Thanks to Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for contributing to this article. You can, and should follow his reporting on public networks at www.muninetworks.org. Conservatives would have us believe the public sector can’t compete with the private sector. The private sector itself knows better. Nowhere… Continue reading
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A serialized version of our new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 1 of 5 The 20th century of electricity generation was characterized by ever larger and more distant central power plants. But a 21st century technological dynamic offers the possibility of a dramatically different electricity future: millions of widely dispersed renewable energy plants and… Continue reading
I was on the air with local attorney and renewable energy guru Susan Perkins, interviewed by host Duncan Campbell. A great conversation about Boulder’s effort to municipalize in order to have more control over its electricity system and energy sources. Click for show listing (and hit the tiny, blue play button) or just download an… Continue reading
“Thirty years ago renewable energy was a novelty,” says John Farrell, author of the new report, Democratizing the Electricity System: A Vision for the 21st Century Electric Grid. “Twenty years ago it was little more than a cottage industry. Today the $100 billion renewable energy industry threatens to overturn the bigger-is-better foundation of the existing, 20th century electricity system.”
“Clean local energy provides the most efficient pathway to the smart energy future and the new energy economy. Democratizing the Electricity System does a brilliant job of illustrating the unparalleled benefits of small- and mid-size renewable energy and the urgent need for new policies that make the enormous economic and political opportunities accessible.” — Craig… Continue reading
Elemental Impact (EI), a national non-profit based in Atlanta, is a dynamo of projects, ideas and networking for the corporate community and government agencies in the field of organics solutions. EI takes ACTION through the Zero Waste Zones, an EI program in partnership with the National Restaurant Association, the Sustainable Food Court Initiative and POWER – Perishable Organics Waste… Continue reading
Lessig presents at the Personal Democracy Forum 2011 using many of the findings and graphs on this website. He reviews the recent struggles with local broadband nationwide. Continue reading
In drafts of ILSR’s forthcoming report on a distributed generation future (check back June 22!), I took some flak for my solar PV economies of scale analysis. In it, I used data from the California Solar Initiative (through 2009) to point out that most economies of scale in solar PV seem to be captured at a size of 10 kilowatts (a large residential-scale project).
“The solar statements seem way off base,” wrote one reviewer.
Upon further review, I stand by my initial claim. But, I note that the critics have a point, as well.
For deeper analysis, I grabbed data from Lawrence Berkeley Labs’ 2010 report Tracking the Sun III, which provided a very nice breakdown of installed costs for solar PV by project size. I then dropped those size ranges into the California Solar Initiative (CSI) data for the whole data set (2006-2011) as well as for just the past two years (2010 to present). The following chart illustrates the findings:
The historic data confirms my earlier analysis, that most economies of scale are achieved at small size. In the full CSI database, there’s a 23% decrease in per Watt cost when increasing project size from under 2 kW to 5-10 kW, but only a further 6% percentage point decrease in sizing up to over 1,000 kW. The other two curves are quite similar.
But the historic U.S. data is not the only story.
The Clean Coalition – a distributed generation advocacy organization – has different numbers on installed cost from their network of installer partners. These figures, data on very recent or proposed installations, tell a different tale, illustrated below:
In the Clean Coalition data, the savings from 5 kW to 25 kW are about 10%, but the savings from upsizing to 100 kW are a cumulative 21%, and growing to 1,000 kW offers a total of 28% off the 5 kW price per Watt. In other words, economies of scale continue strongly through the 100 kW size range.
Their data is not alone. In the German feed-in tariff, solar PV producers are paid a fixed price per kWh generated, with prices set according to the location of the solar PV plant (roof/ground) and by size (small, medium, large, etc). Overall, Germany is simply cheaper, with average installed costs for 10-100 kW rooftop PV installations of just $3.70 per Watt. But their economies of scale are also strong: there is a 10% price differential between rooftop solar arrays smaller than 30 kW and those 100-1000 kW, but an additional 15% price drop for projects over 1000 kW.
The conclusion is murky. Historical data in the U.S. supports my original assertion: economies of scale for solar PV are limited beyond 10 kW. But recent installed cost data and the German experience both suggest that there are stronger economies of scale up to projects 1,000 kW (1 MW) in size.
On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones. Continue reading
A 3-day wind and solar forecast for Germany from the energy forecaster Enercast:
The forecast allows grid operators to plan ahead for the wind and solar capacity available at a given hour, making it easier to balance load.