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Summit participants chart Arizona's solar future

Michael Bidwill
August 11, 2011

With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, Arizona’s future in solar energy should be bright. But leading the U.S. in solar will require more than ample amounts of sunshine, it will require national leadership in all facets of solar, including research, manufacturing, commercialization and energy production.

That is why ASU organized and conducted a high-level meeting on Aug. 2 and 3 addressing the current state of solar in Arizona and the directions needed to make it the national leader in solar energy. The Arizona Solar Summit 2011 brought together industry leaders, major landowners, research institutions and representatives from federal, state and local governments to hash out the policies, projects and collaborations needed to significantly advance the solar energy industry on a national and regional scale.  

“More importantly, it brought together the thought leaders whose vision and passion will lead Arizona’s next core industry into the 21st century,” said Kenny Evans, mayor of Payson and a summit participant.

It was not a meeting of power points and briefings, but a working meeting with fully engaged participants determining where Arizona stands and what it needs to do to be the leader in solar in the U.S., said Gary Dirks, director of ASU’s Lightworks and co-organizer of the summit.

“We set this up to take action to address the primary challenges we face in developing Arizona as the solar capitol of the United States,” Dirks said. “Our goal was to identify specific needs and then assign tasks to participants to satisfy those needs.”

Some 120 people participated in the summit, added Todd Hardy, associate vice president for economic affairs in ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and summit co-organizer.

“Arizona is positioned to assume a leadership role with regard to technology innovation, workforce development, manufacturing and power generation for Arizona use and to export solar power to other states,” Hardy explained. “However, we need to build on the recent momentum associated with a growing solar industry cluster and research portfolio to fully realize that leadership position.”

Those challenges, Hardy said, include attracting a greater number of private companies to Arizona, developing transmission facilities that will facilitate the efficient use of solar energy within Arizona and surrounding (export) states, and greater support from the federal government for research initiatives.

“We focused on those challenges that we believed are the most critical obstacles to our gaining national leadership in solar energy,” added Kris Mayes, a professor of practice in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and co-organizer of the summit.  “The summit went a long way in to helping us focus on the issues and work out the details of what can make Arizona number one in solar.”

“Just as Arizona used the five “C’s” (cotton, copper, cattle, climate, citrus) as a diverse platform on which to build prosperity in the 20th century, the photon industry has the potential to be that platform of prosperity for this generation,” added Payson’s Evans. “The contacts made, the visions shared, the challenges identified now allow us the opportunity to move forward in building the Arizona we want.”