Archive for 'Solar Growth'

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Does Senator Lamar Alexander’s energy speech mark a shift in GOP tone?


In a speech at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) lauded distributed solar power, called for more R&D funding of clean technologies, and warned that humans are causing climate change.

The speech was a notable departure from recent GOP rhetoric on clean energy, which has been largely focused on playing up a handful of high-profile bankruptcies and questioning the validity of climate science.

Senator Alexander plays an influential role in Washington when it comes to energy policy. As the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, he helps guide how the Department of Energy is funded. The Senator is a major proponent of R&D spending on both cleantech and fossil fuels. He is also very outspoken about energy tax subsidies and commonly uses the term “big wind” in his efforts to repeal the production tax credit for wind.

Alexander’s speech covered many familiar talking points. He worried about the cost of state-level targets for renewable electricity, criticized the government for trying to “pick winners and losers,” and called for eliminating the wind tax credit in favor of more R&D spending.

However, his speech also included a few “maverick” comments that break from current GOP thinking on energy.

Early on in his remarks, Alexander commented on the need to develop low-carbon energy in order to address climate change.

“While the United States has made more gains in reducing the use of carbon than any other industrial country, the National Academies of the U.S. and twelve other countries have warned that human activity has contributed significantly to climate change and global warming,” he said. Alexander then went on to criticize cap-and-trade legislation.

Alexander also criticized state targets for renewable energy, warning they would put “too much reliance on sources that generate power only intermittently” and take up too much land area. However, he pivoted quickly to his support for distributed solar, which he said shows “great promise.”

“There certainly is a place for these renewable technologies, and solar power especially seems to me to have great promise,” said Alexander. “Fortunately, we have plenty of rooftops on which to put solar panels. And when they become cheap enough and aesthetically pleasing enough, they will probably become an increasingly important supplement to our country’s huge appetite for electricity — especially because the sun shines during the peak use hours.”

Throughout last year’s election season, GOP leaders and party allies made solar and other clean technologies a top target in their campaign to unseat President Obama.

Last spring, groups spent more than $10 million on Solyndra attack ads in one month. In July, the party rolled out an interactive website touting debunked claims that Obama’s investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles were outsourcing jobs overseas. And Republican challenger Mitt Romney called Tesla (which recently paid back its loan guarantee) a “failure,” while also proclaiming that federal loan programs were hurting investment in solar.

So does this speech mark a change in tone from the GOP?

In a speech five years ago, Senator Alexander called for more investment in electric vehicles, solar, biofuels and green buildings. Given his past support of such initiatives, Alexander’s latest speech isn’t a dramatic shift for the Senator.

But some Republicans are watching closely to see how it influences others in the party. Michael McKenna, a GOP energy lobbyist, told National Journal that Alexander’s remarks are important for Republican leaders as they consider shifting their platform in the 2016 election cycle.

“Lamar is a pretty interesting guy. Given his swingy nature, lots of people are going to pay attention to what he is saying,” McKenna said.

The political divide between liberals and conservatives over specific policies like tax credits and cap-and-trade may not close anytime soon. But if Alexander’s speech is any indication, Republicans could try to swing back to the center and take up more moderate policy positions like they promoted in the 2008 election, when “climate change” and “renewable energy” were not dirty words.


Source:  Stephen Lacey: May 30, 2013

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The Army, Navy and Air Force Go Solar

(Solar Electrical Systems is proud to have helped the military reach its renewable energy goals.  SES installed 2 solar carports at the Los Angeles Air Force Base that provide 360kW of power, and provide shade for over 200 cars.  Check out our video of the project at


From the battlefield to stateside bases, the U.S. military has proven that solar is reliable.


The Army, Navy and Air Force are using more than 130 megawatts of solar for everything from powering remote special operations to air conditioning and lighting for U.S. base residences. And the forces intend to keep building toward 3 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2025 as part of a much bigger Department of Defense (DOD) commitment.


While detractors were declaring solar too intermittent to be reliable at home, U.S. Marines were successfully relying on it at battlefield sites in the Khyber Pass, according to Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy, a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released just in time for Armed Forces Day on May 18.


The DOD’s annual $20 billion energy budget makes it the biggest single energy consumer in the world.


USC 2911 of DOD’s title 10 Energy Performance Goals, as updated in 2009, requires 25 percent of total military facility energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources by 2025.


Driven by that target, the Navy has installed more than 58 megawatts at or near bases in Washington, D.C. and twelve states. It has plans to exceed the basic plan by obtaining 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Its plans call for 57 percent of its new renewables to be from photovoltaic (PV) solar through 2017.


The Air Force, the military’s biggest energy consumer, has built 38 megawatts of solar capacity operating in 24 states. It will procure 1 gigawatt of renewables by 2016. The plan is for PV to be more than 70 percent of all new Air Force renewable capacity through 2017.


The Army has installed over 36 megawatts of solar installed at bases in sixteen states on its way to procuring 1 gigawatt of renewable capacity. Solar will account for one-third of the Army’s planned renewable capacity additions through 2017.



He has only 308 solar panels on the roof of his presidential library, former President Bill Clinton announced at the opening of his Solar Power International 2012 keynote, and he is taking bids to drastically expand. “So if anybody wants in, send me an email.”
He then picked up the subject of creative cooperation he talked about at the Democratic National Convention.
To build “energy that is good economics, saves the planet from the worst consequences of climate change and promotes the national security of every country that is committed to clean, self-sustaining energy, you have to have cooperation between government and the private sector,” he said. “The constant mud fight, fact-free environment in which American politics often operates is counterproductive.”
He told a story about a minister who, during a sermon, excitedly told everybody in the congregation who wanted to go to heaven to stand up. Everybody but one little old lady in the front row did. “Sister Jones, the minister said, you are most devout member of our church. Don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”
“She immediately jumped up,” Clinton said, “and yelled, Yes! But I thought you were trying to get a load to go right now.”
“Folks,” Clinton then said to the solar industry audience, “we need to get a load to go right now!”
To make that happen, he said, “Americans need to know more than they know now.” Most do not know that 100,000 people work in solar, that more people work in greentech than in coal, that in the depths of the recession, greentech grew at 8 percent, and that venture capital made the U.S. first in the world in greentech investment in 2011.
“To listen to the people on other side of this debate, you would think the President and his allies in Congress totally robbed the Treasury to subsidize bankrupt industries,” Clinton said, but “there are still $22 in subsidies for coal, oil and nuclear for every dollar invested in the clean energy future.”
Most Americans also don’t know, Clinton said, that the European countries that did the best during the recent financial crisis were those that had the most invested in greentech. Germany, he said, recently generated “from the sun alone, the equivalent of twenty nuclear power plants in a country where on average the sun shines as much as it does in London.” A Deutsche Bank study found, Clinton said, “the Germans have netted 300,000 jobs out of their commitment to a solar future.”
No government makes energy policy without public-private cooperation, he said. That creates “far more entrepreneurs, far more privatization, far more variation and creativity than any other way of energy development and electricity production.”
It was in what Clinton called George W. Bush’s “proto-socialist stage” as governor of Texas that the first tax credits went to wind developers, an incentive program that resulted in Texas being the leading wind state, with more installed wind capacity than all but a handful of countries.
“These are things people need to know,” he said. Greentech “is the direction people are going who are thinking about where the future is.” And, he said, “you represent the future. If we sell this as keeping America at the head of the future business, you will prevail.”
During a question-and-answer session with Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch, the former President turned to the subject of the Solyndra controversy.
It was, he said, “an innovative, interesting design” that ran into completely unforeseeable competition from unprecedentedly inexpensive imported Chinese silicon panels. It is important, he said, to get that basic fact out.
The bankruptcy, he said, “only represented less than 1 percent of the DOE’s investment in clean energy and it had nothing to do with tax credits.”
Take responsibility for the mistake, he told the solar industry, and provide context. “People accept the fact that the industry and the Energy Department made a mistake. Nobody does everything right.”
If a mistake stopped progress, he added, Neil Armstrong would never have walked on the moon because that happened two years after Apollo One burned up on the launch pad and killed three astronauts. And there would be no Mars rover now because that happened after the Challenger space shuttle exploded, killing its crew.
“You’ve got to take chances if you’re going to tomorrow’s dance.”
Resch asked Clinton how voters could choose between the presidential candidates. “Pay attention to what they’re saying,” he answered. “Politicians are more honest and hardworking than you think and they pretty much do what they say they are going to do.”
Clinton also advised the solar industry “to make sure in this political season that the candidates in both parties know what you’ve done,” adding, “make sure there are physical manifestations of it.”
He then recalled his efforts, beginning in 1977, to get Arkansas utilities to decouple energy efficiency improvements from rates. It took until 2010 for those utilities to seize that opportunity.
“You are going to bring America to a tipping point,” Clinton said. “You just need to bear down.” Sooner or later, he promised, “people will see this is good economics, helps in the climate change struggle and improves national security.”


Solar Week in review

SES puts the finishing touches on a solar installation in Camarillo, CA

As with many recent weeks, news from the solar industry and market shows that solar is blooming despite facing pricing uncertainty and other challenges. While some places are enacting new programs to incentivize solar, some companies and projects are being threatened by a variety of factors, from a slow-moving turtle to falling module prices.

One of the places where falling prices most affected the solar market is Pennsylvania where the state’s solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market slumped because people adopted solar more quickly than expected. The SREC market was limited by how much solar power utilities were required to buy and when there was enough solar, the price of SRECs dropped. Now, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 and others are supporting HB 1580, which would increase the amount of SRECs that utilities must buy, thereby, increasing the price of the credits, making solar more valuable.

Meanwhile Los Angeles is pushing forward with a solar feed-in tariff (FiT). The city’s CLEAN LA Solar program would create a 150 megawatt feed-in tariff for the city, making it the largest U.S. city to adopt a FiT. FiTs have been essential to the adoption of solar in Germany and elsewhere, although the rapid decline in PV pricing has led to quicker than expected adoption, which has forced governments to lower, and in some cases cease offering the FiT entirely.

Another model to help bring solar to more people is group purchasing agreements. Eugene, Ore., is the latest town to use group purchasing (i.e., bulk buying) to make solar cheaper for its residents. The new Solarize Eugene effort was launched by the nonprofit Resource Innovation Group. Under the model, a preferred contractor is selected to educate the public about solar opportunities and those who want to go solar through the company will be able to get discounted modules based on how many people go solar through the program.

What’s proving to be the most popular options for homeowners to go solar are the third-party PV ownership models. Under such models homeowners don’t pay the cost of owning a PV array up front, they pay it over time, either as a direct lease payment or based on how much power the array produces. And a recent PV Solar Report study of the California market done with SunRun showed that 73.4 percent California homeowners going solar are choosing such options.

There’s no shortage on falling prices for solar, largely because production of silicon-based PV is nearly exceeding demand. But silicon-PV might start to lose market share, according to a new Lux Research report. The report found that silicon carbide and gallium nitride-based PV could comprise up to 22 percent of the PV market by 2020. The materials could be cheaper and more efficient than the current silicon-PV available today. Another novel PV material that’s gaining traction is organic PV. Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory recently produced organic PV cells with efficiency levels at 44 percent.

Organic PV offers a cleaner form of solar, but already companies are working to make their PV products as environmentally sustainable as possible. As such, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and solar companies are developing the voluntary Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental & Social Responsibility. Under the commitment, participants will make sure they are operating ethically and cleanly. Such efforts will include end-of-life recycling programs and proper handling of hazardous materials.

The desert tortoise again is the centerpiece of environmental debate in California. The imperiled reptile has led Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife to sue the Department of the Interior (DOI) over its approval of the 663.5-megawatt Calico Solar Project of Bureau of Land Management-managed land near Barstow, Calif. The organizations contend that the project is on land with too many threatened species, chief among them the desert tortoise.


With the news that the LA City Council has granted LADWP the power to enter into feed-in-tariff agreements, here is some news on how FIT’s are working in Europe and other parts of the U.S.


Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright white blades of wind turbines are a frequent sight against the sky in Spain.
If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financing technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.

Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy. In Germany, for example, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system may be paid four times more to produce electricity than the rate paid to a coal-fired power plant.

This month Gainesville, Fla., became the first city in the United States to introduce higher payments for solar power, which is otherwise too expensive for many families or businesses to install. City leaders, who control their electric utility, unanimously approved the policy after studying Germany’s solar-power expansion.

Hawaii, where sky-high prices for electricity have stirred interest in alternative forms of power like solar, hopes to have a similar policy in place before the end of the year. The mayor of Los Angeles wants to introduce higher payouts for solar power. California is considering a stronger policy as well, and bills have also been introduced in other states, including Washington and Oregon.
“I’m seeing it with my own eyes — it’s really having a good effect on our local economy, particularly in these hard times,” said Edward J. Regan, the assistant general manager for strategic planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities in Florida. He said he had gotten calls from other cities and states since announcing the policy.

The new payment method is referred to as a “feed-in tariff” in Europe. It is, in essence, a mandate by the government telling a utility to pay above-market rates for green electricity.

It shifts the burden of subsidizing green energy from taxpayers, as is common in the United States, to electricity ratepayers. And the technique includes assurances that a utility will pay the high rates for a long period, often 15 to 25 years.

The surge of interest in the payment system is a recognition that despite generous state and federal incentives, the United States still lags far behind Europe in solar power. Germany, where feed-in tariffs have been in place since 1991, has about five times as many photovoltaic panels installed as the United States, though they still account for only 0.5 percent of electricity in that country.
In the United States, said Wilson Rickerson, a Boston energy consultant, “a lot of people simultaneously reached the conclusion — who’s moving fastest internationally? And that’s definitely been Germany and Spain.”

In Gainesville, the new policy has already sparked a rush to put up panels. John Stanton, a retired civil servant living there with his wife, put 24 solar panels on his roof in late January, as city leaders sped the policy toward approval. Gainesville’s municipal utility will pay Mr. Stanton and other homeowners and businesses who generate solar power more than twice the standard electricity rate, guaranteeing that rate for 20 years.
Wind power and other sources of renewable energy are generally included in the European payment systems, but solar — as one of the costliest renewables — has benefited the most. Payment rates in Europe for wind are substantially lower than for solar, according to Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association.

If a utility commits to paying a higher rate for renewable power over a period of years, it can offer those with solar panels or wind turbines a steady return that helps defray the initial cost of the equipment. “If you put your money in, you know you’re going to get it back,” Mr. Rickerson said, referring to Germany.

But requiring utilities to pay extra for green power has a direct impact on ratepayers. Homeowners’ electricity bills will rise 74 cents a month in Gainesville, or about half a percentage point of the average homeowner’s monthly bill.

“It was the thing that sort of put us over the top,” said Mr. Stanton, who gained an appreciation of European energy policies after living in Italy for more than a decade.

Mr. Regan said that homeowners with panels received a payment under the new policy that works out to more than a 25 percent premium over the city’s other incentives, which include rebates and a more modest rate payment.
Wind power and other sources of renewable energy are generally included in the European payment systems, but solar — as one of the costliest renewables — has benefited the most. Payment rates in Europe for wind are substantially lower than for solar, according to Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association.

If a utility commits to paying a higher rate for renewable power over a period of years, it can offer those with solar panels or wind turbines a steady return that helps defray the initial cost of the equipment. “If you put your money in, you know you’re going to get it back,” Mr. Rickerson said, referring to Germany.
But requiring utilities to pay extra for green power has a direct impact on ratepayers. Homeowners’ electricity bills will rise 74 cents a month in Gainesville, or about half a percentage point of the average homeowner’s monthly bill.

“Seventy cents — what’s that? A Coke?” said Mr. Regan, of the Gainesville utility.

Opponents of feed-in tariffs like Marcel Hawiger, a staff attorney for the Utility Reform Network in California, say that the policy would hit poor people the hardest by raising their electricity rates because a relatively high percentage of their income goes to pay utility bills.

“Why should we use regressive taxation to support the most expensive form of renewable energy?” Mr. Hawiger asked.

The solar programs have sometimes proved so popular that costs can spiral out of control. Last fall, blockbuster growth forced Spain to cap the number of solar installations it would subsidize. Ontario, which has had a feed-in tariff since 2006, also suspended its program last year after being oversubscribed, but wants to restart the policy.
Even in Gainesville, homeowners wanting to put solar panels on their roof are now out of luck: a few days after introducing the policy, the city reached its cap on solar payments for this year and next. Meanwhile, a handful of utilities around the country are already doing similar things voluntarily, albeit on a tiny scale.

For now, at least, solar-power advocates do not believe they have the votes in Congress to adopt a national feed-in tariff system like the ones in Germany and Spain. They are putting their hopes, instead, on proposals in Congress to mandate that a certain percentage of electricity comes from renewables.

Source:  New York Times

A definitive new LCOE study says solar has achieved parity.

Solar materials prices are down, financing is more accessible and technology has extended solar system life. The result:  The price of solar energy-generated electricity, calculated by a legitimate levelized cost of energy (LCOE) method, is now competitive in many regions with the price of electricity generated by conventional sources.

To be clear, this review of solar photovoltaic LCOE is not one of those “if coal and nuclear paid for the real harm they do” analyses. It is a hard look at the actual numbers.

The study’s biggest surprise, said co-author Joshua Pearce, Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering Professor at Queen’s University and Michigan Technological University, was how much outdated information and misinformation there is about the price of residential and small/medium system solar energy. “We have reached a tipping point,” he said. “Solar has gone past grid parity.”

Parity, according to the study, is “the lifetime generation cost of the electricity from PV being comparable with the electricity prices for conventional sources on the grid.” The metric of LCOE is used “when comparing electricity generation technologies or considering grid parity for emerging technologies.”

Based on the study’s LCOE calculations, “It is still a common misconception that solar PV technology has a short life and is therefore extremely expensive.” However, he continued, “Depending on the location, the cost of solar PV has already dropped below that of conventional sources.”

For the study, Pearce and co-authors K. Branker and M.J.M. Pathak, also Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering specialists at Queen’s University, reviewed “every residential and small/medium PV solar system LCOE [calculation] that has been done,” Pearce said, identifying five key factors: “The choice of discount rate, average system price, financing method, average system lifetime and degradation of energy generation over the lifetime.”

‘Discount rate’ is the economist’s term for the interest rate charged on upfront costs. “The major generation cost for solar PV,” the study states, “is the upfront cost and the cost of financing.”

Discounting the future, Pearce said, is saying money “ten years from now is not worth as much as it is today,” and that makes running a coal plant seem a better investment, “even though it is going to have major operating expenses in the future” that solar won’t have.

This is especially problematic in energy economics. “The energy escalation rate can be higher than the discount rate [... because] the cost of energy over time is generally going up,” Pearce said.

Historically, Pearce said, LCOE calculations for solar have been conservative and on the high side. Given the state of knowledge of what the production of a PV system will be and what the return on the investment will be, the discount rate should be low. “As a proven technology,” the study pointed out, “solar PV should be able to obtain similar financing methods as other energy technologies, although this is not necessarily the case.”

Because it found financing so crucial, the study speculated that zero interest financing might be a more effective incentive than a feed-in tariff or a tax credit.

Previous LCOE studies’ conclusions are irrelevant to today’s residential and small/medium solar systems, Pearce said, because “the cost of the panels themselves has been dropping like a rock.” This is also true, the study found, for balance of system (BOS) costs. “And maintenance costs are nothing,” Pearce added. Furthermore, he said, economies of scale in the supply chain and efficiencies coming to installation labor will bring costs down further.

Solar panel durability has also increased. Degradation of output, even for panels made in the 1980s with much older technologies, is significantly slower than the one percent rate used in previous LCOE calculations and for loan considerations.

A panel “has no moving parts; it’s all electronic and a solid-state device,” meaning that should last “a long, long time,” Pearce said. This means “we should be doing our economic analysis at least on a 30-year lifetime,” but there is not yet adequate data, he explained.

“A degradation rate of 0.2 to 0.5 percent per year,” the study reported, “is considered reasonable given the technological advances.”

“Over 90 percent of the American public is pro-solar,” Pearce said. “What holds them back is the ability to finance. But costs have dropped by more than half in the last couple of years. When you compare the average cost of a home and the average cost of the solar system, you need to provide the average electricity you need for that home — it’s not a significant fraction.”

Pearce noted that in cost terms, the homeowner’s choice is between a solar system and other options. “Before we hit the majority of the American public, which the Department of Energy puts out only a few more years,” Pearce said, “we still need to push the economics down a little further.”

The shift to solar “is not going to happen all at once,” Pearce said. “Two pockets of the country,” he predicted, will “open up to solar first.” Solar will most quickly be noticed as competitive where electricity rates are high or where utilities have inordinate monthly charges.

Where PV becomes “economically viable,” Pearce said, will be when “the banks get comfortable with it and it becomes something that you just put on your mortgage, a normal thing that everybody in the neighborhood is doing because they can save a little every month on their utility bill.”

“It is clear PV has already obtained grid parity in specific locations,” the study concludes, “and as installed costs continue to decline, grid electricity prices continue to escalate, and industry experience increases, PV will become an increasingly economically advantageous source of electricity over expanding geographical regions.”

Here’s a question: What will a tariff on Chinese solar panels resulting from the recentSolarWorld trade claim do to this hard-fought grid parity?


Solar has suddenly become much more important in Southern California because of the outage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), California’s third biggest investor owned utility, could lose fifteen percent to twenty percent loss of its base load electricity. “SDG&E, along with the California transmission system operator and Southern California Edison (SCE), are working together right now on contingency planning for the possibility that those two large units could be offline this summer,” said SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Ramp.

SDG&E, Ramp added, will bring its new 500-kilovolt Sunrise Powerlink transmission line into service in early summer. Designed to deliver 1,000 megawatts of regional solar and wind that are not yet in service, Sunrise will carry extra fossil generation this summer — if it is available.

But, Ramp said, “you could be looking at a very unique situation,” adding, “We could be asking our customers to conserve energy.” SCE, the nuclear power station operator, took the two-unit, 2,200-megawatt SONGS offline in January and announced this week it will not restart the more than quarter-century-old plant until worn and leaking tubes perform “in excess of industry guidelines.”

Even before the power shortage threat from the SONGS outage, SDG&E had been studying the challenges of solar and the opportunities of energy efficiency as part of its smart grid and smart meter planning, said Lee Krevat, the utility’s smart grid program director.

“We had already planned a program for this summer called Reduce Your Use,” Krevat said. Through the program, the utility’s ratepayers will be rewarded for reductions in their electricity consumption. “On certain days when less energy is available,” Krevat explained, “for every kilowatt-hour less that customers use, we will rebate them 75 cents.”

Though the design of Reduce Your Use preceded the SONGS outage, Krevat said, “If there is an energy shortage, this will be a significant arrow to have in the quiver.” Not only will the program reward customers for conserving, he said, but SDG&E “will be able to leverage the smart meter program to verify that they conserved when they did.” 
Since 2001, SDG&E has annually increased its year-on-year installed solar capacity more than 35 percent, Krevat said, with growth of 40 percent in 2010 and 38 percent in 2011. After a decade of such growth, solar’s share of the energy mix is growing — along with questions about the impact of its variability on system stability.
Now, some of California’s nuclear is no longer on. And summer’s heat, along with the attendant surge in air conditioner use, is coming. Can solar help fill the gap?


Solar PV Breaks Records in 2010

Solar photovoltaic (PV) companies manufactured a record 24,000 megawatts of PV cells worldwide in 2010, more than doubling their 2009 output. Annual PV production has grown nearly 100-fold since 2000, when just 277 megawatts of cells were made. Newly installed PV also set a record in 2010, as 16,600 megawatts were installed in more than 100 countries. This brought the total worldwide capacity of solar PV to nearly 40,000 megawatts — enough to power 14 million European homes.

Graph on World Annual Solar Photovoltaics Production, 1985-2010

Made of semiconductor materials, PV cells convert solar radiation directly into electricity. Rectangular panels consisting of numerous PV cells can be linked into arrays of various sizes and power output capabilities — from rooftop systems measured in kilowatts to ground-mounted arrays of hundreds or even thousands of megawatts. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)

There are two main types of PV — traditional crystalline silicon and newer thin-film PV. In 2010, crystalline silicon production was more than double the output of 2009, accounting for over 80 percent of all PV produced. While thin-film production did not keep pace, it still grew by more than 60 percent. First Solar, a U.S. firm, maintained its leadership role in thin-film production, accounting for over 40 percent of world output, most of it produced in Malaysia.

Data provided to Earth Policy Institute by GTM Research show that Chinese manufacturers again dominated the global industry in 2010, with close to 11,000 megawatts of PV cell production. (See data at This was the seventh consecutive year in which China at least doubled its PV output. Taiwan was a distant second with 3,600 megawatts produced, followed by Japan with 2,200 megawatts, Germany with 2,000 megawatts, and the United States with 1,100. The top five countries thus accounted for 82 percent of total world PV production.

While Germany ranks fourth in solar cell manufacturing, it towers above all other countries in terms of actual electricity generation from solar panels. Germany has widened its lead in this category each year since overtaking Japan in 2004 and, after adding 7,400 megawatts in 2010, now boasts 17,200 megawatts of installed PV. This is more than 40 percent of global capacity and over four times the 3,800 megawatts in Spain, the number two country. PV in Germany now generates enough electricity to meet the power demand of some 3.4 million German homes.

Graph on World Cumulative Solar Photovoltaics Installations, 1998-2010

Japan installed close to 1,000 megawatts of new PV capacity in 2010. It is the third-ranked country in installed PV, with a total of 3,600 megawatts. As solar adoption accelerates in Japan, its national target of 28,000 megawatts by 2020 may be easily surpassed, especially as the country weighs energy alternatives following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

By nearly doubling its total PV power capacity in 2010, Italy vaulted past the United States to claim the fourth position in the world solar rankings, with 3,500 megawatts. With an expected 8,000 megawatts of new PV in 2011, likely overtaking Germany in new installations, Italy will have already exceeded its official 2020 goal of 8,000 megawatts. Enel, Italy’s leading utility, sees the country reaching 30,000 megawatts by 2020 — enough to satisfy half of its current residential electricity needs.

PV capacity in the United States also saw strong growth in 2010, increasing by more than 50 percent to reach 2,500 total megawatts. California, which now has more than 1,000 megawatts connected to the grid, again led all states in new PV installations. But a number of other states, including New Jersey, Nevada, and Arizona, are ramping up their solar capacity as well, driven by programs and incentives at the state and federal levels.

Until very recently, China’s status as PV manufacturing powerhouse had not translated into much solar generation at home, as panels were seen as too expensive in the domestic market. While the vast majority of Chinese-made PV is sent abroad, a growing government commitment to increasing solar power as part of the energy mix is now catalyzing substantial PV capacity gains. Total installed PV in China grew 140 percent to nearly 900 megawatts in 2010. This was the first full year for the national Golden Sun program, which covers half the investment and grid connection costs of a solar project. It is expected to result in at least 1,000 megawatts of new installations each year after 2012.

Furthermore, in August 2011 China’s main economic planning agency announced it was implementing a national PV feed-in tariff. This policy tool, now used by more than 60 countries, is behind most of the PV already installed worldwide. A feed-in tariff typically guarantees generators of renewable electricity a long-term purchase price for each kilowatt-hour they produce and “feed into” the grid, providing a powerful incentive for installing such systems. Together the Golden Sun program and the new feed-in tariff are likely to push China’s PV capacity to at least double again in 2011 — and may help explain why the country’s solar power targets for 2015 and 2020 have reportedly risen to 10,000 and 50,000 megawatts, respectively.

Although the cost of PV has fallen substantially over the decades, solar-generated electricity is not yet widely price-competitive with electricity generated by heavily subsidized fossil fuels. If the full cost of burning fossil fuels, including health effects and the costs of climate change, were incorporated into the price of electricity, PV would quickly be revealed as one of the least expensive sources of power.

As system costs continue to drop, the PV landscape is evolving to include not only traditional small-scale PV installations but also utility-scale parks of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of megawatts. An 80-megawatt PV park completed in Canada in 2010 was the world’s largest until September 2011, when a newly-expanded PV complex of close to 150 megawatts in northeastern Germany claimed the title. As of late 2011, the United States had 48 PV projects of 100 megawatts or more in the pipeline, including a 5,000-megawatt park to be sited on degraded farmland in California’s San Joaquin Valley. At peak generation, this solar facility’s electricity output would rival that of five large nuclear power plants.

Multi-megawatt projects are also under development in India as part of the National Solar Mission that was announced in late 2009. Though the country had just 100 megawatts of installed PV capacity at the end of 2010, the goal is for some 22,000 megawatts of solar power — half PV and half concentrating solar power — to be installed by 2022. The western state of Gujarat alone plans to have 3,000 megawatts installed by 2015.

Part of the National Solar Mission’s PV expansion is destined for rural areas where millions lack access to electricity. As is the case in many other developing countries, there is vast potential in India for PV to provide power in places without an electric grid. Installing small solar systems on homes is often much less expensive than building a central power plant, with the added benefit of greatly reducing indoor air pollution from kerosene lamps.

Industry analysts forecast that some 21,000 megawatts of PV will be installed globally in 2011. This would be a marked slowdown from the doubling of the market in 2010, but the pool of countries with rising demand for PV still continues to grow. New markets such as Slovakia and the United Kingdom are among the 20 countries expected to add 100 megawatts or more in 2011, up from 13 countries in 2010.

As PV costs drop, as concerns about climate change grow, and as countries look to replace finite fossil fuels with energy sources that can never run out, the growth in solar power should continue. The potential is practically without limit: a 2011 article published in Energy Policy shows that solar PV deployed in suitable locations could generate 30 times the electricity currently produced worldwide.

Source: sustainablog

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