Tag: "sunshot"

06/29/16

  02:37:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 872 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change

Solar Power - Doctor's Orders!


LaurelWhen I came to the solar industry I had just completed my Master in Public Health. Some of you may be thinking, “Thats an odd career move! What does solar have to do with public health?” I still get this exact response when I tell people my background. But to me, solar power is one of the most exciting and valuable solutions to a myriad of public health challenges! Think about it. Traditional sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gasses and use much more water than solar. The global public health impacts of climate change are enormous and well documented…extreme weather events, flooding, draught, and heat waves all take a toll on our ability to live full and healthy lives. On top of that, the more immediate and local impacts of air pollution from traditional energy plants include asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses. 

While this simple logic proves to me that solar power is a vast improvement over burning fossil fuels, quantifying the environmental and health impacts of solar energy is not a straightforward task. However, determining the value of these external benefits is imperative to understanding the true costs and benefits of solar compared to other sources of energy. Thankfully the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) recently published a technical report on this very topic! “The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States.” was commissioned by the Department of Energy as part of the On the Path to Sunshot series of studies to assess the progress of the SunShot Initiative at its midway point.

The SunShot Vision

The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 as a result of the Obama administration’s goal to make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. In the first five years, the initiative has invested in education, policy analysis, and research and development of solar technologies as well as programs fostering more highly skilled U.S. based jobs. Since SunShot’s launch, solar installations have grown more than tenfold with more than one million solar installations producing power across the U.S. and the cost of solar energy has dropped drastically. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goal to achieve $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) installed cost for solar energy systems.

Results

The researchers sought to unveil the cumulative environmental and public health benefits of the solar power that has already been installed, and what future benefits would result if SunShot’s targets - 14% of US electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050 - are met. They found that health and environmental benefits could add approximately 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the “true” value of solar energy! Lets break down that number…

Compared with fossil fuel generators, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar produce far lower lifecycle levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other harmful pollutants including fine particulates (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Benefits of Solar

Department of Energy

Greenhouse Gases: Achieving the 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050 targets could reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector by 10% between 2015 and 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but in dollars and cents this means 238-$252 billion in savings, or 2.0-2.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar installed. These savings add to the 17 million metric tons of CO2, or $700 million, saved annually by solar already installed by 2014. 

Other Air Pollutants: Meeting the same targets through solar expansion would also reduce other power sector cumulative emissions of PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050. The monetary value of which they estimated at $167 billion in savings from reducing health and environmental costs, or 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour of solar. Not to mention avoiding 25,000-59,000 entirely preventable premature deaths! This builds on 2014 solar installations providing annual reductions in air pollutants worth $890 million. 

Water: Often we forget that traditional sources of electricity are also big water hogs. I even wrote a blog about the ways solar helps to conserve water. The researchers found reaching SunShot’s goals could result in cumulative water savings of 46 trillion gallons of avoided withdrawl (4% of total power-sector withdrawls) and 5 trillion gallons of avoided water consumption (9% of total power-sector consumption) between 2015-2050. This is definitely a non-trivial benefit given much of the big solar states are also arid states where water conservation is imperative. 

Dept of Energy

Environmental and health benefits from achieving SunShot vision. - DOE image

Put it all together and you get to the estimated 3.5¢/kWh-solar, equivalent to more than $400 billion in benefits due to SunShot-level solar deployment! Existing solar in 2014 provided $1.5 billion in annual benefits due to health and environment effects. Given the cost of going solar for residential properties in our neck of the woods is currently between 8 and 11 ¢/kWh, adding 3.5 ¢/kWh of value is a pretty big deal. The LBNL researchers noted that this is approximately equal to the additional LCOE reduction needed to make unsubsidized utility-scale solar competitive with conventional power generation today. 

Improving public health and the environment is a lofty goal near and dear to my heart and truly an important aspect of solar’s many benefits. Hopefully quantifying the magnitude of solar’s “external” impacts will help inform policy decisions by making the “true” costs and values of solar and its economic competitiveness with other energy options more explicit.

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02/04/11

  04:46:55 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 315 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar Rebates

"SunShot" Aims to Drive Down the Cost of Solar Power

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced its plan - dubbed “SunShot” - to drive down the cost of solar power over the next decade - including in so-called “soft costs” related to permitting and interconnection. Overall, the goal is to drive down costs by 75% over the next ten years, making large-scale solar cost-competitive even without incentives.
From the DOE press release:

SunShot will work to bring down the full cost of solar - including the costs of the solar cells and installation - by focusing on four main pillars:

  • Technologies for solar cells and arrays that convert sunlight to energy;
  • Electronics that optimize the performance of the installation;
  • Improvements in the efficiency of solar manufacturing processes;
  • Installation, design and permitting for solar energy systems.

For more information and to follow the initiative’s progress, visit the SunShot Initiative webpage.

We are certainly in favor of anything that helps drive down the cost of solar power - and harmonizing the presently discordant rules and regulations governing solar installations from utility-to-utility and city-to-city would be a great step forward.  (For a sample of what that discord sounds like today, check out our earlier post on the state of utility programs here in Southern California.)

Nevertheless, it is somewhat perverse that the oil and gas industries continue to receive billions of dollars in subsidies, but renewables - particularly solar - are expected to demonstrate that they are “cost-competitive” without any subsidies at all!  That is a fundamentally wrong-headed approach.

We support President Obama’s call during his State of the Union Speech to eliminate all subsidies for the fossil fuel industries.  But while we wait for that sunny day to dawn, we also support the introduction of a rational, feed-in-tariff that would provide long-term price supports for renewable energy - as opposed to the chaotic and cacophonous nature of the existing rebate incentive structure.

There are intelligent legislative proposals out there now. Washington - Sacramento - are you listening?

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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