Already a national leader in renewable wind energy, Iowa also has the potential to be a leader in solar photovoltaic energy production, according to a new report released this morning by the Iowa Environmental Council.  

The amount of solar energy that Iowa could reasonably produce ranks 16th in the nation, and improvements in solar technology along with years of falling prices are helping build momentum in the budding industry, the council said.

The report, "Real Potential, Ready Today:  Solar Energy in Iowa," explains how in addition to providing useful energy, solar offers many other benefits: job creation, consumer savings, cleaner air and water, innovation and technology investment, and improved stability in the electric grid.

"Customers are excited about solar energy, and it is showing up in many diverse settings - at farms, businesses, universities, utilities and at homes around the state" said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council. The report also explains some of the public policy options used in Iowa and around the country to encourage development of solar energy.  

"As interest in solar energy grows, we wanted to share an overview of the role this energy source can play in the mix of energy options Iowa has." Baer said.

The cost to install solar systems has decreased an average of 5 to 7 percent annually from 1998 to 2011, and costs reductions from 2008 to 2012 were even greater, according to the report. The per-watt cost of installing solar photovoltaic cells averaged $7.50 in 2008; that cost had dropped to about $4 per watt in 2012, and the downward trend is expected to continue.

The report provides several case studies of solar installations in use across the state, among them Access Energy Cooperative in Mount Pleasant. The co-op's 100-kilowatt rooftop array supplies nearly one-third of the facility's total electric demand, and fills as much as 85 percent of its peak demand during the day.

The energy cooperative's general manager, Bob Swindell, said he prizes the array's ability to match peak demand on summer days.

"Solar generates most of its energy on sunny days," he said, "which is when electrical usage is the highest - on the hottest, sunniest days of summer."

In terms of potential job creation, adding 300 megawatts of solar power in Iowa over a five-year period would create an average of 2,500 jobs for each of those five years, while reducing the amount spent on importing fossil fuels, the report said.

Major funding for the publication was provided by the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University. It is available now as a free electronic download from www.iaenvironment.org/solar.