Univ. of Tennessee Baker Center  study shows solar energy following similar growth path to mainstream usage as  traditional energy sources, supported by smart federal policies similar to  those that subsidize coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy.

A new independent research report released today by the Howard H. Baker Jr.  Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that  solar energy is following the same path to commercialization as other  traditional energy sources spurred by federal incentives. The study, titled  "Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment," also estimates that the U.S. solar industry could employ  hundreds of thousands of Americans by the end of the decade.

Like  oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and all other traditional energy sources, the  Baker Center finds, solar has received support from the federal government to  promote its usage in order to drive our economy.  In fact, according to  the report, diffusion of solar energy technology in the energy markets is very  similar to the paths that many American industries have traveled to become  mainstream.  Unlike more mature technologies, however, that continue to  receive subsidies, solar energy is currently in a very early phase of its  growth trajectory.

"When  it comes to government investment in new and emerging energy sources, solar is not unique," said Tom Kimbis, Vice President of Strategy and External  Affairs for SEIA. "The U.S. has a long history of incentivizing all sources  of energy because access to reliable power is the lifeblood of economic  development.  Pursuing an all-of-the-above approach to our energy  portfolio, including aggressively deploying solar energy, is the right policy  choice and is critical for America's long term competitiveness."

The  report finds that traditional fuels have been subsidized for decades – some  like coal and oil for a century – and followed similar growth trajectories  toward majority adoption.  According to the Baker Center report, every  significant energy resource deployed in the U.S. today has had approximately 30  years of innovation and early adoption before beginning rapid growth that  brought about mainstream adoption.

The  report also finds that solar energy has yielded significant public benefits in  exchange for federal support.  Earlier federal energy policy has helped  maintain competition, provide for national security, promote economic  development, meet public health and environmental quality standards, and  increase energy security.

Additionally, the report points out that solar energy benefits the U.S. energy portfolio by  decreasing the impact of supply disruptions and price volatility of other sources of energy. It is also notes that solar power is most efficient during  periods of high demand, providing lower cost peak power rates for consumers.

"Just  like older energy sources like coal, oil, and gas, solar energy is providing  real, tangible benefits to America today," added Kimbis. "Policies  designed to increase America's use of solar are incredibly successful and  generating benefits across the nation.  It would be a serious mistake for  policymakers in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses across the country, to walk away from good public policy."

Right now more than 100,000 Americans work at 5,600 solar energy companies across the nation in all 50 states. The industry more than doubled the amount of solar electricity installed in the U.S. in 2011 compared to 2010 and growth is  expected to continue in 2012.

The Baker Center study was funded by a research grant from the Solar Energy Industries Association.