The million solar roofs initiative
by P Dreyfuss, US Department of Energy

On 26 June 1997, President Clinton announced the new Million Solar Roofs Initiative in his speech before the United Nations Session on Environment and Development. The Initiative is the catalyst pulling industry, business, government, and the public together to install solar energy systems on one million US buildings by 2010.


This home in Hopewell, New Jersey, includes a 1.8 kW PV array of amorphous silicon modules.

The initiative
Solar energy technologies under the Initiative include photovoltaics (PV) that produce electricity from sunlight and solar thermal panels that produce heat for domestic hot water, space heating, or heating swimming pools. Ideally, these solar energy systems will be installed on energy efficient buildings, maximising their benefits and exemplifying a whole-building approach to energy management. By integrating the latest in energy-efficient building design, construction, and equipment with solar energy technologies, the United States can significantly reduce its fossil energy use in buildings ­ and enjoy both environmental and economic benefits.

By working with commercial, institutional, and government partners, the Initiative will increase the market for solar energy and help promote solar projects. It will not direct or control related state and local activities and is not intended as a funding mechanism to pay for the installation of solar energy systems. Some expected impacts of the Initiative include:

  • By 2010, around 70,000 new jobs could be created from the increased demand for PV, solar hot water and related solar energy systems.
  • In 2010, with one million solar energy roofs in place, the Initiative could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to the annual emissions from 850,000 cars.
  • By 2005, the worldwide PV market alone is expected to exceed $1.5 billion (where $ is the US dollar.

How it works
The success of the Initiative is important to the United States because it will create high-tech jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help to keep the US solar energy industry competitive in the world market. That success requires the participation of businesses, industries, governments, federal agencies, utilities and non-governmental organisations. The Initiative will work 'bottom-up' to attract partners, building by building, community by community, state by state, and business by business. It will also work 'top-down' by developing financing mechanisms, leveraging resources, co-ordinating federal agency support and sharing information with Million Solar Roofs partnerships. On behalf of the federal government, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is leading the implementation of the Initiative through a variety of activities.

Since the announcement of the Initiative, nine partnerships with members that include utilities, states, governmental organisations and solar energy businesses and business associations have announced preliminary plans to install more than 500,000 solar energy systems on buildings. In addition, the federal government has committed to installing 20,000 solar energy systems on federal buildings by 2010. The DOE will work to establish 16 more partnerships by September 30, 1999.

One important role of the Initiative is to reduce regulatory and programmatic barriers and thereby simplify financing of solar energy systems. The Initiative will link financing from federal, state, local and private institutions with major partnerships and individuals. The Initiative will also help provide access to existing solar energy financing, expand existing energy efficiency financing activities to include solar energy, and create new financing instruments when appropriate. In addition, the Initiative will help in linking financing available through state electric utility restructuring to solar energy installations.

Eleven US states have established renewable energy funds to purchase, finance, or buy-down the cost of solar energy and other renewable energy systems. The funds will provide about $1.2 billion between 1997 and 2010 for renewable energy projects and programmes. These states have a variety of programmes, including a $3/watt buy-down fund for photovoltaics as part of California's $540 million programme, a $146 million renewable energy development fund currently being instituted in Massachusetts, and a $5 million/year fund in Illinois. The DOE will facilitate an effort to develop communications and information sharing among the 11 states and assist others in developing similar funds.

At the federal level and as part of a proposed $6.3 billion package of federal tax and research incentives for energy technologies to address the global warming threat, the Administration has proposed tax credits of up to $2,000 for the installation of rooftop solar energy systems. The proposal calls for a credit of 15% of the cost of a new solar energy system, with a maximum credit of $1,000 for hot water systems and $2,000 for PV systems. The DOE will educate programme partners and consumers about the benefits of the tax credit when it is adopted by Congress.

The rapid change in the nature of the electric utility industry provides significant opportunities for the Million Solar Roofs Initiative. The Administration's utility restructuring proposal to Congress calls for net metering in all states, a renewable energy portfolio standard, and a $3 billion public benefit fund. When implemented, such policies will provide a strong foundation for the Million Solar Roofs Initiative and encourage the installation of solar energy systems.


Supporting solar energy
The solar energy option is often ignored because of a lack of information about systems operations and building code requirements. Policies such as interconnection standards, net metering and building codes and standards, including solar access ordinances, can increase the desirability of installing solar energy systems. The DOE is working with many national and local partners to increase understanding of solar energy systems and reduce barriers to their use.

The DOE will play a central role in sharing technical information, highlighting successful demonstration and deployment activities, providing training, and stimulating public awareness of the benefits of solar energy applications.

Various types of assistance will be provided. For example, the DOE national laboratories have technical experts who can help with solar energy systems analysis, design, and testing. Public and private training organisations can train installers, inspectors, and code officials. The solar energy industry and utilities also offer many types of technical training and community awareness activities.

The RD&D conducted through the DOE is fundamental to increasing the conversion efficiency and performance of solar devices, reducing costs, and improving the reliability and life expectancy of solar systems.

Solar water heating is cost-competitive in many locations today. Solar swimming pool heaters are cost-competitive in almost any location where the sun shines. Photovoltaics are expected to be cost-competitive within the next five years. Solar energy technology creates businesses and keeps money in local communities and states. Solar energy also helps to reduce pollution and clean up the air.

The strong early response to the President's initial announcement shows the nation's interest in the solar energy alternative. The DOE is focusing its resources and the resources of its national laboratories on helping initial partners to turn pledges of support into plans for installation. The lessons learned and the plans carried out by these early partnerships will be useful to others as they join the Initiative.

For more information, visit the programme's Website at or contact the CADDET US National Team in Colorado.

The CADDET Renewable Energy Newsletter is a quarterly magazine published by the CADDET Centre for Renewable Energy at ETSU, UK.

The articles published in the Newsletter reflect the opinions of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the official view of CADDET.

Enquiries concerning the Newsletter should be addressed to
Pauline Toole, Editor, CADDET Centre for Renewable Energy, ETSU, Harwell, Oxfordshire OX11 0RA, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 1235 432968, Fax: +44 1235 433595.