Speaking at the Solar Power International (SPI) conference in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 16, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hailed the nation’s progress in expanding its solar generation capacity and announced several new investments in solar power technology as part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Sunshot Initiative.

In an enthusiastic and animated address to SPI attendees, Biden touted solar power’s potential to change the economy and the world.

“We’re on the cusp of something huge,” he said. “Just imagine how much more we can do.”

Biden noted that the “much-maligned” American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has spurred dramatic growth in solar. “We’re getting closer” to being cost-competitive with traditional baseload sources like coal, he said.

“We can save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decades.”

He also hailed the Clean Power Plan for its potential to spur a transition to a clean energy economy.

More Growth, More Investment

Biden spoke after the Solar Energy Industries Association announced this week that the U.S. passed 20 GW of installed solar capacity in the second quarter of 2015. He noted that solar made up 40% of all new capacity this year.

Biden hailed the Sunshot Initiative for spurring advancements in solar technology and said the awards would spur greater progress.

“We can make it faster, easier, and more reliable to change to a clean form of power,” and potentially cut costs of new solar 75% by 2020, he said.

The investments that Biden announced include an array of awards:

  • $7 million for six new projects to improve and better understand solar hardware degradation rates over system lifetimes.
  • $13 million for two projects that will establish a national designation and technical assistance program for local governments to help them grow their local solar markets, create jobs and promote sustainable economic opportunities.
  • $20 million available to further improve solar photovoltaic (PV) module performance, reliability, and manufacturability, while also advancing next generation PV concepts.
  • $30 million to support the development of new solar tools, technologies, and services that can swiftly enter the solar marketplace and directly address SunShot goals.

In addition, the DOE announced the five finalists in the Sunshot Prize competition, which offers a total of $10 million in awards to the best teams that bring process certainty and reduce the permit to plug-in time from current durations to seven days for small PV systems (≤100 kW) or seven weeks for large systems (≤1 MW).

Calls for Defending Pro-Solar Policies

Biden vigorously defended net metering policies against recent criticisms by “deep pocketed special interests” and mocked what he suggested was the real goal.

“Let’s take away consumer choice. Let’s stifle the market,” he said. “It’s not happening.”

Biden also called for the permanent extension of the Investment Tax Credit, saying solar could quadruple by 2020–and that the rest of the world was watching.

“We need to set an example for the whole world.”

He said the extension could be paid for by cutting tax credits and subsidies for fossil fuels.

“The stakes are too high for short-term policies and short-term decision making.”

Solar Key for Fighting Climate Change

Biden then took a jab at elected Republicans for fighting action on climate change. “If you pushed them, they’d probably deny gravity.”

“Our children and grandchildren will look back and wonder what we were fighting about,” he said. “This is not rocket science.”

Biden said investments and support for renewable energy have paid real dividends in jobs and economic growth, noting that the solar industry employs more veterans than any other sector of the U.S. economy. The Department of Defense also views climate change as a serious national security threat, he noted.

“It is an existential threat to this planet.”

But Biden expressed confidence that the challenge was not insurmountable if enough energy and attention was focused on solving it, calling out the solar industry for its role in making it happen.

“We can do it!” he loudly concluded. “Keep it going!”

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).