Solar Energy's Uneasy Transition

March 26, 1982

Report Outline
Reversal of Solar Policy
State of the Technology
Outlook for Industry's Survival
Special Focus

Reversal of Solar Policy

Ending a Decade of Key Federal Support

Shocked by the energy crisis and awakened to environmental concerns, this nation began about a decade ago to rediscover such ancient sources of energy as sun, wind and water. Congress for the first time in 1973 made money available for the development of solar energy, through the National Science Foundation. These funds grew steadily, peaking at $500 million in President Carter's budget for fiscal year 1981.

Carter made solar research and development an important part of his energy program, placing it in the new Department of Energy. The government arranged in 1977 to establish the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) near Golden, Colo., and participated in “Sun Day,” May 3, 1978, to heighten public awareness of solar energy's potential as a national resource. Then in 1979 Carter committed the United States to a goal of meeting 20 percent of its energy needs with solar and other renewable resources by the year 2000.

Ronald Reagan, his successor, wasted no time in reversing those priorities. His administration instead emphasized petroleum and nuclear power. In his first year as president, Reagan cut solar energy funding in about half and he proposes further cuts in his new budget (see box, p. 236). This turnabout in policy has left the fledgling solar industry unsure, despite rapid technical advances, whether it can survive in the marketplace.

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