By Guest Columnist DEBBIE DAY, executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association
Taking the reins of the Georgia Solar Energy Association (GSEA) is an exciting opportunity. My recent arrival coincides with the results of GSEA’s effort to amass a comprehensive snapshot of solar development so far in Georgia. The picture it creates is impressive.
More than 900 solar installations now cover the Georgia landscape, with many more in the planning stages. The state’s total solar capacity has now topped 15 megawatts, which is enough energy to power 2,000 homes.
Significantly, this acceleration of solar development in Georgia has increased awareness of what renewable energy can mean for our state. We have taken a great stride forward in energy diversity, security and innovation.
The best news of all is that we are only beginning to realize our widely recognized and academically analyzed solar potential. A 2010 analysis by an Arizona State University professor ranked Georgia third in the nation in solar potential.
Solar development’s pace and promise in Georgia is not the only bright sign of what our energy future holds. Our research also reveals that solar installations are currently operating in 82 of Georgia’s 159 counties. From wineries and schools in North Georgia to farms and manufacturers in Middle Georgia to homes and small businesses in Coastal Georgia, solar is becoming a more prominent feature of our energy portfolio.
Georgia’s solar industry continues to grow rapidly, and firms are hiring workers in manufacturing, installation, sales and distribution, as well as a variety of other roles. The Solar Foundation’s 2011 Census places Georgia in the top 20 nationwide with more than 1,700 solar jobs.
And Georgia-made products, Georgia-based companies and Georgia workers have created this trend.
What does this tell us? The proliferation of solar development in Georgia is not an isolated, urban phenomenon. Solar energy can be applied in every geographic region of the state and in every sector of the state’s economy. Solar energy is making Georgia’s farms more viable, its small businesses more efficient and homes statewide more affordable and valuable for their owners.
The Georgia Solar Energy Association’s membership includes acknowledged experts in solar manufacturing and installation, academia, finance, energy conservation, and the law. GSEA leads the effort in Georgia to promote the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy through education, advocacy and industry support. Working together, we can make Georgia a leader in sustainable energy and green job growth because increasing our use of solar energy in Georgia just makes good sense.
We believe that Georgia should benefit from the global solar investment that is defying the economic malaise gripping so many other sectors of the market. According to January 2012 figures released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the total worldwide investment in solar reached new heights in 2011 at $136.6 billion. In 2011, the U.S. invested $55.9 billion in solar development, up 33 percent from the previous year, according to Bloomberg.
Given Georgia’s abundant sun and robust business environment, our state should be a much larger part of that investment trend than we currently can claim. Georgia can be in the top tier of the U. S. solar economy with its innate solar advantages, a number of significant projects in the pipeline, common-sense policies that create a fair competitive environment for solar, and the amount of innovative talent available here to bring it to fruition.
GSEA is working with business, civic and political leaders to create a business and regulatory environment in which the promise of solar to make affordable, safe, renewable energy widely available is fully realized. On June 15, we will host our 3rd annual Solar Summit at GTRI on 14th Street, where we assemble the region’s most respected experts to talk about the latest in policy, opportunity, technology and best practices in a day-long forum. Last year’s Summit, as well as our Annual Meeting in December, sold out.
In October, we will once again offer our annual Solar Tour, where solar projects around the state, including many new and exciting developments, will open for close-up inspection. This offers everyone from the casual curiosity seeker to the sustainability professional a chance to learn more about individual projects in their own communities.
Like many Georgia residents, I have been unaware until now of the remarkable advances in technology that have made solar energy more reliable and more affordable than ever. With high-quality solar panels now available at prices more than 30 percent below what they cost just a year ago, solar energy has never been more of a bargain. And once installed, its fuel source is perpetually available for a price we all can afford – free – and it will never rise.
How much money you save on your energy needs with solar is up to you in consultation with a solar professional. Solar energy provides endless possibilities for using clean energy in Georgia to make businesses more productive, taxpayer dollars more effective and homes less costly to operate.
In 2012, the Georgia Solar Energy Association will be working harder than ever to bring the good news of solar to the residents of this state and to make its benefits as widely and easily available as possible. GSEA’s dedicated group of knowledgeable professionals is moving Georgia forward with cutting-edge technology, job creation and sustainable, domestic energy. If you want to join us, visit our website, www.gasolar.org.