The Vast Midwest Cornfields Are an Untapped Solar Reservoir

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The Midwest United States may not be known for its solar power opportunities, but solar advocacy groups are seeking to change that.

According to the latest national solar radiation database update, the Midwest receives somewhere between 3.5 and 5.5 kWh/m² a day. By contrast, California receives 6 kWh/m² a day, and New York (who is currently a top player in the solar field) receives 4.0 kWh/m² a day.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has begun slowly pursuing expansion into the region over the past two years, according to Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs.

The Vast Midwest Cornfields Are an Untapped Solar Reservoir

“There were several developments last year that I think pushed us sort of over the edge to wanting to have a little bit more involvement,” said Gallagher.

Michigan has recently committed to expanding their RPS from 10% to 15% by 2021, and Illinois has recently passed their Future Energy Jobs bill, which allocates more funds for in-state solar development. These states represent opportunities for SEIA and other solar companies to keep expanding operations into the Midwest.

The Vast Midwest Cornfields Are an Untapped Solar Reservoir

Not all of the Midwest seems welcoming to solar energy in terms of policies, as Indiana has passed legislation which essentially eliminates net metering throughout the state.

“The move in Indiana is unfortunate, and it’s unfortunately consistent with the kinds of things that utilities across the country have been proposing over the last couple of years,” said Gallagher. “We’ve seen this kind of thing around the country, so it’s not endemic to the Midwest.”

Nonetheless, solar contractors like Heartland Solutions in Indiana still feel optimistic about the future of solar in the Midwest. Mark Fisher, the company’s president, views this as only a temporary setback.

The Vast Midwest Cornfields Are an Untapped Solar Reservoir

“The renewable energy side of things is really heating up, and we see it coming to the Midwest,” said Fisher. “It may not be here now, but I think it’s the way things are going.”

As for the future of solar throughout the rest of the Midwest, Gallagher says solar installers must be involved in local politics since the electricity systems of the US are driven by policy and heavily regulated.

“Utilities ask for things at state commissions, and when they don’t like them, they go to the legislature,” said Gallagher. “So it’s important for installers to get involved and stay involved.”

Gallagher urges solar installers to join local SEIA affiliates in speaking out during lobby days, as well as meeting with state legislators. The Midwest may be an untapped reservoir of solar energy, but installers will need to be active at the state-level for it to occur.