An Uphill Road
From a purely financial point of view, solar has a difficult and steep climb to become an energy player in our industrialized society. Although renewables (i.e. solar) were mentioned frequently during the Iraq war, once again, oil prices have fallen and gasoline here in the Midwest can be purchased for as low as $1.33/gal. In the meantime, energy sectors such as coal are getting large grants from the government to become a cleaner fuel while providing a cheap source of energy. Although rhetoric abounds about the government funding renewables, Matt Biven in The Nation last October stated, “In sum, we’re talking about gift-wrapping $50 billion to $60 billion over the next ten years and handing it over to the oil gas, coal and nuclear power industries.”3 In reference to capitalizing renewables, i.e. solar, via the stock markets, a recent article in USA Today on 4/23/03 states that in spite of the spike of oil prices during the Iraq war, “alternative energy stocks have gone nowhere....Alternative energy may someday become more than a novelty....But, it could be a long time.”1 Could these happenings cause a cloud over the sun for solar, or is the industry resilient and holding their ground?
Those in the solar business have come a long way in the last 25 years and view the contrarians with “ye of little faith” while continuing with new installations, striving to lower manufacturing costs and looking for a gains in solar efficiency and new materials. Since World War II (60 years ago) , all federal subsidies to solar power have only amounted to a paltry $4.4 billion,3 but the PV industry has felt it has used its money well.
Today, the average retail price index as reported by Solarbuzz shows solar in the U.S. to be at $5.95 per Watt2 in May 2003,, and although not cost competitive, new installations continue to take place, usually with some federal, state or local subsidy. However, gains have been made in the last year with May 2002 prices per Watt at $6.14. Note that the approximate $6.00 per Watt tends to be an average in a broadly based index, there are thin films as low as $3.42 per Watt and crystalline as low as $3.42. Prices in the index are based on the purchase of a single module and reflect prices across all solar module power bands.
To keep momentum for PV positive, it is important to celebrate successes, both large and small. So, BD would like to highlight some of the newest installations in the U.S.
BP (Beyond Petroleum) celebrates its day in the sun on the East Coast . On April 22, at Earth Day, a new “solar field” was opened in Paulsboro, N.J. The site is a 130-acre former petroleum and specialty chemical storage and distribution facility located east of Philadelphia. The new solar power field produces an estimated 350,000 kiloWatt-hours of electricity, enough to power about 50 typical homes in the Northeast. The solar is power is generated by an array of 5,800 panels and provides up to 30 percent of the energy needed for environmental remediation equipment at the former terminal.
BP did not take this project on as a sole entity. Two government programs with environmental initiatives provided assistance with the project. They were the New Jersey Clean Energy Program and the Virginia Alliance for Solar Energy. The important point is that the synergistic effort accomplished a goal - a goal which can probably best be described by its estimated environmental effects, that of reducing CO2 by 571,000 lbs./yr. and nitrogen oxide emissions by 1,100 lbs./year.
Shell Solar supplies one of the largest commercial photovoltaic installations on the West Coast. Toyota Motor Sales’ new “green building” headquarters in Torrence, California has an array of 3,675 Shell Solar panels, which has a peak capacity of 536 kiloWatts.
RWE Schott Solar deploys largest alternative renewable energy resources for Department of Defense (DOD) at the Pentagon. The DOD’s Pentagon Reservation Solar and Hydro Energy Farm has three PV systems. The latest and largest system is located at the Pentagon Heating and Refrigeration plant. The 70 kW photovoltaic system has 276 modules installed in 23 rows of 12 modules per row; this system has 315 W, high power versions of RWE SCHOTT Solar’s ASE 300 modules. This is the largest solar module commercially available globally. Tilt-angles were use to minimize row-to-row separation and thus allow greater achievement in power density.
PowerLight will install largest solar electric system of any University in the World at Cal State Hayward. The 10.05 megaWatt solar electric system will deliver approximately 30 percent of the campus’s peak electricity demand during the summer months. The system, covering 110,000 sq. feet, will have three rooftop arrays and one on the ground. The ground-mounted solar tracking system, which captures up to 30 percent more energy than the fixed system, follows the sun and will be installed on an unused field. The project will generate roughly 1,450,000 kiloWatt hours annually, producing enough electricity in the daytime to power more than 1,000 homes. Construction is expected to begin in July.
The environmental impact is worth noting. Over the next 25 years, the solar-generated electricity will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by nearly 8,700 tons. These emissions’ reductions are equivalent to planting 2,450 acres of trees or removing 1,700 cars from the California’s highways.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
provides photovoltaic roadmap.
Under the umbrella of NREL (an agency of the Department of Energy) , the National Center for Photovoltaics provides long term vision, goals, and targets for photovoltaics. Their vision is “to provide the electricity consumer with competitive and environmentally friendly energy products and services from a thriving United States-based solar-electric power industry.” Their strategies, in addition to maintaining the U.S. industry’s worldwide technological leadership, are:
- achieving economic competitiveness with conventional technologies Their roadmap charts a course that will provide competitive power (i.e. costs of under $3 to $4 per peak Watt) in a time frame that will ensure a competitive position.
- maintaining a sustained PV market with accompanying production growth. Hopefully, by 2030, PV will strongly impact AC distributed generation and DC value applications and approach 10% U.S. peak generation.
-making the PV industry profitable and attractive to investors. Grow domestic business with annual revenue from $10 to $15 billion; the industry must be profitable to attract investors and their financial support.
The “endpoint” is 2020, and by that time, the National Center for Photovoltaics says, “The domestic photovoltaic industry will provide up to 15% (about 3,200MWp or 3.2 GWp) of new U.S. peak electricity generating capacity expected to be required in 2020. Cumulative PV shipments will be about 36 GWp at this time.” The focus of this endpoint is to replace a fraction of the U.S. electricity generation and displace the right 15%. Having PV shave peak-load demand when energy is most constrained and expensive will alleviate the need to build new intracity power plants and transmission lines.
Of course, price goals are a major figure of the bottom line for success. The system price paid by the end-user (including operating and maintenance costs) are projected to be $3 to $4 per Watt by 2010. Total manufacturing costs (or the cost to produce the components in the system) are projected to be 50% to 60% of the price of the installed system.
For PV/solar to win in the U.S. (and ultimately the world) as a completive electricity generation source, industry and government need to work together with the support of the people of the United States. What happens to photovoltaics in the next two decades will make a dramatic difference in the level of environmental cleanliness in the U.S. and abroad. Accomplishing the goals of the National Center for Photovoltaics can be a positive answer for our energy needs. However, the big question is: Will there be enough support among government at all levels, industry and the U.S. consumer to make it happen?
1 “-Alternatives to costly oil fall flat” by John Waggoner, USA Today, Money Section, 04/23/03
2 http://www.solarbuzz.com, “Solar Module Price Highlights,” 05/03
3 “the failsafe point” by Matt Biven, The Nation, 10/28/02