Following up on the first part of this three-part series on the history of solar power, part II runs down the history of solar power policy. Naturally, as with any timeline, this isn't comprehensive, but I put in a lot of effort to try to include key solar policy landmarks from several leading solar countries. It's the most comprehensive history of solar power policy I've ever seen.
Solar Power Policy
1977: US President Jimmy Carter implements tax credits for solar power. He also has solar panels installed on the White House, formed the US Department of Energy, and invested heavily in the Solar Energy Research Institute (which later became the National Renewable Energy Agency under President Bush).
1978: Jimmy Carter started the Solar Domestic Policy Review. “This represented the first step towards widespread introduction of renewable energy sources into the Nation’s economy,” Carter stated in his final State of the Union address. “As a result of the Review, I issued the 1979 Solar Message to Congress, the first such message in the Nation’s history. The Message outlined the Administration’s solar program and established an ambitious national goal for the year 2000 of obtaining 20 percent of this Nation’s energy from solar and renewable sources. The thrust of the federal solar program is to help industry develop solar energy sources by emphasizing basic research and development of solar technologies which are not currently economic, such as photovoltaics, which generate energy directly from the sun…. At the same time, through tax incentives, education, and the Solar Energy and Energy Conservation Bank, the solar program seeks to encourage state and local governments, industry, and our citizens to expand their use of solar and renewable resource technologies currently available.” (These efforts were largely dismantled under President Ronald Reagan, but they did plant many important seeds.)"
1980: Utilities in Idaho adopt net metering, which allows homeowners or businesses with solar panels to get a credit on their electric bills for any solar energy they produce, don’t use, and send back to the grid. This policy eventually becomes one of the most important policies, if not the most important, spurring solar power growth in the United States. (Nonetheless, in 2014, a few states and utilities still don’t have a net metering policy in place.)
1981: Utilities in Arizona adopt net metering.
1982: Massachusetts utilities adopt net metering.
1982: India sets up the world’s first ministry of non-conventional energy resources.
1983: Minnesota is the first state to pass a net metering law.
1986: US President Ronald Reagan removes all federal support for solar power and even removes the White House’s solar panels.
1994: Japan implements subsidies for solar power that last until 2003.
1999: Germany passes feed-in tariff policy. Under this policy, utilities must pay solar power producers a specific, designated rate for electricity they produce. Key aims of the policy are to ensure a good return on investment and to scale up the solar market. (The policy eventually comes into effect in 2004.)
2004: California Governor (and former Terminator) Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes Solar Roofs Initiative, which would target 1 million Californian solar roofs by 2017.
2004: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius issues requirement that Kansas develops 1000 MW of renewable power capacity by 2015.
2004: Colorado becomes first US state to implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard (aka Renewable Energy Standard). This policy requires utilities to have a certain portion of their power supply coming from renewable energy sources, sometimes with specific requirements for different types of renewable energy technologies. This type of policy is eventually implemented across most states in the US.
2004: Germany initiates the first large-scale solar feed-in tariff system. This policy eventually drives the installation of more solar PV power capacity than any other policy worldwide. This type of policy (feed-in tariff), implemented in numerous countries, eventually leads to the installation of the majority of the world’s solar PV power capacity. The policy guarantees a set price for a designated period of time for power produced by solar PV panels. At the beginning of the German feed-in tariff system, the payments are set at 3 times the rate of the retail price of electricity. The contracts are for 20 years. The rates for new contracts go down each year as the price of solar PV falls and in order to encourage cost declines.
2006: The California Public Utilities Commission passes the California Solar Initiative (CSI). CSI is set up to incentivize solar power for 11 years to the tune of $2.8 billion. CSI, good solar insolation, and relatively high grid electricity prices result in California becoming one of the largest solar markets in the world, but only after several stumbling blocks regarding the specifics of the CSI incentives.
2008: Spain, Italy, Greece, and France follow Germany’s lead and introduce feed-in tariffs for solar power. Many other countries also follow suit.
2008: Federal tax incentives for solar power systems are passed in the United States.
2008: Berkeley, California launches landmark property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing legislation that allows people to pay off their solar panel purchases over time via higher property tax payments. This gets around the main issue deterring broader solar power adoption, a high upfront cost (despite long-term savings). The policy is later implemented in many jurisdictions across the US.
2008: The US Department of Energy announces $17.6 million of investment in “six company-led, early-stage photovoltaic (PV) projects under the Solar America Initiative's ‘PV Incubator’ funding opportunity. The ‘PV Incubator’ project is designed to fund prototype PV components and systems with the goal of moving them through the commercialization process by 2010.”
2009: India unveils $19 billion plan to install 20 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2020.
2009: China implements subsidy scheme for solar power generation projects. The government will cover 50% of the cost of grid-connected solar PV projects and 70% for off-grid systems in remote areas.
2009: China is also reportedly subsidizing its solar manufacturers a good deal, which eventually leads to international trade cases instigated by manufacturers in the US and Europe.
2010: India launches Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. The goal of the program is to make India a global leader in the realm of solar energy. “The Mission under the aegis of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will adopt a 3-phase approach, spanning the remaining period of the 11th Plan and first year of the 12th Plan (up to 2012-13) as Phase 1, the remaining 4 years of the 12th Plan (2013–17) as Phase 2 and the 13th Plan (2017–22) as Phase 3. At the end of each plan, and mid-term during the 12th and 13th Plans, there will be an evaluation of progress, review of capacity and targets for subsequent phases, based on emerging cost and technology trends, both domestic and global.”
2010: The US Department of Energy launches the SunShot Initiative, which has a goal of reducing (or helping to reduce) the cost of solar power by 75% from 2010 to 2020. (The name is in reference to former US President John F. Kennedy’s successful “moon shot” goal of landing a man on the moon.)
2011: California Governor Jerry Brown signs legislation requiring that California utilities get 33% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020.
2011: China implements national feed-in tariff for solar power projects. It equals approximately 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, approximately three times less than Germany’s first feed-in tariff in 2004, and still about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour lower than Germany’s lowest feed-in tariff in 2011.
2013: Two California cities mandate that any new residential developments include a minimum amount of solar power capacity per home. One of the cities mandates the same for commercial as well as residential buildings. Both policies go into effect in 2014.
2013: First phase of India’s National Solar Mission wraps up, successfully achieving the overall aim of installing 1000 megawatts of solar power capacity by 2013. By 2020, the target is to hit 20,000 megawatts of on-grid solar power capacity and 2,000 of off-grid solar power capacity.