Solar Energy – costs down. Volume up.

The game has changed for solar energy

by Lee Ann Head

I’m just going to come right out and say it. We think that the U.S. government and many U.S. utilities are out of synch with reality when it comes to expectations for renewable generation – particularly regarding the potential for solar distributed generation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates a solar photovoltaic generation growth rate of only 7.5% from 2012–2040 and projects that renewables will supply only 16% of U.S. energy use in 2040.

But these numbers are based on annual PV shipments from 1989 through 2012. Their estimates are built from a trend that doesn’t reflect recent PV sales growth.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that 647 new MW of solar capacity were installed in the first four months of 2014 alone, in 59 new or expanding U.S. projects. Ninety-one new or expanding projects producing 977 MW were added in the same time period in 2013.

Based on an analysis of the top 20 solar manufacturers, which account for two-thirds of global shipments, industry tracker Solarbuzz projects a 30% growth rate in solar PV shipments in 2014.

Based on these and other more recent trends, some industry analysts project that renewable energy sources in the U.S. could reach or exceed 16% of the energy supply by 2018.

Why? Because the game has changed. In a custom client study five years ago, we estimated that a 5 KW rooftop residential PV system would run $37,500 in an “average” cost scenario for solar installation. And our client estimated that the payback period would run between 10 and 20 years on such a system, depending on electricity rates.

Since then, the cost of solar has dropped dramatically. According to a recent Triple Pundit article, PV panel costs declined 20% in both 2011 and 2012, and last year solar generation costs again dropped a little, to $2.50 per watt (installed). Solar module prices, in particular, have fallen to around 10% of the overall installation cost.

New leasing options make solar even more affordable. Major industry player SolarCity, for instance, promises homeowners an overall cost reduction from day one with their solar leasing program.

Power purchase agreements, leases, new financing options and new models for individual or community participation/ownership are making solar affordable for (almost) everyone.

Our new, soon-to-be-released Eco Pulse study, which was fielded in April, finds that 40% of Americans say they are searching for “greener” electricity (renewable energy, green power, solar panels, etc.). Will they all act? No. We consistently see a huge gap between interest and actual purchase in this category. Only 4% report they’ve actually purchased solar panels.

But Americans are engaged and beginning to actively investigate – and many will be pleasantly surprised at the new options. Five years ago, we found that the target buyer for solar was a middle-aged, conservative white guy earning $150,000 or more per year. Our Pulse research shows that the distributed generation target audience is no longer this small, extremely affluent niche. It’s younger and more ethnically diverse, and it earns a more moderate income ($50K+).

New solar options are viable for moderate incomes. The potential is huge. Utilities who aren’t actively facilitating solar options for their customers could find themselves irrelevant in the future.

Wind power is taking off !

Denmark, Portugal, and Spain Leading the World in Wind Power
J. Matthew Roney
Denmark produced one third of its electricity from the wind in 2013. In no other country has wind’s share of annual electricity generation yet topped 30 percent. But the Danes are not stopping there—they are eyeing a goal of 50 percent wind by 2020, with most of the needed expansion coming from offshore wind farms. Recent experience shows that Denmark’s grid can accommodate this much wind power and more: wind-generated electricity exceeded 100 percent of demand the evening of November 3, 2013.

In Portugal, wind farms produced nearly a quarter of the country’s electricity in 2013. The situation was similar in neighboring Spain, where wind power accounted for 21 percent of electricity output, just shy of nuclear at 22 percent.
More than 17 percent of Ireland’s power generation in 2013 came from wind farms. Over the course of the year, the wind share frequently went above 50 percent, peaking at 59 percent on September 16th, according to grid operator EirGrid.
And in both Germany and the United Kingdom, countries with a combined population of 145 million, wind contributed nearly 8 percent of electricity generation in 2013. Four states in northern Germany get half or more of their electricity from wind. As impressive as these figures are for Europe’s two largest economies, what is really astounding is that each country has enough potential wind generating capacity to be 100 percent wind-powered.
What’s more, so do the world’s other leading carbon emitters. This includes, of course, the United States, where wind farms currently supply 4 percent of national electricity. Iowa and South Dakota lead the way at the state level, each generating more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind as of 2013. And in China, wind power—despite accounting for less than 3 percent of electricity generation—recently overtook nuclear to become the country’s third largest power source after coal and hydropower. With a generation potential that is more than 10 times current demand, wind may one day become China’s leading electricity source.
Earth Policy Institute’s latest Wind Power Indicator. Data and additional resources available at

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Media Contact: Reah Janise Kauffman (202) 496-9290 ext. 12 |
Research Contact: J. Matthew Roney (202) 496-9290 ext. 17 |