Posts tagged “solar power”
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.
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I talk about the significance of China’s dominance of rare earth element production, and the conversion of pyrolysis oil into fuel.
The questions answered this week are:
1. Can you discuss the uses of ‘rare earth’ elements in the production of renewable energies (i.e., wind and solar)? Furthermore, can you comment on the supply of rare earth elements? I recently watched this video from Real Clear Energy. Is it accurate that China controls 97% of the current supplies? What implications does this have on growth of hybrid transportation, the wind and the solar industry in the USA?
2. I was watching your reports and was wondering your opinion about the feasibility of pyrolysis. I’ve seen a lot of companies advertising that they have take plastic or tires and produce 80+% and 45% pyrolysis oil respectively. Is that accurate? You also mention upgrading of pyrolysis oil, are there any companies out there who can do it on a commercially viable process? If so could you point me in the right direction?
During my interview last week with Alan Colmes (embedded below), a few points were discussed that warrant some elaboration.
The first is the conversion from winter to summer gasoline, which I have written about in more detail at Why Summer Gasoline Means Higher Prices. Just to be clear, this is an underlying reason that gasoline prices rise at this time every year, but it is not the reason that gas prices are higher today than they were at this time last year. We started the year at a higher level for other reasons, but summer gasoline explains why — even if you took the geopolitical factors out of the equation — that gasoline prices will normally rise from about February to May and then fall from August to November. We do notice this especially in election years, and use it to confirm our belief that politicians or oil companies are influencing prices to win elections.
On a recent trip to Canada, I passed through Kingston, Ontario — home to Canadian Forces Base Kingston (CFB Kingston). A solar power installation just off the roadway — inside the perimeter of the base — caught my attention. Unfortunately, the reason it captured my attention was because the solar panels looked like the side of a trash can.
The picture tells the story.