Today, solar energy takes up two- tenths of 1% of total energy consumption in the United States in which its electrical capacity has been continually increasing from 334,244 kilowatts in 1997 to 1,488,500 kilowatts in 2011. Expanding solar energy has been faced with several challenges such as variations on availability of sources of sunlight because of changing weather conditions. Due to its intermittent source it needs a back-up energy system when sunlight is not available making it unreliable. Another issue is that the high costs of installation have been causing disadvantages compared to other renewable resources. These existing challenges can be addressed through evolutionary and revolutionary technological changes focusing on photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) and their efficiency improvements, materials replacements, enhanced material supplies and planning.
Through Sunshot vision study, a dramatic decrease of 75% will be possible between 2010 and 2020. “The Sunshot Vision study projects that solar technologies could satisfy roughly 14% of the U.S. electricity demand by 2030 and 27% by 2050” (Sunshot Initiative, 2012). Achieving these goals will make solar energy costs competitive with other energy sources and will open opportunities for large-scale solar technology in the United States. These expansions and price reductions schemes will produce a low-cost high volume solar energy system. Price target is projected to reach an estimated cumulative installation of 302 GW of PV and 28 GW of CSP by 2030 as well as 632 GW of PV and 83 GW of CSP by 2050. “To achieve these cumulative installed capacities, annual installations must reach 25-30 GW of PV and 3-4 GW of CSP in the Sunshot scenario between 2030 and 2050” (Sunshot, 2012). By 2030, PV will generate 505 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity annually equivalent to 11% of electricity demand while CSP will generate 137 TWh of electricity annually equivalent to 3% of total electricity demand in the United States. This also indicates that by 2050, PV will generate 1,036 TWh annually or 19% of total demand and CSP will generate 412 TWh annually or 8% of total demand.
Expansion and development of solar resources requires essential increase in transmission in which barriers include issues on transmission capacity access and variability of solar. These can be reduced by enhancement on access to flexible resources in the system, effective deployment, enhanced projection on solar production and access on efficient electricity markets. These goals will result to projected transmission capacity increase of 100,000 gigawatt-miles in 2030 or 13% increase and 117,000 gigawatt-miles or 32% increase in 2050.
Level of deployment would require significant changes in technology particularly on grid integration, operation, system planning and modification of codes and standards as well as improved techniques on model and analysis. Suitable land area for solar deployment should be accessible to available transmission and should conform to environmental and cultural protection. The projected land requirement will be 370,000- 1,100,000 hectares for utility-scale solar installations in 2030 and 860,000 to 2,500,000 hectares in 2050. Reaching the solar deployment level will lead to reduction on retail electricity costs in which projected average retail price will be 0.6 cents per kilowatt-hour or a monthly savings of $6 and 0.9 cents per kilowatt-hour or a monthly savings of $9 in 2050.These rates are equivalent to an annual cost savings of $30 billion in 2030 and $50 billion in 2050.
Financing on expansion will need new investments in the manufacturing supply chain and solar energy projects which would require $25 billion in 2030 and $44 billion in 2050. Third party financing arrangements such as private companies, universities and national laboratories can be an advantage and can help in the reduction of costs.
Progress and Developments
Recent developments and progress on the Sunshot initiative reveal that third party financing offers benefits such as extra services that include systems shopping and maintaining and incentive application. It can also reduce the levelized cost of energy through economics of scale in which it has gained 70% of residential market share. Recently, the Energy department also announced $19 million funding to reduce hardware and non-hardware costs to maximize solar energy deployment and will help enhance research projects, drive technological innovations and breakthroughs for a fully developed technology. An investment of $7 million was granted to American Indian and Alaska native tribes to utilize clean energy projects and help them acquire more savings, improved energy security while creating jobs and business opportunities. As part of the Energy department’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, an investment of $12
Million was granted to provide a faster solar deployment for residential
and small commercial rooftop solar systems while reducing the soft costs
of solar installation.
Ongoing new projects such as Devers-Palo No. 2 transmission line project will help access improvement and increase energy output. “The 500 KV line will provide interconnection and electrical transmission for numerous solar energy facilities proposed for construction, including nine large-scale solar projects in California and Nevada with a potential output of more than 3,600 MW were approved by Secretary Salazar last year” (Renewable Energy World, 2011).
Solar power is the most efficient and cost-effective energy system among the renewable energy options and consumers agree with the idea of utilizing clean sources of energy and generating their own power. However, most of them are reluctant to adopt the energy system because some critics claim that solar energy cannot compete with fossil fuel-powered energy due to its high costs. This idea is so frustrating because solar energy is cheaper than they think. In the last few years, there was a consistent drop in prices of solar panels “In the first quarter of 2013, the average cost of residential solar in the United States fell by 15.8% from the previous year to $4.93/watt with some systems less than $3/W” (Tawney, 2013). This continuous reduction of costs will make solar energy more globally competitive in the coming years. The system’s solar- friendly policies and subsidies also contributed to the growth of deployment. “The recent boom in solar owes a great deal to state rebates and the federal investment tax credit that covers 30% of the cost of installing solar equipment” (Wang, 2013).
These significant progress and developments in the solar energy sector indicates the necessity and demand for generating clean energy in terms of economic and environmental aspects which suggests that solar energy has a very bright future. We should take advantage of the sun’s radiant power because sunlight is free and never runs out and we have more than enough advanced technology available to harness it. Solar is a great long-term investment and its tremendous benefits provide positive impact on our environment, health and economy. People should make intelligent choices by realizing that investing on solar energy will not only boost their financial status but would also increase consumer savings while generating their own electricity.
“Feed-In Tariff: A policy tool encouraging deployment of renewable electricity technologies”. U. S. Energy Information Administration. 30 May. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
“4 Major U.S. Projects get Federal Approval”. Renewable Energy World.com. 20 July, 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
“Sunshot Vision Study”. Sunshot. February, 2012. Web. 10 Dec, 2013.
Tawney, L. “4 Reasons Renewable Energy Is Ready For The President’s Climate Action Plan”. World Resources Institute. 01 July, 2013. Web. 10 Dec, 2013