Posts tagged “solar power”
Several years ago, when I was working on my book Power Plays, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of energy. One thing I concluded was that solar power would become one of the world’s most important sources of energy – if not eventually the most important source of energy. I also discussed this in the 2007 column “The Future Is Solar.”
There are a couple of reasons I still believe this. But first, I should make it clear that it will be a long time before solar power rivals the consumption of oil in the global energy market.
While solar power is growing rapidly, we still use about 100 times as much energy in the form of oil (and about 90 times as much in the form of coal). Further, even though solar power is growing at a fast rate, the absolute growth in oil consumption from 2013 to 2014 was about 3 times the growth in solar power consumption. In other words, even though solar consumption grew at a 38% rate and oil consumption grew at about a 0.7% rate, this amounted to an increase in solar consumption of 11.6 million metric tons of oil equivalent versus an increase in oil consumption of 32 million metric tons. CONTINUE»
Solar Is Growing, But Hydro Remains Much Bigger
A tweet this morning sent me on a fact-checking expedition into state-level electricity statistics. The subject was a San Jose Mercury article with the unwieldy title, “Drought threatens California’s hydroelectricity supply, but solar makes up the gap.” The article’s quote from the head of the California Energy Commission implied that solar power additions were sufficient to make up for any shortfall in hydro, historically one of the state’s biggest energy sources.
My gut reaction was to be skeptical: Solar has been growing rapidly, especially in California, but even with nearly 3,000 MW of photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal generation in place, it’s still well short of the scale of California’s 10,000 MW of hydropower dams, especially when you consider that the latter aren’t constrained to operate only in daylight hours. However, I also know better than to respond to a claim like this without checking the data on how much energy these installations actually deliver.
The Comparison Has Shifted In the Last Year
My first look at the Energy Information Administration’s annual generation data seemed to confirm my suspicions. In 2012 California’s hydropower facilities produced 26.8 million megawatt-hours (MWh), while grid-connected solar generated just 1.4 million MWh. However, when I looked at more recent monthly data, the mismatch was much smaller, due to solar’s strong growth in the Golden State. For example, in October 2013 California solar power generated 435 MWh, or nearly 24% of hydro’s 1.8 million MWh.
Energy’s Brief Appearance in the State of the Union Address
Energy issues received scant mention in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, consisting mainly of a victory lap for the President’s “all of the above” formulation and a somewhat contradictory promise to place even more federal lands off-limits to drilling. While browsing through reactions from various energy leaders and environmental groups I was intrigued by one critique of Mr. Obama’s approach from an environmental NGO, arguing that he should instead be placing the country’s bets on “best of the above” energy. They weren’t the only ones to object to the current approach.
It’s clear from their statement that Earthjustice has definite ideas about what’s best and what isn’t, but their comment merits further discussion. After all, who could argue against supporting the best energy sources? And isn’t all of the above just a sop to the status quo, in which a diverse array of energy sources dominated by fossil fuels provides the energy for the rest of the economy?
Obama and “All of the Above”
As President Obama noted Tuesday, his reference to an “‘all of the above’ energy strategy”–a debatable characterization in itself–referred to a key phrase in his 2012 address to Congress. It’s worth recalling the context, in an election year in which the Republican nominee was certain to focus on conventional energy when it was delivering US production growth in both oil and natural gas that couldn’t have been imagined just a few years earlier.
The solar industry has been very hot. Record amounts of new solar capacity have been installed over the past two years. The accelerating pace of adoption of solar panels for distributed generation (installed at the point of use, rather than sold into the power grid) and the downward trend of module prices have created exuberance over the industry’s future.
Solar has reached and eclipsed price parity with traditional fuel sources in some markets, and ultimately the potential market for solar PV is huge. A solar module costs approximately 1% of what it did 35 years ago and prices for solar pv panels have plummeted since 2010, with an average price per watt for panels falling from $1.81 in 2010 to less than $0.70 and today.
It is clear that the future is very bright for the industry. What is less clear is when growth will accelerate and how near-term challenges for the industry could create some rough patches for the industry before widespread adoption drives truly explosive industry growth.
The Energy Experts Reconvene at the WSJ
Generally when I find myself having to write a follow-up post to something I wrote, it’s because I obviously didn’t make my points clearly enough. I found this to be the case during a lively Twitter discussion following my latest contribution to the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Energy Experts Panel. But I love these sorts of discussions because they help me hone the message I am trying to deliver.
This week the WSJ began publishing the latest round of answers to questions that were submitted to their energy panel several weeks ago. The first question answered this week was: What is the single biggest misconception people have about renewable energy in the U.S.?
First, if you don’t know about the WSJ Expert Panels, I explained that in some detail here. Essentially, the WSJ has groups of experts in different fields, and they pose questions on various topics. We are asked to write ~ 300-word answers to these questions, which often means leaving out caveats and/or clarifications. The answers are more detailed than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, but some topics leave a lot of issues unaddressed with just a 300-word answer. CONTINUE»
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Last week, The Economist posed the following question: “What happened to biofuels?” The biofuels in question are so-called second generation biofuels that are produced from trees, grasses, algae, — in general, feedstocks that don’t also have a use as food. The appeal is obvious to anyone concerned about the world’s dependence on petroleum, and further worried that a major shift to biofuels will cause food prices to rise. So let’s address that question.
Entrepreneurs Revive a Century-Old Idea
About a decade ago, a number of entrepreneurs began to use their political influence to convince the US government that the only things keeping the US from running our cars on advanced biofuels was lack of government support, and interference from oil companies. These advocates eventually won over enough political support that state and federal governments began to funnel large amounts of taxpayer dollars into advanced biofuel ventures. President Bush spoke of running cars on switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address.
The federal government sought to deal with supposed oil company intransigence with a mandate requiring gasoline blends to contain growing volumes of corn ethanol initially, but starting in 2010 advanced biofuels as well. The federal government mandated that by the year 2022 the fuel supply had to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels, with 21 billion gallons coming from advanced biofuels. CONTINUE»
An Oft-Used Energy Slogan
Last week, Real Clear Politics and API hosted an energy summit in Washington, DC entitled, “Fueling America’s Future”. It was intended to provide a quick overview of most of the key technologies and issues associated with an all-of-the-above energy strategy for the United States. Going through the highlights of the webcast gives me an opportunity to introduce my point of view to a new audience at Energy Trends Insider. I’d sum that up as “All of the Above”, with asterisks for the proportions and situations that make sense.
This slogan, at least in the manner in which it has been espoused by politicians in both parties, has attracted fair criticism for being overly bland and safe. I suspect that critique reflects a general sense that our energy mix has always been composed of all of the above, or all of the technologies that were sufficiently proven and economic to contribute at scale at any point in time. However, as both our technology options and choice criteria expand, our understanding of the evolving energy mix is hampered by metrics and assumptions that are overdue to be revisited.
While the contract hasn’t been finalized, analysts are predicting that First Solar will win the rights to supply NextEra Energy Inc. with solar arrays for what will be the world’s largest solar farm. The two companies are currently working together on the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight solar farm in Riverwide County, California.
NextEra’s Blythe project, based in southern California, will soon surpass the capacity of Arizona’s Agua Caliente solar farm, a huge facility built exclusively by First Solar that is currently 85 percent complete with 250 megawatts of capacity. Despite the fact that there has been no official word as to who NextEra will choose to build and supply the new project, First Solar is reportedly the only manufacturer of thin-film panels large enough to handle the job, according to analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News; the Blythe project will have a final capacity of 1,000 megawatts, requiring an extensive amount and array of materials.
A recent study published in the subscription only Nature Climate Change (which I do not have a subscription for) found the price Americans are willing to pay to have 80 percent “clean” energy by 2035. Drum roll please … $13 bucks a month.
The researchers went a step further and calculated that the cost would have to drop even further to overcome political barriers:
The researchers — Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen and Anthony A. Leiserowitz — ran a what-if exercise and found the current level of public support insufficient to overcome entrenched opposition in Congress.
Majority rule does not really apply there, of course: getting anything controversial through the Senate, for example, requires 60 votes to break filibusters. With some number-crunching and assumptions about how preferences back home would influence the votes of lawmakers, the researchers found that the annual added cost per household of a clean energy policy would have to drop below $59 a year to pass the current Senate and below $48 a year to pass the current House.