Opinion: Consumers winning with low oil prices, for now
Kansas City Assembly Plant comes on line as second US plant building new Ford F-150

US installs 6.2 GW of solar PV in 2014, up 30% over 2013

Newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the US in 2014 reached a record 6,201 MW, growing 30% over 2013’s total, according to the new US Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review report released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). An additional 767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) came on-line in the same period.

(The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes that because different types of generating capacity have very different utilization rates, with nuclear plants and natural gas combined-cycle generators having utilization factors three to five times those of wind and solar generators, capacity measures alone do not directly show how much generation is actually provided by new capacity of each type.)

Solar accounted for 32% of US new generating capacity in 2014, beating out both wind energy and coal for the second year in a row. Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity. Also in 2014, for the first time, each of the three major US market segments—utility, commercial and residential—installed more than a gigawatt (GW) of PV.

  • The utility-scale segment broke the GW mark in 2011 and has since grown by nearly 1 GW annually. In 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale PV projects came on-line with another 14 GW of projects currently under contract.

  • The commercial segment in the US also first installed more than 1 GW in 2011 but has not shared the same success as the utility-scale segment. In 2014, the commercial segment installed just over 1 GW, down 6% from 2013. GTM Research expects 2015 to be a bounce-back year for the commercial segment, highlighted by a resurgence in California.

  • The residential segment’s 1.2 GW in 2014 marks its first time surpassing 1 GW. Residential continues to be the fastest-growing market segment in the US, with 2014 marking three consecutive years of greater than 50% annual growth.

GTM Research forecasts the US PV market to grow 31% in 2015. The utility segment is expected to account for 59% of the forecasted 8.1 GW of PV.

Additional key findings:

  • The US installed 6,201 MW of solar PV in 2014, up 30% over 2013, making 2014 the largest year ever in terms of PV installations.

  • Solar provided roughly one third of all new electric generating capacity in the US in 2014.

  • More than one-third of all cumulative operating PV capacity in the US came on-line in 2014.

  • By the end of 2014, 20 states eclipsed the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating solar PV installations, and California alone is home to 8.7 GW.

  • For the first time ever, more than half a gigawatt of residential solar installations came on line without any state incentive in 2014.

  • Growth remains driven primarily by the utility solar PV market, which installed 1.5 GW in Q4 2014, the largest quarterly total ever for any market segment.

  • 2014 was the largest year ever for concentrating solar power, with 767 MW brought on-line. Notable project completions include the 392 MW Ivanpah project. Genesis Solar project’s second phase of 125 MW and Abengoa’s Mojave Solar (250 MW), which achieved commercial operation in December 2014.

  • All solar projects completed in 2014 represent $17.8 billion in investment ($13.4 billion in PV and $4.4 billion in CSP).

  • As of the end of 2014, cumulative operating PV in the US totaled 18.3 GW and cumulative operating CSP totaled 1.7 GW. As a point of reference, according to the EIA, total net summer electricity capacity in the US (all sources) in 2012 for all sectors except residential was 1,063,033 MW.

The US EIA reports that in 2015, electric generating companies expect to add more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale generating capacity to the power grid. The additions are dominated by wind (9.8 GW), natural gas (6.3 GW), and solar (2.2 GW), which combine to make up 91% of total additions. Nearly 16 GW of generating capacity is expected to retire in 2015, 81% of which (12.9 GW) is coal-fired generation.

Comments

HarveyD

This is an encouraging trend of replacing dirty CPPs with Wind, NG and Solar power plants.

The same will happen in China, India, Europe, Japan, Canada etc.

NPPs take too long to build and are priced way out of competition.

Engineer-Poet

Nuclear is only priced out if you don't think it's important to have carbon-free electricity when it's dark and calm out.

HarveyD

Unfortunately, NPPs are a lot like $300,000+ hand made electric cars. Clean and fast but not affordable.

The last 10 NPPs cost so much and took so long to build that it may bankrupt the builders and/or the country.

Even China, with much lower labor cost, is reducing its NPP programme in favor of more Wind and Solar.

France is seriously thinking to decommission 50% of their 60 NPPs in the next 20 years or so due to very high cost to refurbish. Their latest NPP cost (and delays) is out of control.

Ontario (Canada) has a major challenge with its aging 18 CANDUs. It would cost up to $200B ($11B to $12B each) to refurbish and extend their useful life for another 30-40 years. In all likelihood, the CANDUs will be progressively replaced with more NGPPs, Wind and Solar.

USA has not solved their NPPs replacement program at an acceptable cost and time frame.

Thomas Lankester

@EP
I don't think that tidal, geothermal, biomethane, hydro and storage 'calm out' or run dry in the dark. Indeed, with continental scale interconnectors even wind and wave would never fully 'calm out'.

Account Deleted

There are scalable solutions for dealing with the intermittency problem of renewable energy. For intermittency within the day we simply use batteries and for anything longer than that (including seasonal intermittency) we use heat sinks (large heated sand reservoirs at 600 degrees Celsius) and/or store hydrogen made from excess electricity during summer and spring. Use the stored heat to power steam turbines in the winter and fall and use hydrogen for combined cycle power plants. However, before solar become really important globally we need to cut its cost to about 1 billion USD per installed gigawatt. Currently it is 3 billion USD per gigawatt. In 20 more years solar is cheaper than any other energy even when the cost of providing intermittency infrastructure is accounted for.

Engineer-Poet
I don't think that tidal, geothermal, biomethane, hydro and storage 'calm out' or run dry in the dark.
Tidal pauses 4 times a day, varies widely from spring to neap, does not line up with demand and has never been demonstrated at scale; there are bound to be ecological impacts from impeding tidal flows.  Geothermal is capable of supplying on the order of 3% of US electric demand, never mind the rest; hydro is down to 6.7% of US consumption.  NREL says biomethane may be able to supply as much as 16% of US natural gas demand, though they phrased this as roughly half of what (at that time) went to electric generation.  The only forms of storage with acceptable ESOI are pumped hydro and compressed air, and they are far too limited to keep an RE-fed grid the size of the USA humming.  CAES projects keep being postponed, which suggests that the economics don't work out.
Indeed, with continental scale interconnectors even wind and wave would never fully 'calm out'.
It will take you a century to get them through the legal challenges to eminent domain, and even then they don't solve your problem.  You have to have enough instantaneous generation to make up for the deficits (much tougher than just not fully "calming out") and enough wires to get it where it's needed.  Hint, when California has its evening demand peak it is already dark in the rest of the lower 48, and when New England wakes up in winter it will still be dark for an hour or two.

You can refuse to recognize that this is an inherently big, inherently hard problem, but that will only make it impossible to solve.  Reality must be acknowledged.

Engineer-Poet
There are scalable solutions for dealing with the intermittency problem of renewable energy.

So run the numbers and show me.  If you expect to do seasonal storage using superheated sand dunes, start by showing me where you can get enough sand.  Then show me how much additional generation you'll need to make up storage losses.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people simply cannot admit that energy storage is inherently hard.  If it's an obstacle to their Green-romantic energy vision, they just deny it.  This is why fossil fuels are so attractive; the energy is already stored.  This is also why we need nuclear power:  there is no overhead for storing energy.  The storage was done for us by a supernova ~5 billion years ago.

Account Deleted

@EP I did not pull the heat sink solution out of the blue. I will gladly give you the numbers, see below. I also believe nuclear energy is the future we just need to go from fission nuclear to fusion nuclear but that is still perhaps a 100 years away from commercialization but eventually we will master fusion energy.

Siemens wind power is now in the early stages of developing a new idea based on storing heat up to 600 degrees Celsius in large reservoirs of sand or stone that is buried underground and insulated to prevent heat losses. Just one facility 3 to 4 square kilometers large and 10 meters deep can store enough heat to power steam turbines that could make all the electricity that Denmark (5.5 million people consuming 5500 kwh per year per person) typically consumes in 10 days. That would solve the intermittency problem completely for a country like Denmark that strive to go 100% fossil free using wind power.

In Siemens solution heat is transferred into the heat sink using heat pumps (compressors) compressing ambient air at 1 bar and 20 degrees Celsius to 30 bars and 600 Celsius and blown through standard steel tubes within the heat sink. After delivering some of the heat to the heat sink the air is decompressed through a gas turbine that helps turn the compressor. That process also produces freezing cold air at minus 100 degrees as the exhaust of the gas turbine to be used for cooling (say industrial food storage).

Siemens early estimates is that they can store electricity at about 10 cents per kwh using such a facility which is lower than all the alternative methods including compressed air, hydrogen or pumped hydro storage. Moreover, these alternative methods also require suited geographic locations like a depleted gas field for storing compressed air or hydrogen or a steep mountain for hydro storage. The heat sinks can be build anywhere and at any size. Potentially even a house owner with solar panels on the roof and heat sinks buried in the garden could do this but the cost would go up in such a small scale facility. Mass production could of cause bring it down for such micro facilities.

Danish source for Siemens project
http://ing.dk/artikel/siemens-vil-lagre-stroem-i-kaempe-sandbunker-172557

Account Deleted

EP here are some useful measures showing how much energy that can be stored in sand or crushed rock.

Sand contains about 0.8 kJ per kg per degree Celsius. So one 1000 kg of sand heated 100 degrees Celsius contains 0.8*1000*100= 80000kJ which equals 22.2kWh.

One cubic meter of sand weights 1,600 kg. A steel container measuring 3 meters on each side contains 27 cubic meter of sand or 27*1.6ton = 43.2 ton of sand. It could store 43.2*22.2*3 (going from 600 to 300 degrees Celsius) = 2877 kwh. That is a lot of energy in a very small space even if 50% might be lost in the transition between heat and electric power. So even home owners could have heat sinks buried in their garden to supply electricity and heat during winter and autumn.

The expensive part is the machinery that converts heat and electricity and the solar panels. The heat sinks themselves are not expensive. Mass produce these steel containers and fill them with sand costing max 50 USD per ton delivered is not costly. They could last 50 years with redundant steel tubes and the containers could be recycled.

http://www.unit-conversion.info/energy.html

http://www.aqua-calc.com/calculate/volume-to-weight

Account Deleted

Test

Engineer-Poet

I don't read Danish, and my experience with machine translations of technical documents doesn't inspire me to try it again.  If you have a source in English I'll go over it.

A storage cost of 10¢/kWh is far too expensive when industry needs total cost around 6-7¢ to be viable.  The market for refrigeration will be saturated quickly, so it won't be able to offset the cost of electric storage.  You didn't mention efficiency either.  Losses in the storage system cut your system EROI, and major investments can haul wind down from 20 to below the critical level of 7 all too quickly.

Nuclear has an EROI around 100.

Account Deleted

Unfortunately I do not currently have an English source. I agree that the 10 cents for storing 1kwh is still too high. But it is not a complete show stopper either as you would only generate electricity from these heat sinks when no other sources are available. Most of the time probably over 75% during the year there would be enough electricity from solar, wind and battery backup in a country that is 100% powered by solar and wind.

Moreover, if you do it in a small scale for a private house owner the freezing air would become useful for air conditioning of the house during the summer where there the heat pump is operating at its maximum. The efficiency is higher than one would expect because it is a heat pump actually sending more than 1 kwh into the heat sink for each kwh used to operate the heat pump. The excess energy is taken from the hot summer air (20 degrees Celsius). It will be more efficient in really hot weather. But there will be heat losses from the sink and the machine room with all the machinery for this to work.

The heat sink solution has caught my attention because it is presumably less costly than making hydrogen by electrolysis and pumping that hydrogen down in depleted gas fields for later use in a combined cycle power plant. I also like the idea that it can be deployed anywhere at any scale. I think it is the future until the day come where mankind finally will master fusion energy.

NewtonPulsifer

Engineer-Poet said

"Nuclear is only priced out if you don't think it's important to have carbon-free electricity when it's dark and calm out."

Its important to remember it is NOT important to have carbon-free electricity.Carbon neutral is just fine.

If 20% of your power per year is generating carbon emissions for fossil-fuel backup, you just plant some trees or tax (or cap/trade) carbon to make efficiency improvements financially viable to compensate. It still handily beats nuclear on cost.

And in the context of large-ish amounts of intraday energy storage, using fossil power plants running at full tilt at night as needed to top off energy storage to adjust for an expected shortfall in the next 24-hours (its extremely easy to forecast sun and wind a day ahead) as well as power imports, the 10x advantage e.g. natural gas turbines has over nuclear in capital costs per watt becomes even more formidable.

And of course it is ultimately a strawman, because the USA also has already existing hydro and nuclear (as well as huge amounts of already built coal and gas assets), which nobody is planning to just dynamite.

Brotherkenny4

EP,

Nuclear is and always will be subsidized by the government. No private insurance company will ever insure a nuclear plant against failure. No one knows how private industry can store endless supplies of used nuclear material for tens of thousands of years. Left to be in a competitive environment, nuclear would not exist.

Engineer-Poet
Its important to remember it is NOT important to have carbon-free electricity.Carbon neutral is just fine.

I'm not seeing carbon-neutrality in action.  Sequestration is only economical when it's used for scrubbing otherwise-unrecoverable petroleum from oil fields; much more carbon comes out of the ground than goes in.  Large-scale biomass in actual practice puts the carbon inventories of forests into the atmosphere for decades.

If 20% of your power per year is generating carbon emissions for fossil-fuel backup, you just plant some trees or tax (or cap/trade) carbon to make efficiency improvements financially viable to compensate.

Trees are not a durable means of CDR; they are subject to disease, insect attack, fires and droughts to list just a few things.  There's also the minor detail that just about every bit of suitable land is already spoken for.  The effective energy capture of green things in the temperate zone is about half a watt per square meter; you run out of land long before you run out of carbon to remove.  I've got a case in point right in front of me; I am heating my house with insect-killed trees which were growing just 2 years ago.  If I took money to sequester someone else's carbon, would I owe them a refund?

If we take "The Billion-Ton Vision" as the template for the USA, its 1.3 billion bone-dry tons of biomass at 45% carbon comes to just 585 million tons of carbon available for either energy or CDR (but probably not both).  There is some potential there (especially if direct-carbon fuel cells ever make it) but it isn't here yet and we can't wait for it.

the 10x advantage e.g. natural gas turbines has over nuclear in capital costs per watt becomes even more formidable.

So you ignore the cost of fuel (by far the biggest part of a SCGT's budget) as well as any carbon taxes applicable in the future.  If you do dump carbon to the air, you have to add whatever it costs to get it out again.  That's not cheap, and the climate impact in the time it's in the atmosphere is neither cheap nor safe.

the USA also has already existing hydro and nuclear

Hydro was just 6.7% of US electric generation in the last complete year on record.  Much of that has to be used or spilled in the peak season, because reservoirs fill up.  There's a hydro plant less than 3 miles from me which can't follow demand on cycles longer than about a day because of legal restrictions on the water level in its reservoir.

which nobody is planning to just dynamite.

Kewaunee, Vermont Yankee, and San Onofre were effectively "just dynamited" (by politics), and Diablo Canyon, Indian Point and others are in the crosshairs of those who made it happen.  There's a push to remove dams on many rivers including ones near me, one of which has already been taken out.  I am seeing the precise opposite of what you claim.

It still handily beats nuclear on cost.

Nuclear has the virtue of zero GHG emissions, zero competition for biomass, minuscule real estate impact and fuel security for well over a year (pushing 2 years now).  Much of the cost of nuclear comes from a regulatory system demanding unlimited "safety" while ignoring the public health impact of the power that would be displaced.

it is ultimately a strawman

That's how I see the major arguments for ruinables:  straw men.

Engineer-Poet
No one knows how private industry can store endless supplies of used nuclear material for tens of thousands of years.

Ask yourself how private industry stores millions of tons of toxic combustion byproducts, or chemical toxins.  Nuclear could do worse, but would have to work at it.

Left to be in a competitive environment, nuclear would not exist.

Without the artificial cost and schedule impediments imposed by government, nuclear would long since have pushed coal out of the marketplace for electricity.  The USA is far from the worst; Australia is so protective of its coal miners, it imposed an outright ban on nuclear.  Fortunately, climate change is prompting a review of that decision.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)