Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Building a Better Solar Energy Framework

Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Building a Better Solar Energy Framework

Article excerpt

  I. Introduction  II. An Introduction to the Nature of Solar Production         A. Infrastructure Requirements         B. Solar Policy Framework III. Future Viability of Solar Energy  IV. Analysis of Successful European Solar Frameworks   V. The U.S. Solar Framework         A. Federal Policies and Incentives         B. Limitations of Federal Solar Policies         C. Important Issues at the State and Local Level              i. State and Local Level Incentive Programs              ii. Land Use and Solar Access Laws              iii. Renewable Portfolio Standards              iv. Interconnection Standards              v. Net Metering              vi. Administrative and Permitting Procedures              vii. Additional Support Mechanisms and Recommendations  VI. Conclusion 


The global threats of fossil fuel depletion and carbon dioxide emissions have led to a worldwide effort to combat these challenges through utilization of alternative sources of energy. Renewable energy technology, in particular, has experienced growth in several areas including biofuel, wind power, solar photovoltaic, and concentrating solar thermal power. (1) No renewable energy source is a perfect solution to the world's climate challenge. Biofuels could become a substitute to fossil fuels, but the resources needed to fully replace fossil resources are lacking. (2) Wind power is intermittent and lacking in energy potential. (3) Solar energy, though also a victim of intermittency due to inevitable setting of the sun and shading during cloudy weather, has immense energy potential and has benefitted from significant cost reductions. (4)

Solar technologies fall into four main categories: photovoltaic ("PV"), concentrating solar power ("CSP"), solar water heating, and solar space heating and cooling. This article will focus on the existing solar PV policies and frameworks of the United States and certain countries within Europe. Solar PV systems employ panels made of solar cells that capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. (5) Solar PV panels, otherwise known as solar PV modules, are "typically made from solar cells combined into modules that hold about 40 cells" and can be combined together to form a solar array, which can be further interconnected to form large utility-scale PV systems. (6) These systems easily represent the largest solar energy market in the world and can be installed across all market segments: residential, non-residential (commercial, non-profit, and government), and utility-scale. (7) Continued growth of solar PV technologies in the United States and Europe is dependent upon the regulatory, policy, and incentive frameworks present in states, communities, and municipalities.

Similar to countries in the Europe, the United States encounters barriers such as "complex solar installation permitting procedures [and] a lack of financing mechanisms for solar projects...," but additionally suffers from restrictions on solar access, inadequate interconnection standards and net metering policies, shortage of a trained workforce, and a lack of support mechanisms for utility-scale projects. (8) While the federal government has enacted several policies and incentives to support the growth of solar technologies, (9) it lacks the ability to sufficiently combat some of these issues. Energy law in the United States is also primarily regulated at the state level or lower, which effectively makes each state a separate solar market (10) and affords state and local levels of government the responsibility of instituting policies and incentives that help eliminate barriers.

State and local governments can provide further incentive mechanisms than those already offered by the federal government in the form of tax rebates and feed-in tariffs, (11) among others. Advancement of solar technology can also be encouraged through solar access and solar rights laws, which ensure the availability of solar energy resources to individuals and companies and are important issues for state and local governments, where many different mechanisms are used to address solar access such as solar easements, ordinances, land use restrictions, homeowners' association rules, and permit requirements. …

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