DOE Announces Plan To Further Cut Cost Of Solar

The U.S. Department of Energy has just announced a plan to cut the cost of solar power 60 percent by 2030.

The plan includes $128 million in funding to accelerate the adoption of solar, improve solar panel performance, and lower the overall costs of implementing solar. “This burst of funding will help us add even more affordable clean energy to the grid, jobs to communities across the country, and will put us on the fast track toward President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035” – Jennifer M. Granholm (Secretary of Energy).

This plan is a key element of the nation’s goal of achieving a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035. To help make this possible, the D.O.E. is looking to reduce the cost of utility scale solar electricity from 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents per-kilowatt hour by 2030. This reduction in the price of solar power has significant implications. This will help enable between 30 and 50 percent of the country’s electricity needs to be met by solar power alone by 2035.

Here’s a breakdown of the primary ways in which the funding will be spent –

  • There will be $40 million spent on Perovskite R&D. Perovskites are a newer type of materials that show promise in making thin-film solar cells that have high efficiency ratings. The funding will be dispersed among 22 different projects.
  • Another $33 million will be allocated to increased reliability in Concentrated Solar Power technologies. This type of solar power is created by a large array of mirrors reflecting light at a receiver on a tower. The subsequent heat is utilized to drive a steam turbine to create electricity. A unique advantage and feature of CSP plants is that they can utilize molten salt to store power for use at a later time.
  • Further developments in CSP plants will be possible through an additional $25 million in funding. Researches will be able to use this money to develop the next generation of CSP plants.
  • $20 million will be used for increased developments in CdTe thin film technologies. CdTe is short for Cadmium telluride. This crystalline compound has already shown its ability to produce extremely cost effective solar cells. The funding will increase the the amount of CdTe solar panels produced in the U.S which already stands at about 20 percent of the market.
  • $7 million will be used to increase the longevity of solar panel systems. The goal is to make the new standard 50 years instead of the current expected useful life of 30 years.
  • Finally another $3 million will be allocated to a Perovskite Startup Prize. This will take the form of seed capital for companies looking to use this specific solar technology to create a business.

It should be noted that this news bulletin from the D.O.E. is largely pertaining to utility scale solar. Cost reductions in solar power have different trajectories based on the scale involved. In other words, residential solar may not see the same price reduction over the next 10 years. Sure, prices for solar components will continue to decrease, though by much lower amounts and there are different costs involve for home solar.

The bottom line is that while this is good news for our overall transition to a clean energy society, this will not have a dramatic effect on residential solar. The best time for homeowners to go solar is now. Expecting solar prices to come down significantly in the coming years is not that likely. Homeowners who start saving with solar power now will actually save more money over the long term than by waiting for further price reductions.

Solar Industry Sets Records For 2020

Despite the Covid 19 Pandemic, the U.S. solar market experienced significant growth in 2020.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the industry grew by 43 percent and installed more than 19 gigawatts of solar electric capacity in 2020. Also notable is the fact that, for the second year in a row, solar power was the largest source of new electric-generating capacity.

Seia new electric capacity
SEIA – Past 10 Years New Electric Capacity Trend

“After a slowdown in Q2 due to the pandemic, the solar industry innovated and came roaring back to continue our trajectory as America’s leading source of new energy,” – SEIA president Abigail Ross Hopper. Case in point is the fact that 4th quarter of 2020 saw the most solar installed compared to any prior quarter on record. 2020 beats the previous best year for solar, 2016, by almost 5 gigawatts.

Some of the key figures from SEIA’s report include;

  • The extension of the 26 percent Investment Tax Credit has lead to a 17 percent increase in the expected amount of solar to be installed from 2021-2025.
  • The final quarter of business in 2020 saw an impressive 6 gigawatts of industrial scale solar installed. This is part of a significant 69 gigawatts of utility scale solar projects currently in the pipeline.
  • Residential solar saw an increase of 11 percent over 2019 with 3.1 gigawatts installed. This is rather impressive considering the initial slow down due to the pandemic.

This amazing growth trend is predicted to continue over the next 10 years. It is expected that in that time period, the U.S. will add 324 gigawatts of solar capacity, bringing the overall total installed capacity to 419 gigawatts. To put this into perspective, this predicted growth will have the upcoming decade responsible for almost 80 percent of total installed solar by 2030.

Now, more than ever, word is beginning to spread that solar power truly is affordable. Not only is it very affordable, but homeowners everywhere are starting to realize how much they can save by going solar. This news is a very large part of the amazing year that we just saw for solar energy in the U.S. It’s also why the SEIA and many other solar organizations are expecting an accelerated adoption of solar at all scales in the coming years.

The DOE Announces $125 Million In New Solar Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy made an announcement today, the 5th of February, that it is investing $125.5 million in support of further improvements in solar power and other renewable energy technologies.

This investment will, more specifically, go towards improving the reliability of the nation’s grid, creating a more robust American manufacturing environment, and helping to further reduce the cost of solar.

“We’re excited about these new funding opportunities for renewable power, transportation, energy efficiency, and manufacturing. We look forward to working with the National Labs and private sector partners to advance clean, affordable, and reliable energy for American families and businesses.” – Daniel R. Simmons – Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The key objectives include:

  • Photovoltaics (PV) Hardware Research – $15 million for 8-12 projects that aim to extend PV system lifetimes and reduce hardware costs of solar systems made of silicon solar cells, as well as new technologies like thin-film, tandem, and perovskite solar cells.
  • Integrated Thermal Energy Storage and Brayton Cycle Equipment Demonstration (Integrated TESTBED) – $39 million for 1-2 projects that will develop a test site to accelerate the commercialization of supercritical carbon dioxide power cycles, a key component of low-cost concentrating solar power plants.
  • Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies 3 (SEEDS 3) – $10 million for 6-8 projects that will examine how information flows to stakeholders to enable more efficient decision-making about solar and other emerging technologies, such as energy storage.
  • Innovations in Manufacturing: Hardware Incubator – $14 million for 7-9 projects that will advance innovative product ideas from a prototype to a pre-commercial stage, with an aim for products that support a strong U.S. solar manufacturing sector and supply chain.
  • Systems Integration –  $30 million for 7-11 projects that will develop resilient community microgrids to maintain power during and restore power after man-made or natural disasters, improve cybersecurity for PV inverters and power systems, and develop advanced hybrid plants that operate collaboratively with other resources for improved reliability and resilience.
  • Solar and Agriculture: System Design, Value Frameworks, and Impacts Analysis – $6.5 million for 4-6 projects that will advance the technologies, research, and practices necessary for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises to co-locate solar and agriculture.
  • Artificial Intelligence Applications in Solar Energy with Emphasis on Machine Learning – $6 million for 8-12 projects that encourage partnerships between experts in AI and solar industry stakeholders to develop disruptive solutions across the value chain of the solar industry.
  • Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS): PV and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – $5 million for 15-20 projects that advance innovative and novel ideas in PV and CSP that can produce significant results within the first year of performance. 

While an initial response to this announcement should be positive, it’s also worth noting that the current administration has not exactly been the most supportive of the renewable energy industry. In fact, they are big supporters of trying to bring back coal (which won’t happen) and being generally favorable to the fossil fuel industry. It can also be said that $125 million is a very small amount considering the total yearly available budget.

The big picture is that the solar industry is ripe for massive expansion as it is right now. Prices are low and the technology is ready to go. Sure, further improvements will only encourage expansion of renewable energy projects, but what is really needed is promotion. Many simply are still not aware of how much it makes sense to go solar right now.

Here’s to further support for the solar industry, and more importantly, the implementation of solar projects right now!

Report Shows Strong Solar Growth Trend

In a recent Department of Energy report, new wind and solar power capacity additions dwarf most fossil fuels types.

This post is basically part two of the most recent one detailing future solar power growth predictions in the U.S. The basic idea here is that solar has been, and is completely expected to, stay on a growth trend that massively outpaces all fossil fuels.

Case in point is this recent report released by the Department of Energy that shows wind and solar power growing at a pace much faster than fossil fuels. In fact, it shows that wind and solar accounted for more than 500 gigawatts of new energy capacity for 2018. Of course, the natural gas boom is still prevalent, but due to the inherently non-renewable nature of that source of power, it can be expected that it will eventually follow a downward trajectory.

U.S. Department of Energy

Another interesting thing definitely worth mentioning about this graph is the quite noticeable portion of energy storage. An increasing amount of energy storage is being incorporated in renewable energy projects. Battery storage is an undeniably important part of current and future wind and solar installations.

This post is, yet again, inspired by a recent one by PV Magazine USA. According to their research, projected solar growth shows a possible 222 gigawatts of solar and 64 gigawatts of energy storage through to 2023. Of course, it is quite possible that not every single gigawatt of these figures will be installed and it is also quite possible that the numbers will be even larger.

The primary point of this follow up post to the last was to add a few more numbers to the story. There’s plenty of statistical evidence to prove the solar industry’s ascension as a part of the total energy mix in the coming years. It may be easy to doubt any one person’s predictions, but hard data from reputable sources like the Department of Energy are difficult to refute.

The big picture here is that solar power will become a major source of energy much sooner than later!

Large Solar Installers Fail To Achieve Profits

$17 billion.

That was the total revenue of the American solar industry in 2018. It might shock some to discover that many of the largest solar installers in the country failed to show a profit in spite of such a large number. It’s also worth noting that this story pertains to a growing industry.

A growing yet unprofitable industry?

Well, that’s exactly the case. Some of the largest solar companies have struggled to make the numbers work favorably after years of work and thousands of completed installs.

How can this be? Well, part of this story is not particular to the solar industry. Many companies in other industries fail to show a profit for many of their first few years of business.

However, things have been especially difficult and turbulent in the residential solar industry. Case in point is the story of SolarCity. After years of being top of the heap in terms of market share, the company eventually got absorbed by Tesla after years of failing to turn a profit. As of mid 2019, Tesla has yet to aggressively seek solar sales. The SolarCity business model failed.

SunRun is the new leader of the residential solar market pack. Second quarter 2019 financials for the company show them losing $105 million.

Vivint Solar is another major player in the residential solar game suffering from the same problem.

One of the biggest problems for these companies is how much their sales and marketing costs are. Basically, it costs these companies too much money to get more customers. In fact it’s almost a dollar per watt for SunRun. That’s almost a third of the total cost of doing business. This is the definition of unsustainable. The company can actually get an install done for $2.50/watt. Administration, sales, and marketing add another dollar per watt.

Wood Mackenzie U.S. PV Leaderboard

There’s certainly no easy answers for these large installers. They’re all hoping to stay afloat long enough for costs to fall in every category.

What’s the solution for homeowners? There’s an easy answer to this question. It’s simply to do business with a local installer.

Some credit, however, must be given to the major solar companies. They have done much to help spread the awareness of solar, albeit at the same time convincing many homeowners that solar power is still too expensive. (It can be assumed that many people approached by a large solar company didn’t follow up with more research online to discover the actual cost to get solar installed.)

The point of this particular post is not necessarily to disparage these larger solar companies. After all, more solar in general, is a good thing, of course. Also, more solar awareness in general is a good thing too. But when a big solar installer disappears, that doesn’t help the cause.

So while major solar companies will continue to attempt to grow at unsustainable speeds, smaller and more local solar outfits will be able to offer significantly lower prices and much better service overall.

The United States Now Has More Than 2 Million Solar Panel Installations

According to (Solar Energy Industries Association), there are now more than 2 million solar panel installations across the United States. This represents a significant milestone for an industry that is poised for further growth.

It was just a few years ago that the solar industry in the U.S. began to finally grow at good rates. The SEIA predicts that these impressive growth rates will continue.“This $17 billion industry is on track to double again in five years, and we believe that the 2020s will be the decade that solar becomes the dominant new form of energy generation.” – Abigail Hopper, SEIA’s President and CEO.

While it took the industry 40 years to reach one million installations (and 3 more years for the second), the 3 millionth and 4 millionth is expected to happen in 2021 and 2023, respectively. At this pace, solar power is poised to become the new dominant source of energy in the 2020’s.

The first few years of solar installations in America saw California as being by far the leader in solar. While this is still the case, other states have seen their solar industries experience massive growth. For example, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Utah, Maryland, and Rhode Island has seen considerable growth in recent years. The total solar market in these states is now 4 times larger (going from 50,000 installations to 200,000) than what it was 3 years ago. The following image shows a growth trend for the states that have been in the top five list over the years.

Based on this incredible expected solar growth, the SEIA expects that a solar installation will take place every single minute by 2024. This is in stark contrast with 2010, in which a new solar installation took place every 10 minutes across the country. The idea that in a little more than a decade, solar installations will occur ten times as quickly is truly remarkable.

At the residential scale, it is expected that 2.5 percent of the homes in America will be solar powered by 2024.

All of this data, from the perspective of homeowners, represents an enormous opportunity to finally save a good deal of money on their electric bills and it allows them to do the right thing environmentally as well. That’s something everyone can feel good about.

Solar Now Accounts For More Than 2 Percent Of U.S. Power

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power accounted for 2.4 percent of the nation’s electricity demand in 2018.

Combining both utility scale and non-utility scale, the total solar industry grew 25 percent in 2018.

California continues to be the solar power leader. The state increased its 2017 levels by 15 percent. It is now capable of supplying 14.1 percent of its electricity needs with solar power. Nevada was next with 12.4 percent, Hawaii at 11.8 percent, Arizona at 8.7 percent, and Utah at 7.6 percent.

While not making the top 5, there were quite a few states in New England that made noticeable gains in solar capacity. Also, quite a few states in the south experienced triple digit percentage increases in the past year or so. In fact, 12 states in total had at least 100 percent growth increases.

Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, there seems to be apparent resistance in states with stronger Renewable Portfolio Standard Policies. These are policies which basically say how much renewable energy a state must install by the end of a certain time period. Instead, states that are sunnier tend to be installing solar voluntarily at a quicker pace.

This can be seen as market forces being more powerful than political ones. It’s also a positive sign that the other states not going solar as quickly due to these mandates soon will regardless of said mandates. The bottom line is that the tipping point has been passed in which solar power is now too cheap to ignore.

Now it must be addressed that many will scoff at the idea of 2 percent being significant at all.

They would be missing the point.

The larger picture is that, while solar does only satisfy 2.4 percent of the nation’s electricity needs, the rate at which it is expanding is impressive and is what truly matters. In fact, solar power now delivers 100 times the amount of electricity it did 10 years ago. How about that for growth!

As utility-scale solar installations continue to take place, we will see solar accounting for a good percentage of total electricity demand in the not too distant future.