Last we wrote about solar power, we noted how it was still off limits to large segments of the American population, or made available only through private donations and subsidies. We’ve also highlighted the problem of American solar technology manufacturers shifting production to China.

And while both limited access and cheaper manufacturing opportunities overseas remain big problems facing the solar industry, there have recently been some signs of progress, both major and more symbolic.

First, the symbolic: TrendSetter Solar Products, a small manufacturer of solar panels, announced plans to move production from China to the United States. We call this a somewhat symbolic success, because TrendSetter, which also makes solar-powered hot water heating systems, is a small player. The company’s name notwithstanding, TrendSetter may not have a lot of influence over the business decisions made by larger companies under pressure to lower manufacturing costs. Still, every American job does count and any sign of companies bringing production back to the U.S. is certainly welcome.

The more significant recent development was a major deal announced last week for the Department of Energy to award two big solar players close to $2 billion to help create badly needed jobs and speed the adoption of renewable power.

The bulk of that investment will go to Abengoa Power, which is in the process of constructing a 240-megawatt project outside of Phoenix, a plant that will be among the world’s largest. And because Abengoa is building this plant with solar energy storage capabilities, it will be able to deliver power after dark and when it’s cloudy outside – another big milestone in making solar a steady and reliable source of power.

As these recent developments show, there has been meaningful progress in expanding the reach of solar power in the U.S. and advancing the technology to help build it into a more universal source of power.

This past weekend, the nation celebrated Independence Day, a holiday that always reminds those of us at CEA about the importance of energy independence. Solar power, long a source of promise, is starting to realize its potential not just as a universal source of power but also as a strong American energy industry.