Week in review: Solar goes back to Hollywood, and is most popular form of new energy

Fox Studio's solar array in HollywoodSolar is incredibly popular with the U.S. public, according to one new study. That popularity also gets bolstered as people learn about high-profile projects, for instance, like the new solar arrays at the Lightstorm Entertainment Inc.’s (LEI’s) buildings at Manhattan Beach studio, where Avatar 2 and 3 are being filmed. Still, as solar gains ground, it’s still facing cost issues, thankfully more work is going into reducing costs, like making new financing models possible.

First off, a new poll from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) by Hart Research found that 92 percent of voters in the U.S. support more solar energy development. At 93 percent in support, the number was even higher among swing voters. The survey queried 1,206 voters across the U.S., including a majority—762—whom the poll considered swing voters.

While there’s a lot of support for solar, more still needs to be done to bring its cost down—particularly the cost of distributed generation, like rooftop solar, down, according to a recent report from Lux Research. The report found that the biggest boon to solar manufacturers would be to reduce the costs of the modules themselves, which manufacturers say they can’t do any more. The other potential driver of getting more solar out there would be electric cost increases.

Still, putting solar in a public place, or getting solar recognized by high-profile customers. That’s the case with the recently completed 960 kilowatt array at James Cameron and crew’s Lightstorm studios, where Avatar 2 and 3 are being filmed. The array, which the company is likely to tout, helps raise awareness of how effective solar can be, even in heavy use situations, like that of a film studio, which requires a lot of light and computing power. The array will provide for virtually all of the studio’s electric needs.

Another way solar is gaining more attraction is through public events. Denver-based Renewable Energy Initiative, a national nonprofit, is hosting Drive Sunshine events, where it shows off both solar arrays and leasing options as well as Chevy Volts. By mixing the solar array with the electric vehicle it shows people how affordable solar can be had and how little fuel costs for electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt can be. The organization held its most recent event in Arvada, Col. at SkyFuel’s headquarters. Employees at the event could test drive electric cars while learning about solar options. It’s holding more events in the Denver metro area, Boulder and Fort Collins throughout October as part of the Denver Metro Clean Cities program.

One of the other issues that is holding solar back is the lack of access to low-interest rates financing. This is true for home projects as well as utility-scale projects. However, plenty of people are working on ways to changes this. For instance, Renewable Energy Trust Capital (RET) is working to bring real estate investment trusts (REITs), to the solar financing market. REITs would help create an asset class, that more institutions and people could invest in. By creating a class with long-term returns it could provide lower-cost financing for solar projects. At this point, they’re waiting for confirmation from the IRS to move forward with creating their first investment fund.

Meanwhile, as the presidential race goes on, there’s been at least one important element missing from the debate between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney; solar and renewable energy. The Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, which is a group of local chambers of commerce throughout the U.S. called for the candidates to discuss renewable energy. 

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