World leaders wear PV on their sleeve

Sensemaking / World leaders wear PV on their sleeve

07 Mar 2011

Prominent solar displays are all the rage, but do they reflect policy or are they just for show?

President Obama has announced plans to install up to 75 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the White House in 2011, producing some 20,000 kWh of electricity annually. And he’s not alone. Several world leaders have set out plans to install PV systems on government buildings – but whether these are merely token gestures, or part of a concerted policy, is up for discussion.

Solar power in the US currently counts for less than 1% of installed capacity, but recent policy provides for significant new investment. A total of $3.1 billion in funding for the solar industry is expected as part of the economic stimulus package, alongside other financial incentives such as loan guarantees, feed-in tariffs and the extension of tax credits. The ‘payments-in-lieu-of-credits’ initiative has already supported 200MW of new PV installation. Meanwhile, in California, loan guarantees are helping to build a manufacturing facility, which could produce enough panels to increase capacity by 230MW a year.

Obama may have basked in the solar-powered limelight, but President Nasheed of the Maldives has beaten him to it, with 48 panels installed on the roof of the Mulee Aage, his official residence in Male. The 11.5kW system will produce around 15,000 kWh of electricity annually. It’s a gesture in line with the country’s pledge to be ‘zero-carbon’ by 2020.

The Maldives has yet to calculate its renewable energy potential, but with $30 million of international donor funding promised to help it achieve its goal, putting up a few panels is perhaps the least Nasheed could do…

Another tiny step – but not a token one – is India’s plan to install an 80kW PV system on Sansad Bhavan, the parliament building, which will both be used on site as back-up, and fed into the grid. Compared to the national goal of a total installed capacity of 20GW by 2020, this is perhaps insignificant. But it highlights a real commitment to renewables on India’s part. Many financial and policy incentives are already in place, including feed in tariffs, and solar-powered equipment is also being made mandatory in hospitals, schools, and government buildings, with an extra $86.3 million recently allocated to this initiative alone.

Interestingly, none of the global leaders in solar PV capacity (Germany, Spain or Japan) have taken to high-profile PV installations. When asked if they should, Bill McKibben, founder of the campaign group 350.org (which advocates reducing CO2 emissions to 350ppm), simply said: “When First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic garden on the lawn outside the White House, organic seed sales went up 30%.”

- James Belgrave

Image credits: Rrodrickbeiler / istock

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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