Solar Prices Continue to Plunge: Battery Growth “Insane”

August 7, 2018

If you have not seen my new vid on solar across the Heartland, you need it for better understanding of what is happening.

Utility Dive

The industry has been playing the solar limbo for years now, as prices rapidly plummeted in response to economies of scale, new technology and experience.

NV Energy’s proposal made waves by coming in below a $24.99/MWh contract signed earlier this summer in Arizona. And there is talk that a Tri-County Electric Cooperative deal in Oklahoma resulted in even lower wind prices than the NV Energy solar deal.

crazyeddieThe addition of storage is also helping bring down solar prices in some areas. In January, Xcel Energy received a median bid price of $21/MWh for wind-plus-storage projects and $36/MWh for solar-plus-storage projects. That beat out the $45/MWh price for a solar-plus-storage project hit last year in a PPA between Tucson Electric Power and NextEra Energy.

In March, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said costs to install utility-scale solar systems declined 10% to 15% annually from 2010 through 2016. But just how long can prices continue falling?

Solar analyst Ben Attia told Greentech Media that “highly competitive tenders will see cost compression, and there is still room for costs to fall further, but there isn’t as much breathing room on the leading edge.”

For perspective, here are some of Lazard’s electric production prices for 2016.



A huge glut of global solar panels has led to sharp price drops that have muted the effect of the Trump administration’s import tariffs on solar.

Trade wars have unpredictable results, and solar power is a classic case in point.

In 2017, when Trump was considering putting tariffs on imported solar cells and panels, U.S. companies started buying and stockpiling foreign panels, which drove up prices. Then in January, the President imposed a 30 percent tariff.

Domestically, orders were canceled, and workers were let go, since the industry gets about 80 percent of its solar panel products from imports.

In June, Trump imposed an additional 25 percent tariff on imported Chinese solar modules as part of our growing trade war with that country.

Unexpectedly, on June 1, the Chinese government cut its own solar installation incentives sharply, to slow what the government saw as a domestic market that had been overheating. Last year alone China added a staggering 53 gigawatts (53,000 megawatts) of new solar capacity — which was more new capacity installed than any other nation had at the start of 2017.

China’s move had an immediate effect, slowing domestic installation and creating a global supply glut. Within weeks, global prices had dropped 12 percent.

“If you are building a large power plant your pricing has certainly come back at least halfway to what it was pre-tariff, if not all the way,” as SunPower Corp CEO Tom Werner told Reuters Monday. “It’s muting the impact of tariffs.”

Prices could fall up to 35 percent this year. And while that is good news for those who want to install solar panels, it undercuts the supposed goal of Trump’s tariffs — to increase domestic production.

Utility Dive:

In the midst of an earnings call dominated by discussions about Tesla’s long-awaited Model 3 electric car, CEO Elon Musk also discussed the company’s energy storage business.

Musk noted that Tesla had shut down a Powerwall battery manufacturing production line in order to make more batteries for its Model 3 car, but said “we’re adding new cell lines and we’ll be able to address” cell shortages very soon.

That will enable Tesla to soon triple its storage business, CFO Deepak Ahuja, said.

Jeffrey Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, noted that the 1 GWh number the company offered analysts for guidance is “a big number … maybe on the order of 300% what we did the prior year and we’re still aiming at maybe another 3 times to 4 times growth for 2019.”

“These are insane growth levels,” Musk said.

Meanwhile, progress on one of the stickiest problems of Li-On batteries:


Researchers at Michigan Technological University are using century-old mining techniques to recycle lithium-ion batteries at low cost. It helps that Lei Pan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, has a graduate degree in mining engineering. Pan had a suspicion the techniques used in the mining industry 100 years ago to separate metal from ore might work for recycling batteries today, so he suggested his engineering students pursue that line of inquiry.

As so often happens in basic research, the process involved plenty of late hours and dead ends. “My mind goes back to the beginning, when nothing was working,” says Trevyn Payne, a chemical engineering senior. “A lot of times it was, honestly, ‘Let’s just try this.’ Sometimes when things worked out, it was kind of an accident.” Another senior, Zachary Oldenburg gave an example to Michigan Tech. “We were trying all kinds of solvents to liberate chemicals, and after hours and hours, we found out that plain water worked the best.”

The team used tried and true mining industry techniques to separate everything in the battery — the casing, metal foils, the anode and cathode, and the lithium-metal oxide that is the most valuable component. Those basic components and materials can be used to make new batteries. “The biggest advantage of our process is that it’s inexpensive and energy efficient,” says student Ruitang Zhan. “For the purpose of remanufacturing, our recycled materials are as good as virgin materials, and they are cheaper,” Oldenburg adds.

“We saw the opportunity to use existing technology to address emerging challenges,” Pan says. “We use standard gravity separations to separate copper from aluminum, and we use froth flotation to recover critical materials, including graphite, lithium and cobalt. These mining technologies are the cheapest available, and the infrastructure to implement them already exists.”

Battery recycling is in its infancy at the moment but will become a critical part of the transition to zero emissions vehicles as more and more electric cars take to the road. The low cost, low energy process created by Pan and his team could become solve one of the thorniest problems involving electric cars — what to do with lithium-ion batteries when they reach the end of their useful life.



5 Responses to “Solar Prices Continue to Plunge: Battery Growth “Insane””

  1. […] Continue to Plunge: Battery Growth “Insane”. Here’s a good summary of trends at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: “…The addition of storage is also helping bring down solar prices in some areas. In […]

  2. […] Continue to Plunge: Battery Growth “Insane”. Here’s a good summary of trends at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: “…The addition of storage is also helping bring down solar prices in some areas. In […]

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Look at the difference between rooftop residential and rooftop commercial. It’s huge, as much as 3 times cheaper, probably because with commercial you are dealing with a big, flat expanse of roof.

    This same advantage would be seen with utility-scale PV, even if it used non-thin film panels.

    The next time you read someone talking about cost advantages of residential solar, remember this graph. I would imagine the differences would be even more dramatic in the U.S.

    Now look at the cost shown in the graph of thin-film utility scale. It is as much as 5 times less expensive than rooftop. The question is – how is it’s longevity? The answer is: it’s complicated.

    Thin film initially is rated at 160 percent of its final output rating – it degrades rapidly during its first few weeks, then stabilizes. It also maintains its rating better than poly- or monocrystalline panels in extreme heat. But it has a reputation for poor longevity. Is that changing?

    It would be *really* interesting to hear from experts just how good thin-film panels have gotten lately, and what advances have been made recently re longevity.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    German start-up set to roll-out solar PV integrated electric vehicle – a “no frills” low-priced EV with 250km range and enough PV to power 30km/day if the sun’s shining.

    => Solar-integrated EV in works in Germany – and open to pre-order worldwide

    I hope they will give those Volkswagen cheaters a very hard time.

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