Solar power is on the rise, even as the growth rate of U.S. electricity consumption has been slowing. This year, energy generated from solar power will be the second-largest source added to the U.S. electric grid.
“Solar is going to move into the No. 2 position in terms of new build, second only to gas,” Recurrent Chief Executive Officer Arno Harris said in an interview yesterday at the company’s main office in San Francisco.
Rooftop solar systems can be installed for about $4 a watt and utility-scale systems for $2 a watt, Harris said. “We can see our way to $1.50,” he said. “At those kinds of costs, we’re competitive in the Southwest with conventional electricity.”
Panel prices have fallen almost 69 percent in the past two years, benefiting companies such as Recurrent that purchase and install the equipment and sell electricity from the systems to utilities. Falling costs also have enabled developers to accept lower-priced contracts. First Solar Inc. has signed a power purchase agreement for a project in New Mexico that will sell electricity at a lower rate than new coal plants earn.
Specifically, another report projected the U.S. would install a total of 4.2 gigawatts of solar PV power in 2013. Last year, the U.S.’s share of the global solar installations grew strongly, from 7 percent to 11 percent. Globally, expected demand for solar photovoltaic installation is expected to grow by two gigawatts, or a 7 percent rise.
Solar, wind, and biomass comprised all new installed electricity capacity that came on line in January 2013. Despite what certain news organizations would have you believe, the U.S. has great potential for solar power, especially in the Southwest. And despite what you may hear about individual companies, the industry is growing globally and creating jobs in the U.S.
Where can the U.S. look to for inspiration for ways to further strengthen solar capacity in the U.S.? Rooftop solar installations in certain sectors of the Australian market have already reached the saturation point, to the extent that the peak electricity demand curves are being reshaped. For instance, midday electricity demand on the grid is down 15 percent despite higher nighttime demand.
As solar power grows, the need for adequate energy storage grows too. Fortunately, a recent report shows that global energy storage is expected to grow exponentially in the next nine years.