The California-based solar leasing firm Sungevity announced a deal on Monday with home improvement giant Lowe’s that could make obtaining a personalized estimate for installing solar panels a push-button affair at Lowe’s outlets.

The deal gives Lowe’s just under a 20 percent stake in Sungevity, according to a solar industry source, though neither company would discuss specific dollar figures.

Under the agreement, scheduled to launch in 30 Lowe’s stores in California in July, customers will be able to access kiosks equipped with Sugevity’s iQuote system, a Web-based application that allows homeowners to simply enter their address and receive a firm installation estimate within 24 hours, eliminating the expense of an on-site visit.

The system combines aerial and satellite image analysis with research by Sungevity engineers at the company’s Oakland headquarters to assess the geometry of a home’s rooftop, its disposition to the sun at different times of day and year and any potential occlusions presented by nearby vegetation or built objects.

In addition to an installation estimate, customers can also get a visual rendering of their home with solar panels installed. And if interested parties provide information on typical power usage, such as an account number or past electric bills, the iQuote system can estimate potential savings expected from using the equipment.

The iQuote system can already be used online, and the company’s founder, Danny Kennedy, estimated that roughly 25,000 users had taken it for a test drive, though only about 1,500 of those had been converted to sales.

The deal with Lowe’s, Kennedy said, could help Sungevity — a petite player in the solar leasing market compared to bigger players like SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif., or San Francisco-based SunRun, which raised $200 million in financing earlier this month — significantly expand its reach.

“This will help us to get in front of thousands more customers, in front of middle America,” Kennedy told The Huffington Post. “We’ll be taking it to the ‘burbs, as it were.”

Despite tough economic times and often uncertain economic incentives, a number of analyses predict a boom year for solar power in 2011.

A report published in December by IDC Energy Insights, a market research firm based in Framingham, Mass., estimated following a healthy 2010, the solar market in North America could well see two gigawatts of solar power installations this year.

Jay Holman, the report’s lead analyst, told The Huffington Post that those numbers had been revised somewhat, but that 2011 was still expected to bring in 1.6 gigawatts of new solar installations, roughly double the 2010 total.

Part of the reason for America’s interest in solar energy may be a decline in the robust incentives the once drew a deluge of equipment and installations to the European market, particularly countries like Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy, Holman said. Those countries have begun to scale back their subsidies, forcing companies to look to other markets.

Meanwhile, federal tax incentives, including a 30 percent tax cash grant extended through the end of 2011, have helped keep solar alive. Several states have healthy incentives in place as well, including the eight states where the Sungevity/Lowes deal will eventually be rolled out: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Holman also said solar leasing companies like Sungevity, SunRun and Solar City, which retain ownership of the equipment while reducing or, in many cases, eliminating the up-front installation costs, also help drive the expansion of solar power.

“Obviously, we’re obsessed with being customer-focused,” said Kennedy. “We hope that this deal will make going solar as easy as shopping for light bulbs.”

WASHINGTON — The government said Wednesday it is calling off a recently announced moratorium on applications to build solar plants on public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management made the announcement after public opposition to its original decision, reached at the end of May.

The BLM had wanted to put new applications for solar plants on federal land on hold while undertaking a comprehensive review of potential environmental impacts from such plants. That review was not scheduled for completion until May 2010.

Meanwhile, BLM planned to keep processing the applications it’s already received for 125 proposed solar projects on about 1 million acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

BLM has yet to approve a solar project on federal land; the solar projects already built or under way in this country are on private property.

Still, industry officials already impatient about the BLM’s pace worried that putting a stop to new applications would allow other industries to lay claim to federal land that could go to solar. They feared it would also send the wrong signal to potential investors just as the solar industry is getting started.

“Hitting the brakes before we’d really gotten off the ground was definitely a scary prospect for the industry,” said Katherine Gensler, manager of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

BLM Director James Caswell said the agency’s action Wednesday was intended to address such concerns.

“By continuing to accept and process new applications for solar energy projects, we will aggressively help meet growing interest in renewable energy sources, while ensuring environmental protections,” he said in a statement.

Just this week, while officiating at the opening of a solar manufacturing plant in his home state of Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had vowed to get BLM to overturn the moratorium.

Nevada is more than 85 percent federal land and is a prime destination for solar because of its climate and terrain.

“Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of solar energy and is poised to lead a global clean energy revolution, and we need to do all we can to encourage public and private investment in projects to develop this amazing potential,” Reid, a Democrat, said in a statement praising BLM’s decision.

The BLM’s environmental review is taking place in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, the states deemed to contain public lands with solar resources.

BLM’s decision to reverse the solar application moratorium comes as the alternative energy industry remains jittery about another issue: a $6 billion package of alternative energy tax credits, including about $1.3 billion for solar, that’s gotten stalled in Congress. Reid wants to get that resolved after lawmakers return from the July 4 holiday.

There are currently nine utility-scale solar plants in the U.S. capable of producing a combined 425 megawatts of solar power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar industry officials and environmental groups agreed that BLM, which has granted numerous leases to the oil and gas industry, needs to move faster on the solar proposals.

“The real problem here is that the Bush administration is starving key government agencies of the resources they need to effectively do their jobs,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director

Our Perspective:

Both the Federal Government and the States are realizing that new alternative sources are needed to meet the growing demand.

Is nuclear the answer? They still have not found a solution fowhat to do with the spent fuel. You just can’t keep burying it. If a solution is found, this will help to meet future demand. In the meantime, incentive are being provided for alternative sources such as solar ,wind and geothermal.

To learn more about solar opportunities in NJ and PA email george@hbsadvantage.com