Despite these high-profile solar energy projects, Strong says there's been little commitment to renewable energy since the 1970s.
“Each administration since Richard Nixon has championed a goal of American energy independence,” says Strong. “There’s been a great deal of talk, and the first world oil embargo we were importing about 15 percent of our domestic demand in the U.S., and now it’s about 70 percent, so you can see there’s been no progress—none.”
Strong spoke to CNBC about advancements in the renewable energy space, the challenges renewable energy is facing currently and what the next presidential administration can do to help renewable energy reach its potential.
What are some major advancements that have been made in solar energy in the past 5 years?
It's mainly been a volume-building exercise, as more companies come into the marketplace, and everybody that's established tries to build production volume, and that’s for two reasons: the market demand is finally there; and second, as we know from many other technology booms, for example the personal computer, the iPhone or PDA, volume increase reduces individual unit cost...There have been efficiency upgrades all along the way, those have been evolutionary or incremental. We haven’t seen any major breakthroughs but mainly incremental progress and the steady reduction in cost as volume builds.
What are some important misconceptions about solar energy?
It’s free. The fuel is free, but the investment in the equipment and system is significant, and it’s a capital investment that you make all up front. You're buying decades worth of free energy once the systems are in place and operational, but you need to pay for that in advance, and we as Americans aren't used to paying for anything in advance, so it's a bit of a conundrum for people to get their arms around.
When, if ever, do you see price parity with conventional types of energy?
I see price parity absolutely, but keep in mind there are two factors that contribute to that. One is the reduction in cost of the alternatives and the other is the rising cost the conventional energy sources, and I’m afraid that the rising cost of conventional energy sources are going to drive the price parity crossing point probably as much or more than the price reduction of solar or wind for that matter, although wind - big wind, utility-scale wind - is likely to reach cost parity sooner than distributive solar.