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Stanford Study Recommends Increased Solar Collaboration

Photonics.com
Apr 2017
STANFORD, Calif., April 18, 2017 — The rapidly expanding solar energy industry could meaningfully contribute to curbing climate change if governments and the private sector approach it more economically and efficiently, according to a new Stanford study.

Researchers from Stanford's Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance are encouraging the U.S. to reconsider a wide variety of its solar energy policies in order to maximize the industry's long-term benefits to the global climate and to the economy.

A key recommendation suggests that China, which is the major driver of the global solar industry, and the U.S. work more closely together with each country capitalizing on its particular strengths.

"The Chinese are not only leading the world in terms of the manufacturing of solar equipment, but they are also the largest deployer of solar energy," said Dan Reicher, a co-author of the report and executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center, which is a joint research center involving Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "And they are getting increasingly competitive in the research and development area, which the U.S. has historically been dominating. With a new federal administration and a new Congress, this is the time to be thinking about what we want the U.S. role in solar industry to look like five, 10 years from now."

Solar power currently supplies only about 1 percent of global electricity, but the International Energy Agency predicts that solar photovoltaic technology could grow to 16 percent by the middle of this century, and others predict even greater growth.

"A lot of money is being thrown into solar energy right now," said Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at the Steyer-Taylor Center and the report's lead author. "We're trying to identify public policies and private financing mechanisms that would spend that money more economically and efficiently, scaling up clean energy for all."

The researchers also suggested reforming a federal policy that requires those who accept U.S. federal funding for solar research and development to promise to manufacture the resulting technologies substantially in the U.S. Created in an effort to maximize solar-manufacturing jobs, the current policy may instead diminish the quality of the research ideas being funded by the federal government. The researchers argue that solar R&D has a greater long-term economic value to the U.S. than solar manufacturing.

"There is an array of decisions the U.S. government is in charge of making that will have serious implications for the future of the U.S. solar industry," Reicher said. "This is a good moment to consider them in serious depth."

The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office.

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