The Solar Opportunity Awaits

by John Farrell.

U.S. grid parity chart
U.S. population at grid parity chart.

The coming of solar grid parity offers an opportunity for millions of Americans to go solar affordably. But it also means a potential transformation, a democratization of an electricity system long dominated by centrally-controlled utilities and centralized ownership and production of electricity. When solar can undercut grid electricity prices, it may also undercut this 20th century system of centralized ownership, bringing economic sunshine and self-reliance to communities along with solar electricity.

This is the third of five parts of our Rooftop Revolution report being published in serial. Read Part 1 or Part 2. Download the entire report and see our other resources here.

Millions of People, Thousand of Megawatts

When solar grid parity arrives, it won’t mean that everyone can go solar. The most likely participants in the residential sector will be folks who own their own home. Even then, there will be some homes whose roof is unsuitable for solar power for one reason or another (e.g. shading). The following analysis takes the year of solar grid parity for the nation’s largest cities and translates it into megawatts of solar power potential.

We used the following assumptions to calculate the residential solar rooftop potential for each metropolitan area:

  • Only non-vacant, owner-occupied properties were considered. Nationally, about two-thirds of homes are owner-occupied and not vacant, with major metropolitan areas varying from 50 to 70%.1
  • We estimated approximately 1,000 square feet of total roof space per home.
  • We assumed that only 27% of this space (in the aggregate) would be suitable for solar, based on national studies of rooftop solar potential.2
  • We assumed that 1 kW of solar could be installed for every 100 s.f. of suitable roof space.

With these assumptions, we can use our previous analysis of the year of solar grid parity (based on the average residential retail electricity rate) to estimate the potential capacity of solar power that could be installed on home rooftops at grid-beating prices each year until 2027.

A very conservative solar megawatt grid parity estimate

The above chart is quite conservative. For one, the data only reflect the 50% of Americans that live in the largest 40 metropolitan areas. Additionally, we used average grid prices and did not factor in time-of-use pricing or “economic grid parity.” Finally, residential solar is only a fraction of the total solar market. In California, the largest U.S. solar market, residential solar represents approximately 30% of the installed capacity in the California Solar Initiative program.3 Thus, the grid parity potential numbers above are a fraction of the actual solar potential when considering commercial and public sector property as well as communities smaller than the 40 largest cities.

Additionally, rooftops aren’t the only place for solar, and the availability of other locations could further expand the grid parity opportunity. The following infographic illustrates the opportunity for solar over parking lots, near highways, and underneath existing transmission lines. It still doesn’t factor in solar placed on the ground near existing buildings.

solar land space

Jobs and Economic Development

Solar provides an unparalleled economic opportunity for local power generation and local economic benefits. Each megawatt of solar power generates as many as eight jobs and $240,000 in economic activity, and most solar power projects can be built right next to or on top of the building that will use the electricity.

Previous studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicate that locally owned renewable energy projects multiply the job and economic benefits of renewable energy projects.

With a potential for 30,000 megawatts of residential solar in the next 6 years, communities across the country could gain over a quarter of a million jobs and create over $18 billion in economic activity.

Value to the Electricity System

There’s also ample evidence that distributed solar power has much greater value to the grid than simply electricity output. The delivery of power during peak periods (covered by time-of-use pricing) is just one element. The ability of solar to avoid transmission access charges, supplant long-distance power sources, reduce stress on the distribution system during peak power events, and hedge against fossil fuel price fluctuations can vary from $0.03 to $0.14 per kWh. Solar also has environmental benefits (relative to existing power production) that provide additional value.4

Local Ownership Boosts Economic Benefit of Renewables

The following chart illustrates how utilities are recognizing the value of solar power, illustrating the willingness of a municipal utility to pay more for local solar power because of its various grid and local economic benefits.

Value of Local Solar Power to Palo Alto MUNI

Key to PA

Democratizing the Electricity System

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the solar grid parity opportunity will be its political impact. As millions of Americans become self-reliant energy producers, it will create an enormous constituency for continued support of distributed renewable energy development and distributed solar in particular. As an illustration, the following residential rooftop solar installation might have the capacity to produce 3 kW of electricity, but the two adults likely to live in the residence represent two solar voters.

solar 3kw roof

References

  1. 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. (Census Bureau, 2010). Accessed 12/8/11 at http://tinyurl.com/7ndxhg4.
  2. Paidipati, Jay, et al. “Rooftop Photovoltaics Market Penetration Scenarios.” (Navigant Consulting, Inc., for NREL: February 2008). Accessed 8/13/08 at http://tinyurl.com/6qplow.
  3. Applications by Sector. (California Solar Statistics, 1/10/12). Accessed 1/11/12 at http://tinyurl. com/86a7awr.
  4. Farrell, John. Distributed Solar Power Worth Far More Than Electrons. (Institute for Local Self-Reliance Energy Self-Reliant States blog, 4/12/11). Accessed 1/13/12 at http://tinyurl.com/3tqmerh.

This article, The Solar Opportunity, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Solar PV Production Costs To Drop In 2014

by Joshua S Hill

Falling solar polysilicon and wafer prices.
Falling solar polysilicon and wafer prices.

The average cost for tier 1 solar photovoltaic manufacturers is expected to fall 6% during 2014, continuing the downward trend set in place since 2008, bringing the overall cost to a record low of $0.20 per watt, according to the latest research from NPD Solarbuzz published in their Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly report.

“Wafer costs are only a third of what they were five years ago, and even though the rapid pace of cost reduction is starting to decline, the severe oversupply and extremely low selling prices are forcing polysilicon and wafer makers to continue to find ways to lower costs to previously assumed impossible levels,” said Charles Annis, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz.

There are two sides to the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic panels are polysilicon and wafers. According to NPD, polysilicon manufacturers are relocating capacity to areas with low electricity prices, building new fluidized bed reactor (FBR) plants or converting Siemens capacity to FBR, reducing power consumption, increasing plant productivity, as well as building in-house power plants.

“At the same time, wafer makers are also reducing costs by increasing the multicrystalline ingot size from Gen 4/5 to Gen 6/7, reducing slurry consumption and increasing recycling, adopting diamond wire sawing for monocrystalline applications, and benefiting from rising conversion efficiencies as crystallization quality continues to improve,” explained Annis.

While manufacturing prices are expected to drop, NPD believe that “along with firm pricing and rapidly growing shipments” the increased productivity that is allowing such prices “is expected to create a substantially more optimistic opportunity for best-of-class polysilicon and wafer makers in 2014.” Subsequently, these prices make NPD Solarbuzz’s recent PV market demand forecast of between 45 GW and 50 GW for 2014 should support improving the profitability for leading polysilicon and wafer manufacturers.

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This article, Solar PV Production Costs To Drop In 2014, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

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Global Solar PV Installations Will Double, Hit Grid Parity By 2020

by Silvio Marcacci

.

Worldwide Solar PV Installed Capacity and Revenue chart via Navigant Research

Continually declining solar photovoltaic (PV) prices will continue to power an international market surge, with annual installations doubling by 2020 en route to grid parity around the world.

This bright outlook shines through Navigant Research’s most recent Solar PV Market Forecasts and estimates solar PV will be cost-competitive with retail electricity prices without subsidies in nearly every electricity market by 2017.

Even though each international energy market presents different conditions for solar PV’s growth, Navigant expects overall solar energy costs  to continue falling while overall installations and industry revenue keep climbing.

Low Solar PV Costs Unlock Grid Parity

Solar PV panel oversupply and government incentives have combined to send costs spiraling down to often unsustainable levels in recent years, sparking market consolidations and bankruptcy. According to Navigant, module costs fell from $4 per watt in 2006 to as little as $1 per watt in some markets by 2012, and will continue declining between 3%-8% per year to reach a global average of $1.50-$2.19 per watt by 2020.

This dramatic price decline has also made solar PV appealing to developing nations and an entire new class of homeowners and businesses. Under Navigant’s outlook, new annual installations of solar PV will double from 35.9 gigawatts (GW) new capacity in 2013 to 73.4GW in 2020.

“Lower prices for solar PV modules are opening up new markets for distributed PV, while also helping the technology reach grid parity more quickly in high-cost retail electricity markets,” said Dexter Gauntlett, Navigant analyst.

New Markets, New Revenue, Surprising Trends

And all those new installations will also bring much more revenue, often by new markets. Navigant estimates annual worldwide solar PV revenue will pass $134 billion by 2020, led by growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Of course, China will dominate worldwide growth, and is expected to pass 100GW installed solar PV capacity by 2020.

But if China’s solar surge is predictable, the type of installations is not. Distributed generation, while an exciting prospect for resiliency, is expected to account to less than half of all installations in 2014 and non-distributed systems (greater than 1 megawatt in size) will represent more than half the worldwide market through 2020.

The shift away from non-distributed generation is somewhat surprising, considering major markets like Germany and China are retooling their financial incentives toward on-site installations while solar leasing companies like SolarCity and SunRun offer homeowners the option for rooftop solar with little or no upfront investment and many states tweak policies to free the grid for small-scale solar systems.

But perhaps this shift is best seen in context compared to the total growth of large systems. Navigant previously estimated distributed solar installations would reach $118 billion by 2018 – meaning small solar PV will keep growing, just not as fast.

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This article, Global Solar PV Installations Will Double, Hit Grid Parity By 2020, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.