What would happen if the U.S. adopted the world’s flagship solar energy policy – a feed-in tariff? This policy is responsible for three-quarters of the world’s solar power capacity and offers the simplest mechanism for expanding production of solar power and other renewable energy. Pricing CLEAN Contracts for Solar PV in the U.S.explores how such… Continue reading
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Thanks to innovative energy policy, residents of Ontario can invest in local solar power projects by buying SolarShare bonds. The $1,000 bond provides a 5% annual return over five years and the money is invested in solar power projects across the province (as the chart below shows, this beats a savings account with 0.8% interest or even a 5-year U.S. treasury, with 0.91% interest). Continue reading
The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (most of Los Angeles, CA). If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs.
The following map shows the states that could be powered by solar if the U.S. kept pace with Germany on solar power in the past two years (installed the same megawatts on a per capita basis).
Solar Would Power the Mountain West if The U.S. Kept Pace with Germany
The spread of solar has not resulted in covering natural areas or fertile land with solar panels. Rather, 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany was on rooftops and built to a local scale (100 kilowatts or smaller – think the roof of a church or a Home Depot store). Solar in the U.S. also can use existing space. The following map shows the amount of a state’s electricity that could come from rooftop solar alone, from our 2009 report Energy Self-Reliant States:
State Potential Rooftop PV:
While the local rooftop solar potential of these states varies from 19 to 51 percent, there’s much more land available for solar without covering parks or crops. Once again, data from Energy Self-Reliant States (p. 13):
On either side of 4 million miles of roads, the U.S. has approximately 60 million acres (90,000 square miles) of right of way. If 10 percent the right of way could be used, over 2 million MW of roadside solar PV could provide close to 100 percent of the electricity consumption in the country. In California, solar PV on a quarter of the 230,000 acres of right of way could supply 27% of state consumption.
Such local solar power also provides enormous economic benefits. For every megawatt of solar installed, as many as 9 jobs are created. But the economic multiplier is significantly higher for locally owned projects, made possible when solar is built at a local scale as the Germans have done.
With local ownership, making America a 100% solar nation could create nearly 10 million jobs, and add as much as $450 billion to the U.S. economy.
The Germans have found the profitable marriage between their energy and environmental policy. It’s time for America to discover the same opportunity.
Just a reminder that while Texas swelters and its electric grid sags, rooftop solar PV alone could meet 35 percent of the state’s electricity needs. Map from Energy Self-Reliant States:
State Potential Rooftop PV:
Not only is the potential high, but the cost is low. The levelized cost of solar is just 14 cents per kilowatt-hour in Texas, when including the federal 30 percent tax credit. Cost estimates from ILSR.
Texans should start using the sun to beat the heat.
If you’ve ever wondered how to explain to someone what ILSR brings to renewable energy policy, look no further. This 16-slide presentation lays out our history, philosophy and out-sized impact fighting for greater local authority and economic returns from renewable energy:
Find out why and how ILSR has been helping communities maximize the value of their local energy resources for nearly 40 years: ILSR’s Remarkable Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program View more presentations from John Farrell Continue reading
Distributed solar has an edge in the speed with which it will respond to financial incentives, he says. The private sector will begin to install solar panels in response to a feed-in tariff much more quickly than developers of large solar projects can negotiate power-purchase agreements with utilities and win regulatory approval from the government.
A 50-turbine wind farm in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota has met with stiff local resistance, a frequent tale in the wind industry. Recently, the project developer won a key court case to move forward, after making concessions about the distance (“setback”) between the wind farm and local homes. However, many residents remained unconvinced that the project was in their best interest.
But today the project developers offered $10,000 payments (over 20 years) to about 200 local residents to try to win them over. The concept might work, although the payments – $500 per year – aren’t particularly large.
In a recent European study, researchers found that citizens generally have two priorities for renewable energy projects: avoiding environmental and personal harm and sharing in the economic benefits from their local energy resources. The $10,000 checks could go a long way toward satisfying local residents that they aren’t being simply colonized for their wind resource.
Will it work?
The wind project had already been certified as “community-based” under a 2005 state statute, but local opponents contested that a wind farm development by a company owned by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens hardly qualified. It remains to be seen whether a more significant a direct benefit for nearby residents is enough to buy their support.
Concentrating solar thermal power has promised big additions to renewable energy production with the additional benefit of energy storage. But with significant water consumption in desert locations, is the energy storage benefit of concentrating solar enough to compete with the dramatically falling cost of solar PV?
In May, I compared the water consumption of fossil fuel power plants to various solar technologies, noting that wet-cooled concentrating solar thermal power (think big mirrors) uses more water per megawatt-hour (MWh) than any other technology. The following chart, from the earlier post, illustrates the amount of water used to produce power from various technologies.
Water consumption can be cut dramatically by using “dry-cooling,” but this change increases the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of power generated from concentrating solar power (CSP). In the 2009 report Juice from Concentrate, the World Resources Institute reports that the reduction in water consumption adds 2-10 percent to levelized costs and reduces the power plant’s efficiency by up to 5 percent.
Let’s see how that changes our original levelized cost comparison between CSP and solar PV. First, here’s the original chart comparing PV projects to CSP projects, with no discussion of water use or energy storage.
To make the comparison tighter, we’ll hypothetically transform the CSP plants from wet-cooled to dry-cooled, adjusting the levelized cost of power.
Using the midpoint of each estimate from Juice from Concentrate (6 percent increase to levelized costs and 2.5 percent efficiency reduction), the change in the cost per kWh for dry-cooling instead of wet-cooling is small but significant. For example, all three concentrating solar power projects listed in the chart are wet-cooled power plants. With a 6% increase in costs from dry cooling and a 2.5% reduction in efficiency, the delivered cost of electricity would rise by approximately 1.7 cents per kWh.
The following chart, modified from our earlier post, illustrates the comparison.
With the increased costs to reduce water consumption, CSP’s price is much less competitive with PV. In our May post, we noted that a distributed solar PV program by Southern California Edison has projected levelized costs of 17 cents per kWh for 1-2 MW solar arrays, and that a group purchase program for residential solar in Los Angeles has a levelized cost of just 20 cents per kWh.
In other words, while wet-cooled CSP already struggles to compete with low-cost, distributed PV, using dry cooling technology makes residential-scale PV competitive with CSP.
But there’s one more piece: storage.
While Nevada Solar One was built without storage, the PS10 and PS20 solar towers were built with 1 hour of thermal energy storage. Let’s see how that changes the economics.
To make the comparison comparable, we’ll add the cost of 1 hour of storage to our two PV projects, a cost of approximately $0.50 per Watt, or 2.4 cents per kWh. The following chart illustrates a comparison of PV to CSP, with all projects having 1 hour of storage (Nevada Solar One has been removed as it does not have storage).
When comparing CSP with storage (and lower water use) to PV with battery storage, we have a comparison that is remarkably similar to our first chart. Distributed PV at a commercial scale (1-2 MW) is still cheaper than CSP, but residential PV is more expensive.
Even though dry-cooled CSP competes favorably on price, it still uses much more water than PV. That issue is probably why many solar project developers are switching from CSP to PV technology for their large-scale desert projects.
Without a significant cost advantage, the water use of CSP may mean an increasing shift to PV technology.
Back in April 2011, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave this presentation on the potential for solar power in Minnesota to a group of solar businesses and advocates. Solar in Minnesota: Great Potential View more presentations from John Farrell. Continue reading