A bright future

Pictured are solar panels outside ECS Solar Energy Systems Inc., the first licensed solar contractor in Florida, in February. The price of solar energy technology has dropped by 50 to 60 percent the past three years, according to Wendell Porter, lecturer and advisor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF.

Investment in renewable energy resources is up as costs for renewable energy drop.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme, total worldwide investment in renewable energy reached $270.2 billion in 2014, an increase of almost 17 percent from 2013. The jump made renewable energy responsible for 9.1 percent of the total energy production in 2014, an increase of 0.6 percentage points.

But although Gainesville saw a peak in renewable energy investments over the years, those investments have slowed down, said Wayne Irwin, president of Pure Energy Solar. 

This is in part due to a Gainesville Regional Utilities program that ended in 2013 that would offer rebates and feed-in-tariffs, or compensation from the power company for the energy put back into the power grid

Currently, there is still a 30 percent federal tax incentive to install a solar system, but that will expire at the end of 2016, he added.

As the rest of Florida is pushing for more investment, Irwin’s company is doing more and more projects outside of Gainesville.

“I think that the grid that powers this country will be drastically different in 10 years,” said Wendell Porter, a lecturer and undergraduate adviser in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering  Department at UF.

Porter said the price of renewable energy, such as solar and wind technology, has dropped as much as 60 percent over the past three years, and he does not predict it will stop.

Solar technology costs have plunged because the price of silicon, which is used in solar panels, also dropped, said Barry Jacobson, the president of Solar Impact.

Nearly half of the total investment — $131.3 billion in renewable energy — was made by developing countries, according to the report, with solar and wind technology leading the way.

The actual numbers are a bit bigger, said Porter, because the report did not take into consideration hydroelectric power production.

“Wind and solar is becoming cheaper than fossil fuels,” he said, with 60 countries getting more than half of their energy from renewable energy sources.

[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 4/7/2015 under the headline “Renewable energy taking off worldwide, stalling in Gainesville”]