Iowa Environmental Council calls for State solar push

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The Iowa Environmental Council has released a report to highlight the state’s solar energy potential in comparison to its current low installation rate.

While average system prices have dramatically decreased, Iowa’s installed capacity is low in comparison to other states of similar resources. Iowa’s installation growth rates are currently behind other states, such as New Jersey with 971MW by the end of 2012, North Carolina with 229MW, and Massachusetts 198MW. Iowa had just 1-2MW installed, despite benefiting from higher natural solar resources. 

The report, funded by Iowa State University and titled ‘Real Potential, Ready Today’ proposes Iowa has the potential to be a leading solar state in the US.

At the height of summer, Iowa has solar radiation readings of up to 7kWh per square metre.

The report also factored in land use potential, using topography and state environmental preventions on land, to accurately calculate Iowa’s solar potential.

Iowa out ranks the states of Georgia, Utah and South Carolina in solar energy generation potential based on land available and natural solar resources.

The report concludes solar energy should be exploited in the state further, due to its availability when electricity is in most demand and prices are highest, as well as solar’s small geographical footprint on the state (Iowa’s rooftop potential alone could provide 20% of Iowa’s energy needs).

The report also highlights “job creation, consumer savings, cleaner air and water, innovation and technology investment and improved stability in the electric grid” as noteworthy benefits of solar energy.

According to the study, the addition of 300MW of solar a year would create 2,500 jobs, as well as save US$4 billion on imported energy.

Iowa already gains 25% of its energy mix from wind power. The report notes that solar is complementary to the wind energy already installed: with wind production favouring night time and winter, solar can produce energy for the state during the day and in the summer.

“Iowans can rely on solar energy when demand is at its highest, during hot, sunny afternoons and solar PV can provide substantial energy all year long,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council.

Baer said now people are getting “excited about solar energy” and was becoming common place up across the state at “farms, business, universities, utilities, and at homes”.

With public interest increasing, the Council wants an “overview of the role this energy source can play in the mix of energy options Iowa has”. Iowa’s energy mix is currently sees coal providing 65% of the state’s energy, wind 25% and smaller fractions of nuclear, natural gas and hydropower. The report estimates solar can account for 5-10% of energy in the next ten years as “a realistic target”, in line with other state solar goals. 

The report also highlights public policies encouraging the deployment of solar. It advises tax incentives, utility incentives, loans and grants for projects and third party power purchase agreements, making community solar, interconnection and local or zone permits available.   

Iowa’s largest solar installation to date is the 280kW array at Luther College in Decorah, followed by a 150kW array on a distribution centre near Peosta and a 40kW array at a farm in Lisbon.

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