Solar Juggernaut Keeps Rolling in US

June 13, 2014

Peter Kelly-Detwiler in Forbes

The U.S. installed 1,330 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics in the first three months of 2014. Numbers from GTM Research and the Solar EnergyIndustry Association (SEIA) came out recently showing the second highest quarter in market history.  These figures were almost 80% above Q1 of last year.

The cumulative number for solar PV – as of March 31 – is just under 13,400 MW, comprised of 482,000 separate stand-alone systems. The majority of new installed capacity came from the utility sector, with over 800 MW.

GTM Research and the SEIA predict a total of 6,600 MW will be installed by year’s end. Early next year, the country should pass the 20,000 MW mark for total installed capacity – a figure which would have been undreamt of just a few years ago.

Two facts which may surprise the average observer:

1)   76% of new U.S. generating capacity in Q1 came from solar;

2)   Over a third of residential PV systems were installed without the benefit of state incentives.

The latter demonstrates that we are inching closer to grid parity in many states.  Of course, the 30% federal investment tax credit still supports the industry. But if panel costs remain relatively stable, and balance of systems continue to fall, we start to get within striking distance in more markets.

Meanwhile, third-party financing continues to oxygenate the blood of the commercial and residential on-site solar market. Mercom Capital indicated in its most recent newsletter that over $1 billion was raised for third-party financing in the first quarter.


18 Responses to “Solar Juggernaut Keeps Rolling in US”

  1. 1330 megawatts nameplate at 15% capacity factor is…

    194.5 MW average output.

    At ~200 MW per quarter, it will only take 2250 quarters (~560 years) to increase average PV generation to the average US electric load of about 450 GW.

    Oh, there will also be MAJOR issues when nameplate generation gets to the neighborhood of minimum noon-time load, because there will be excess power with nowhere to go under the current system.  Don’t forget the batteries!

    • rayduray Says:

      Thanks for the reality check. 🙂

      • See my link under that item to a less-rosy evaluation.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          Unfortunately that evaluation is, at best, inaccurate. Lots of talk about Stirling dishes ( being used by whom exactly? ) and outdated info on troughs.
          Not any meaningful info on power towers which are the current preferred design, especially for ones with salt storage.

          The 30 year old SEGS system manages 21% capacity factor over its service lifetime. So even that ancient installation is better performing than what the author thinks is feasible for future projects.

          • SEGS cost $3 per peak watt in 2002 dollars, plus 4.6¢/kWh O&M, total cost about 14¢/kWh.  A full repair of SONGS might have cost what, $1/watt?  And SONGS would have yielded 90% capacity factor without any gas backup.

            Ivanpah appears to be frying birds in mid-air.  Trough collectors at least avoid that.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Maybe the mirrors aren’t aligned properly?

            Or were installed backwards? 😀

            “The firm Bechtel was … embarrassed in 1977, when it installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards” at San Onofre

          • NB:  This analysis finds that Spain’s PV delivered to the grid an average of 1717 Wh per nameplate watt in 2009-10, for a capacity factor of 19.6%.  If that’s what sunny Spain gets, what hope do those of us in the cloudy, wintry north have?

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Seems the majority of the losses are temp & inverter.

            There’s a whole lot of America that’s further south than Spain which lies between the 37th & 44th parallels, so just about the southern borders of Utah & Colorado and finishing near the top of Lake Michigan.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      “15% capacity factor”?? Was it all installed in Seattle?

      The average capacity factor for the L48 for solar PV is ~20% so the average output will be 33% greater than your estimate.

      Unsunny Germany managed an average installation rate above 600 MW per MONTH for several consecutive years while simultaneously propping up Greece, Ireland, Portugal & Spain
      America kicked the Krauts’ butts once before; what’s the problem now?

      As for the “excess power”, either funnel it into something energy intensive that doesn’t always need to be done on a set schedule – desalinisation would be handy in the sunny Southwest or aluminum oxide refining if the Phinergy fuel cell pans out.

      Or curtail the coal & gas plants, heck the nuke ones too if necessary.
      The French have been doing it for how long?
      Don’t tell me those frog-eating socialists are better at something than True Americans. Now pass the Freedom Fries.

      • As for the “excess power”, either funnel it into something energy intensive that doesn’t always need to be done on a set schedule – desalinisation would be handy in the sunny Southwest or aluminum oxide refining if the Phinergy fuel cell pans out.

        My understanding of Hall process cells is that they don’t take well to thermal cycling.  I like the idea of dump loads, but identifying enough of them and making them cheap enough that you can afford to use them at very low capacity factor is going to be a major challenge.  That’s part of what I’m working on for my book.

        Don’t tell me those frog-eating socialists are better at something than True Americans.

        The US Navy does it extremely well.  The nuclear sector of the USA used to (because of cost-recovery rules under regulation, which accounted for much of the lower capacity factor of nukes back then), but deregulation changed all that.  Besides, if you’re going for the cleanest system at the least cost, you should curtail dirty power first, and then the thing that’s easiest to cut back.  Nuclear would generally not be it.

  2. jimbills Says:

    An article like this shows that solar is increasing in the U.S. at a decent clip. That’s good, but it still has a long, long way to go, and it’s far from being a juggernaut.

    I understand why the cheerleading like this takes place. It’s trying to boost spirits that a remedy is at hand. But another view (mine, and perhaps a few others) is that it also might lead one to think that the problem has been solved, will eminently be solved, or that systems in place will solve it in an adequate time frame. When one looks at the totality of the problem, we have decades of work to do, probably trillions in spending, all while facing issues in peaking supplies, exploding debt, and environmental degradation. We are also committed to an ever-growing economic system that multiplies the difficulties on all levels.

    Real change requires an iron will lasting generations. Cheerleading may boost spirits for the faint-hearted, at least temporarily, but it might also soften the net response. We might just think that technology will solve it, or government, or the free market. An article like this certainly leads one to suspect that. If technology, government, or the free market don’t provide an adequate response, we will have diminished the impetus of our only other resource for change – ourselves.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Cheerleading and unbridled optimism ( or self-deception) is ingrained in American culture & psyche, something Reagan understood that Carter didn’t, despite the latter being far more sensible.

      Dour pronouncements don’t resonate for long with the American public, it would seem so it’s easy to change their minds when you put a positive spin.

      Rick Perry was a cheerleader in school and it’s served him well despite him being only slightly more intelligent than a bag of rocks.

  3. Stop it. All you people did was listen to a biased source tell you that based on a linear growth rate ( adding the same amount every year) it would take a long time. Those calculations are completely false. You were duped. Solar is doubling every two years. At that rate it would increase by 1000 fold in 20 years. Those linear calculations are just bad math pure and simple. This is proof positive that nobody but mathematicians get compound growth. (Exponential) Well you say it will saturate. Not from it’s present numbers that have barely started down here at a low percentage. Saturation is a long way off. It’s one thing to be realistic, it’s another to be taken in by a long standing troll and renewable denier. Let’s not go the other way and become the useful tool of the Abbott government and the US House of Representatives in their quest to destroy renewables. The truth is, and the numbers show it, we need renewables to stave off certain calamity along with population leveling or decline and resource demand reductions. That is, a renewable and sustainable future is our only option. The only question is how soon and how much disaster is avoided. The answer depends on how soon and how much those things take place. Instead of arguing about whether renewable adoption might tip us into a new era of growth or lull us into complacency, we should be steering the future towards lower consumption and renewables. That’s not being over optimistic. Let’s not also forget that powerful vested interests want to crush this energy revolution because it threatens to destroy their monopoly. These renewables have already proven their feasibility and economic competitiveness while Fossil fuel only becomes more expensive. Right now, legislation to prevent Fossil fuel from being burned has barely started. Until then, and in concert, the success of renewables is our best defense against increasing global carbon emissions. We will run out of economical FF before 2100 and face GW simultaneously. We need to solve both problems related to growth and consumption.

    • I totally agree with you. There are clear signs that renewables can and will be a significant part of the energy mix and its perfectly possible to phase out a lot of coal and gas plants with renewables.

      As with climate change, we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg on renewables.

  4. […] 2014/06/13: PSinclair: Solar Juggernaut Keeps Rolling in US […]

  5. MorinMoss Says:

    Latest “power” play by Elon Musk & the Rive Brothers – SolarCity buys Silevo and intends to build a 1 GW manufacturing plant in New York in the next 2 years

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