We replaced all the coal power plants scheduled to come off-line due to new EPA emissions rules over the next five years with solar farms. This would dramatically position solar as a solid new generation resource by 2015. It's not that far-fetched and here's how this scenario could unfold.
Consider: According to a recently published Bernstein Research paper, new EPA regulations on mercury and other air toxins could drive 'rapid and far-reaching changes in the utility sector.' The regulation in question is the EPA decree submitted in October 2009 that would cap mercury and other acid gas emissions to more stringent maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards. These new standards, slated to be published in March 2011 and then ruled on by November 2014, would be followed by a three year compliance period. This scenario potentially causes nearly 1,000 gigawatts of coal fired electricity generation to either be retired or forced to retrofit with costly SO2 scrubbers, essentially wiping out any low-cost advantage coal may seem to have (since environmental damage attributable to coal fired generation is not currently a factored cost).
Now consider: If only 10% of those existing coal power plants in the U.S. are pulled off-line, this creates a 100 gigawatt deficit in the supply chain that could be replaced with photovoltaics (PV) – giving the PV industry the boost that would propel it into a major new generation source, and one that is emissions free.
That's a goal that sets a new bar, just like MACT. Now, we all just need to run a little faster.