THE BLOG

Washington's New Power Couple Proves America's Energy Future Is Changing

10/04/2011 10:33 am ET | Updated Dec 04, 2011

You think cleaner energy is a pie in the sky fantasy that won't benefit the economy, create jobs, or spur innovation? Well, I have some news for you.

At FedExField recently, we kicked off something besides a football game -- we kicked off the NRG Solar Bowl. Thanks to a unique partnership between the Washington Redskins and NRG Energy, the Solar Bowl was a celebration of the largest solar installation not only in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, but also in the NFL.

What does this mean? When we "flipped the switch" to solar, we ushered in a whole new era in which FedExField will be powered entirely by solar energy on non-game days and will get up to 20 percent of its power from solar on game days. Think about that -- FedExField, through its solar power supply, will be self-sustained from an energy standpoint for roughly 350 days of the year.

While it may surprise some that a storied franchise like the Redskins is "going solar," it's both a sign of the immense progress we've made in harnessing the power of the sun and a harbinger of greater things to come. Energy needs and energy solutions are changing -- as is the mindset of the American consumer. Now, more than ever before, we have choices about energy, about sustainability, about who provides that power and when and how we use it. We have entered a period of unlimited possibilities, where innovation and consumer empowerment will open up a world of new choices and competition.

By combining various solar technologies, a mini-network of electric vehicle charging stations and traditional electric power, we have forever changed the playing field at this remarkable stadium. The new energy the Redskins have displayed on the field is now matched by the new energy flowing through the concourses of the stadium.

For example, the two megawatts that the NRG solar power system can produce from its 8,000 solar panels is the equivalent of the power needed to operate roughly 300 homes in the D.C. area for a year. This power system will keep 1,780 metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, the equivalent of replacing 349 gasoline-fueled cars with zero emission electric vehicles.

Another important change that the Solar Bowl represents relates to solar itself. One of the myths about solar power is that it is simply too expensive to install. The reality is that the cost of solar panels has dropped precipitously over the last few years and we have reached the point where solar is now far more affordable for both businesses and households. In fact, we believe that in the next three to four years, in at least half of the states in this country, it will be less expensive to draw electricity from the solar panels on your roof than from the wires connecting you to the grid.

As the solar market becomes even more developed we expect that barriers that once may have hindered more widespread acceptance will be reduced. And the economic benefit will become more apparent as the return on the investment is happening at a much quicker pace, thanks to the tax credits offered at the federal level and by many state and local governments, as well. In Washington, for instance, where it previously took 10 to 15 years to realize the return on investment in solar, it can now occur in as little as one to three years.

In addition to the environmental benefits that this project will deliver, it also highlights the broader economic impact that transitioning to solar can deliver. From the time we began planning the FedExField installation last spring, it took the efforts of about 350 people to turn that plan into reality. From designers to construction teams to local electricians, this project provided good opportunities and good jobs, and accelerating the adoption of solar and other energy sources can mean more new jobs.

I believe that the future of energy brings with it not just new choices for consumers, but unlimited economic potential. Transitioning to a clean energy economy will not be as easy, quick or inexpensive as we might wish. There will be bumps in the road -- after all, risk is an inherent part of doing business. But that is part of our nation's history. If folks were afraid to dream, we wouldn't have gone to the moon, found our friends on Facebook or played Scrabble on our iPads.

To use what will one day be an outdated metaphor, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas -- it's time to go full throttle.