.

– Malcolm Mossman is an organizer with the Environment Arizona Research Center.

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