Obama makes new solar push

President Barack Obama has announced measures to promote use of solar power and energy efficiency, with his administration saying it has lined up private and public sector commitments to add more than 850MW across the country.

They ranged from Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, which committed to doubling the number of onsite solar energy projects at its US operations by 2020, to low-income housing leaders and service suppliers.

Obama spoke at one of Wal-Mart’s stores in Mountain View, California, in the San Francisco Bay area near Silicon Valley, among his strongest bases of political support.

He noted that Wal-Mart already has the most installed on-site solar capacity of any company in America. Adding more is part of its goal to buy or produce 7 billion kWh of renewable energy by 2020, which could save the company $1bn a year in energy costs, according to Obama. 

He said the US is becoming a global leader in solar, thanks in part to taxpayer-funded investments channeled through the estimated $831bn American Recovery and Restoration Act of 2009.

“Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, and every panel is pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be overseas,” Obama said. “So today, no matter where you live or where you do business, solar is getting cheaper and is getting easier to use than before.”

Last year, jobs in the solar industry increased by 20% and solar installations rose by 500% versus 2012, according to Obama.

He said his administration will support training programs at 400 community colleges across the country that will help 50,000 workers earn the skills that solar companies are looking for right now.

The federal government is looking to leverage its buying power through multiple agencies to deploy more solar in northern California and in the Greater Washington DC region.

The White House also says the US Treasury Department will soon clarify how certain investment rules relate to renewable energy installations. This is important because real estate investment trusts (REITs) - a key component of many retail investors’ portfolios - generally hold only real property. The new guidance will provide clarity regarding the treatment of renewable energy installations in REITs, thereby helping to promote investment in the sector, it says.

Obama also ordered $2bn in upgrades to federal buildings over the next three years to cut energy waste and carbon pollution

His speech coincided with installation of US-made solar panels at the White House, part of an energy retrofit.

“Climate change is real, and we have to act now. Inside Washington, we still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate,” he said, taking a jab at climate-skeptics in the opposition Republican Party.

“The sooner we work together to adapt the economy to this reality of climate change, the more likely it is that we do right by our kids, and leave a more stable world," he said.