Home Solar Cheaper Than Every Concentrating Solar Power Plant

Date: 13 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 3 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A residential rooftop solar PV system in Los Angeles, CA, has a cheaper cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity delivered than the most cost effective, utility-scale concentrating solar power plant. 

In 2010, a buying group called Open Neighborhoods openly advertised an opportunity to get a solar PV system installed for $4.78 per Watt (not including any tax credits, rebates, or grants), a system that would produce approximately 1,492 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year (AC) for each kilowatt of capacity (DC). 

Based on the best available public information about the costs and performance of operational concentrating solar thermal power plants, the PS10 solar power tower – an 11 MW installation in Spain – has the lowest levelized cost of operation of any concentrating solar power plant that produces electricity.  PS10 had an installed cost of $4.15 per Watt and produces 2,127 kWh per kW of capacity. 

However, due to higher operations costs and a higher cost of capital (8% rather than 5%) for a concentrating solar power plant, the levelized cost of the residential rooftop system (17.3 cents per kWh) is less than that of the power tower (19.9 cents per kWh).

This analysis also does not include any transmission infrastructure or efficiency losses, either of which would increase the levelized cost of the concentrating solar power plant.  It also did not include the lower price point from Open Neighborhoods, which advertised a possibility of driving the price down to $4.22 per Watt (driving the levelized cost down to 15.3 cents per kWh).

The Southern California Edison project, also featured in the chart, is another example of low-cost distributed solar PV, with the 250 MW project spread across commercial rooftops in 1-2 MW increments but still achieving large scale. 

Ultimately, this data further confirms that distributed solar can be delivered less expensively than centralized solar power. 

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Listen: John Farrell Talks Economies of Scale on the RenewableEnergyWorld Podcast

Date: 7 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States, Media Coverage | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The title of the link won’t give it away, but I was interviewed on Stephen Lacey’s most recent REW podcast on superconducting technology for transmission.  He generously provided me some time to contrast the lead topic (centralized renewable energy reliant … Read More

Solar PV Costs – Does State Market Size Matter?

Date: 5 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Before the holidays we posted a chart illustrating the average cost of solar by state, highlighting Minnesota’s claim to the most expensive solar PV in the nation.  The data came from the brilliant report, Tracking the Sun III: The Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the U.S. from 1998-2009 (large pdf). 

But are solar costs high in some states simply because the market is small?  The answer seems to be no.

The following chart illustrates the average cost of solar PV by state, mapped against the total installed capacity (in megawatts) from 2007-09.  California is omitted because its 1600 MW of new capacity dwarfs other state markets; Colorado, Hawaii, and North Carolina were not included in the original dataset.  The markers for Oregon and Connecticut were shaded blue and red, respectively, to help distinguish them from surrounding states. 

What’s clear from the data is that there seems to be little relationship between market size and average installed costs.  Texas installed 16 MW at an average cost of $7.00 over the three years analyzed, whereas New York and Nevada had costs 25% higher in markets five times the size.  And five states with markets 10 MW and smaller had costs ranging from $7.60 (New Hampshire) to $9.10 per Watt (Minnesota).  The largest markets in New Jersey and California tie for 5th lowest cost, 10% more expensive than the least expensive market despite being (in California’s case) two orders of magnitude larger. 

The data leave a lot of questions.  Why don’t larger markets uniformly have lower prices?  Why is there such large variation in costs in smaller solar market states?  And how does state solar policy matter, when there is no correlation between the total value of state incentives and the before-incentive installed cost of solar?

Update 1/20/11: a cacophony of different permitting rules may be partially responsible.  The solar industry estimates that permitting costs add $2,500 to each solar installation.

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Failure of 663 MW Stirling solar power plant another blow for centralized solar

Date: 3 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Southern California Edison recently canceled a 663 MW power purchase agreement for a Stirling dish powered concentrating solar power plant.  It’s the latest blow for centralized solar as the economics have continued to favor decentralized solar.  There were other issues, too:

Stirling and Tessera…also needed millions in equity investments and big honking loans from the government and others.

When modular, decentralized solar PV is easy to finance and less expensive than centralized solar thermal electricity, the decentralized power is going to win.

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Britain to Abandon RPS & Move to Feed-in Tariffs

Date: 22 Dec 2010 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In a potentially precedent-setting move for the English-speaking world, Great Britain’s ruling coalition proposes abandoning its long-running experiment with so-called “market reforms” of the 1990s. Included in the proposal released by Chris Huhne, Energy and Climate Change Secretary December 16, 2010, is wholesale revision of the country’s Renewable Obligation, the British version of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

While the renewable targets will remain, the government proposes abandoning the mechanism for reaching the targets, the Renewables Obligation (RO). Instead the coalition government of the Conservative and Liberal parties proposes implementing a system of feed-in tariffs for “low carbon generation”.

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U.S. Military Sees Great Value in Distributed Renewable Energy

Date: 22 Dec 2010 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

There’s no better illustration of the value of distributed renewable energy than the U.S. military.  In Iraq, the 50,000 U.S. troops (as of August 2010) use 600 million gallons of fuel per year at a cost of dozens of lives of U.S. soldiers who die protecting fuel convoys and financial cost of nearly $27 billion for fuel and security ($45 per gallon!).  New distributed renewable energy systems can help combat brigades reduce fuel consumption, saving lives and money.

One Marine company – Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines – field-tested the Ground Renewable Expeditionary ENergy System (GREENS) system in August 2010 and found that it saved 8 gallons of fuel per day for each of the company’s 150 men.  Complemented with other renewable energy systems, the Marines powered their combat operations center without using the diesel generator for eight days.

The renewable technology that will power Company I costs about $50,000 to $70,000; a single diesel generator costs several thousand dollars. But when it costs hundreds of dollars to get each gallon of traditional fuel to base camps in Afghanistan, the investment is quickly defrayed.”

It takes approximately 200 GREENS (1,600 kilowatts of solar modules with battery storage for 300 Watts of continuous power) to replace a single 60 kilowatt diesel generator, but it saved the Marine company 1,200 gallons of fuel per day.  In Iraq, that fuel would have cost $45 per gallon, including transportation and security costs.  That’s a savings of $54,000 in a single day.  If priced at $70,000 each, the 200 GREENS will pay back in 260 days, less than 9 months. 

If every U.S. company serving in Iraq made use of GREENS, it would reduce fuel consumption by U.S. troops by 25%, saving 146 million gallons of fuel and $6.5 billion per year. 

There are benefits besides saved fuel and money.  Marines appreciated that the solar-powered base systems are quiet, and also don’t require constant refueling.  The no-fuel requirement also benefits security, as 72 U.S. soldiers died protecting convoys in Iraq in 2009.

The military provides a great illustration of the utility and cost-effectiveness of distributed generation, and one that should inform state-side strategies for energy deployment.

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The Fragmentation of American Energy Policy

Date: 17 Dec 2010 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Last week was a tough one for distributed solar markets in several states, as a remarkable number of renewable energy incentive programs hit their budget or capacity caps, or are shrinking in scope: San Diego Gas & Electric’s allocation of … Read More

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