Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
|Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 2:47 pm Post subject: Here Comes the Sun
|It's kind of embarrassing when the Saudis show more good sense than we do here in the States.
Saudi Arabia Makes Big Bet On Solar 12/10/2012
There wasn’t much coverage earlier this month of the Saudi Arabia‘s decision to invest $100 billion in solar power. Instead there was a lot of frothy coverage of an International Energy Agency report suggesting the USA could overtake Saudi Arabia as an oil producer by 2020 if a lot of dubious assumptions panned out.
Likewise there wasn’t a lot of interest earlier this year when Warren Buffett, through MidAmerican Holdings, put over $2 billion into one solar project in California. Instead there was a lot of noise and grandstanding when the US government picked the wrong bet and lost a quarter as much in Solyndra.
The reality is that solar power has come of age and is now a bankable technology attracting the likes of Buffett and Google and KKR and Blackstone and Walmart and MetLife because it garners double-digit returns on investment[i]. Smart money and the Saudi’s know solar works; why don’t we?
Take only the news from King Abdullah City for a moment, where spokespeople say they’re targeting around 41,000 megawatts of solar capacity within two decades[ii]. Can you imagine the hype if 41 nuclear power plants were seriously canvassed to be built anywhere in the next 20 years?
That would be about 2 plants per annum (and would probably put the country trying to build them on an imminent threat watchlist!). It’s taken Southern Co. several years to try to build 2 plants in Georgia and they just announced they’re delayed yet again[iii]. Meanwhile, solar is posting these sorts of enormous gains every month as it climbs the exponential curve to mass adoption.
Did you realize more solar panels were installed in Europe last year than all the gas, coal and wind power installations combined? That’s from the Global Market Outlook to 2016 of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association – a great read full of charts “up and to the right” for a region otherwise beset by doldrums. Germany has had days this year where 50% of the electrons consumed were solar power from its 27,000 megawatts of capacity!
But maybe those Euros aren’t the measure of what matters, since they’ve always been a bit soft and environmentally-aware. What about Australia – on the other end of the world and a good friend of coal, oil, nukes & gas? Again, since 2011 they’ve invested more in clean technologies than fossil fuels and have shut down a few coal plants in the last month alone.
And the nation’s Climate Commission said a week or so ago that wind & solar will be cheaper across the board than coal by 2030 – indeed the Chief Commissioner said that rooftop solar “may already be cheaper than conventional electricity in areas with high power prices”[iv]. That’d be people in the cities, like most Aussies, who pay about $0.25c per kilowatt-hour. And so 750,000 have taken up solar power – almost double the number of households in the USA in a population of just 22 million!
But what really matters is China, right? I mean, reduced demand downunder for dirty energy doesn’t move the dial but China’s electrification does. Well how’s this: China’s coal-fired power generation looks like it has fallen for the last 18 months by as much as 17%, even during a period of economic growth. The overall share of fossil fuels in the electricity supply has fallen with wind and solar power picking up the slack. The Chinese are realizing system-wide costs of burning coal are too high and may install 100 GW of solar by 2020 – more than the world has done to date.
So the stark contrast between reality and perception of solar power is only going to get more dramatic over the next 18 months. One analyst, who wants to remain anonymous expects solar power to be competitive with gas-fired power on the eastern seaboard of China by this time next year.
The economics will reach that point when it costs $1 to install a watt of solar power capacity – the current market rate is $1.25/w in China down from over $2/w this time last year! That’s because they’ve installed 2.5 gigawatts of capacity this year so far and are benefitting from serious economies of scale.
There’s not a lot of coverage of the fact that China and others are doing with an American invention – the solar panel – what we should be doing with the inevitable power platform of the 21st century – investing in it. Instead, there’s a lot of angst about whether the US can catch up with regimes we don’t even admire in a declining[v], dirty industry that showed its greatest promise in the 19th century.
There’s not a lot of coverage of the phenomenon of the technology cost curve that is driving down the price of solar power, even though it’s as American as Apple. Instead there’s still a lot of buzz about the latest oil or gas boom, even though we know busts follow those and are already stalking the shale plays. This blog is going to be different – here I’ll bring you the news from the frontline of having SFUN (solar for universal need), which happens to constitute the greatest sustainable economic opportunity of our time, and maybe, all time. Shine on!"