Solar in the Desert — PV to Bury Fossil Energy on Price Before 2025

DCIM101GOPRO

(Sunlight in the Desert. Dubai solar park produces electricity at 5.98 cents per kilowatt hour, displacing a portion of the UAE’s natural gas generation. By 2025, solar systems that are less expensive than even this cutting-edge power plant will become common. By 2050, large scale solar, according to Agora, will cost less than 2 cents US per kilowatt in sun-blessed areas. Image source: International Construction News.)

*   *   *   *

Anyone tracking energy markets knows there’s a disruptive and transformational shift in the wind (or should we say sun?). For as of this year, solar has become cost-competitive with many energy sources — often beating natural gas on combined levelized costs and even edging out coal in a growing number of markets.

Perhaps the watershed event for the global energy paradigm was the construction of a solar plant in Dubai, UAE that priced electricity for sale at 5.98 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour. Even in the US, where grid electricity regularly goes for 9-12 cents per kilowatt-hour, this price would have been a steal.

But the construction of this plant in a region that has traditionally relied on, what used to be, less expensive diesel and natural gas generation sources could well be a sign of things to come. For though solar can compete head-to-head with oil and gas generation in the Middle East now, its ability to threaten traditional, dirty and dangerous energy sources appears to be just starting to ramp up.

Solar’s Rapid Fall to Least Expensive Energy Source

A new report from Berlin-based Agora Energiewende finds that by 2025 solar PV prices will fall by another 1/3, cementing it as the least expensive energy source on the planet. Further, the report found that prices for solar energy fall by fully 2/3 through 2050:

Solar to be least expensive power source

(Solar is at price parity in the European Market now and set to fall by another 1/3 through 2025 according to a report by Berlin-Based Agora Energiewende.)

In Europe, solar energy already costs less than traditional electricity at 8 cents (Euro average) per kilowatt hour. And at 5-9 cents, it is currently posing severe competition to energy sources like coal and natural gas (5-10 cents) and nuclear (11 cents). But by 2025, the price of solar is expected to fall to between 3.8 and 6.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (Euro), making it the least expensive power source by any measure. By 2050, solar energy for the European market is expected to fall even further, hitting levels between 1.8 and 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour — or 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of fossil and nuclear power sources.

These predictions are for a combined market taking into account the far less sunny European continent. In regions where solar energy is more abundant, the report notes that prices will fall to less than 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s 2 cents (US) for solar in places like Arizona and the Middle East come 2050.

IEA Shows Solar Ready For Battle Against Carbon-Emitting Industry

Already, solar energy adoption is beginning a rapid surge. As of this year, it is expected that 52 gigawatts of solar capacity will be built. But as prices keep falling this rate of build-out could easily double, then double again. By 2025, the IEA expects that solar PV alone could be installing 200 or more gigawatts each year. And by 2050 IEA expects combined solar PV and Solar Thermal Plants (STE) to exceed 30 percent of global energy production, becoming the world’s largest single power source.

Solar Parking Lot

(Parking lots and rooftops provide nearly unlimited opportunities for urban and suburban solar panel installation. Image source: Benchmark Solar)

Considering the severe challenges posed to the global climate system, to species, and to human civilizations by rampant carbon emissions now in excess of 11 gigatons each year (nearly 50 gigatons CO2e each year), the new and increased availability of solar energy couldn’t come soon enough. We now have both an undeniable imperative to prevent future harm coupled with increasingly powerful tools for bringing down world fossil fuel use and an egregious dumping of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. But we must implement these tools — wind, solar, EVs, efficiency, biomass, geothermal, biogas, tidal and others — as swiftly as possible if we are to have much hope for avoiding the worst impacts of human-caused climate change.

Links:

Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

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48 Comments

  1. Griffin

     /  February 26, 2015

    If we could end the subsidies of fossil fuels and implement a tax on carbon emissions, we could tip the scales in favor of PV in time to actually give us a chance at limiting the warming!

    Reply
  2. Greg

     /  February 26, 2015

    Inspiring. Thank you. I have great hope for disruptive solar technology. Now, unfortunately, about the water problem….:
    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/feb/25/sao-paulo-brazil-failing-megacity-water-crisis-rationing
    “Catastrophic situations often foster solidarity, but a lack of resources tends to do the opposite, leading to chaos”

    Reply
    • I still can’t believe that American media is completely ignoring this powder keg about to explode. 20 million people about to be waterless , and I haven’t read or seen anything about it other than the links provided here.

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  February 26, 2015

        They don’t want us to know about it – and connect the dots.

        Reply
      • They will pay more attention when Los Angeles and San Francisco start water rationing.

        Reply
      • I’m very frustrated with US media and global media overall. We say ‘good job’ when they cover a bit here or there. But, overall, they are either uneducated or complicit in broader climate change denial action by fossil fuel industry.

        Even NPR seems to side with fossil fuel special interests by posting somewhat ridiculous and out of context stories like these:

        http://www.npr.org/2015/02/24/388729919/even-pickaxes-couldnt-stop-the-nations-first-oil-pipeline

        (Bizarre, in that it uses history in a fairy tale like fashion to seem to come out in support of Keystone XL.)

        http://www.npr.org/2015/02/25/389008046/a-hard-look-at-the-risks-of-transporting-oil-on-rail-tanker-cars

        (And towing the republican line on tanker cars when the real issue is that we shouldn’t be accessing the new dirty fuels in the first place.)

        NPR seems oblivious to the fact that shackling the US to some of the dirtiest oil in the world via pipeline will ensure that deadly carbon emissions continue for decades to come. It ignores the fact that failing to build the pipelines results in shutting in this dangerous fuel. NPR, of all outlets, covers rail tanker crashes as if it’s the worst issue to face the US. What are a few toppled tanker cars compared to the whole coastal US facing inundation by rising seas, or the US Southwest facing ever-worsening megadrought, or the US fishing industry basically facing extinction along with the species it harvests for food, or a hundred other calamities related to climate change.

        NPR, of all outlets, ignores the fact that oil tanker crashes are related to oil consumption, which the government should have been working harder to reign in since at least the 1970s. They are more a sign of our excess and failure than anything else. And, if the point that NPR is trying to make is that the US needs more pipelines, then it is as wrong as if it were a doctor saying a gunshot victim needs a few more bullet holes…

        From top to bottom, MSM is complicit in climate change denial. It is basically failing to cover what is the greatest and most tragic story of this age, and possibly, all human ages to come.

        Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  February 26, 2015

        Regarding NPR, I recall that they have a relatively new right-leaning chief editor or chairman, put in place a few years ago. I forget the details, but that would certainly explain their slide from being one of the better news outlets in the US.

        Reply
      • NPR gutted and refocused to support corporate special interests. We should call it National Private Radio or National Petroleum Radio. Nothing public interest about any of this…

        Reply
      • I agree American media is abysmal in regards to anything having to do with climate change. Every day they’re discussing record breaking or unprecedented weather but will never broach the topic of why. It’s corporate propaganda. Like you point out Robert, even sources that were traditionaly pretty unbiased are gutting environmental coverage. I’ve also noticed that both NPR and PBS have for a while now been receiving funding from Koch Foundation for Science. I recall reading that Koch funding was being targeted at University science programs with strings attached that give them power to place professors they approve of. They can’t win a fight against scientific reality, so they naturally try to change the science.

        Reply
      • The Kochs need to go. We can either have democracy or dictatorship. And my vote is to get rid of the two guys attempting to turn this country into a panderer to their myopic personal interests.

        Reply
    • http://aguasp.com.br

      The Guardian article references the local Water Alliance pressure group. It’s in Portuguese, and the translation below is Google’s.

      “The Alliance for Water, network of more than 40 civil society organizations, is gathered from October 2014 to alert and submit proposals to help the state of São Paulo to deal with the current crisis and build a new culture of use, economy and water conservation.

      We believe that a crisis of major proportions as we are living creates opportunities for profound paradigm shifts in water management from three basic principles: water is a human right and can not be treated as a commodity; all governments have responsibility over the water and provide a service to the population; and water planning must necessarily consider the recovery and restoration of water sources and current sources of water.

      From the second half of February, the Alliance for Water will initiate a series of technical publications, events, public hearings and classes in different regions of São Paulo and municipalities supplied by the Cantareira System to enhance the debate, deepening perception on the causes of water shortages, mobilize society to contribute solutions and require the government to manage the crisis properly.”

      Reply
    • There has been a little bit more about this in the MSM lately. The NYT did post an online article about it. But it is still mostly under the radar. Sao Paulo, at least, has now publicly acknowledged the problem and expects to have water shortages for the next 4 years. Given the combined issues of Amazon deforestation and climate change impacting their water access, that forecast may well be optimistic.

      Reply
  3. Tom

     /  February 26, 2015

    Before you get all enthused Griffin and Greg, check out how solar arrays are made, transported, erected, maintained and how often they need replacement – all fossil fuel based. It’s a great idea, but can’t be done without fossil fuel use. How would taxing the hordes of people who can’t afford the switch to solar (due to high installation costs) benefit anyone? Or is it just another “rich get richer” device?

    Those giant wind turbines aren’t without problems either (same fossil fuel based building, transport and construction methods). The entire enterprise would have to be undertaken by the government in order to ramp it up to scale. We’ve seen in the past how corrupt and bungling the government is at projects – just look at the nuclear industry (now failing almost everywhere as these polluting behemoths get old and wear out, and with no place to store the spent fuel that’s still dangerous – we get Fuk-ed)!

    Reply
    • wili

       /  February 26, 2015

      Since we live inside a ff-driven society, of course, at this point, there is still some ff input in most production of building the infrastructure of renewables. But renewables have long since been creating more energy than they are used in their production, so it’s not clear what your point is, here.

      And maybe you haven’t been around much, but mostly when people are talking about carbon tax around here they mean revenue neutral tax.

      And the ‘government can’t do anything’ is just such a tired old Repub/TeaParty trope; government has had can do all sorts of things quite well. And even if something is bungled at some point, the consequences of such are much less dire for renewables than for nukes or coal plants.

      So one really is left wondering if there really is a point in there somewhere, or if you just are grasping at whatever straws you can, hoping to throw some mud at an idea you don’t like for some mysterious reason. (And I speak as one who has my own critique of these things, but I’ll save those for later.)

      Reply
      • It’s basically what I like to call Fossil-Fuel Centric Worldview. A mythology that everything modern comes from fossil fuels. Very effective propaganda. But it is mostly untrue. The main tenants as it relates to solar energy are:

        1. All renewable energy comes from fossil fuels. This tenant is “true” in the same way that all fossil fuels come from muscle power. Basically a fallacy of blanket assumption. Solar panel plants can run on electricity generated by renewables, so there’s no fossil fuel requirement there. If the vehicles in the plants are EVs, then there’s no fossil fuel requirement for transport or manufacturing. If the steel is recycled, uses biomass carbon or carbon from carbonate, then there’s no fossil fuel burning there. As for some of the other materials coming from petroleum products — plastic etc, well the oil barrel can be cut for raw materials only and not for fuels, so that’s just raw materials and not energy we’re talking about (and the two have been conflated in the fossil-fuel centric’s mind).

        2. Solar energy can’t exceed 10 percent grid penetration… This tenant has been found to be proven untrue when solar is used mainly for peaking power during the daytime where it can be used for 80 percent or more of energy needs. The result is that solar PV, even without storage, can cover 40 percent of energy needs. In addition, adding Concentrated Solar Power, which is a dispatchable energy source, can increase this fraction well above 55 percent. Add in wind, which is variable in ways different from solar and the total renewable fraction jumps to 80 percent without storage. Biomass, geothermal, biogas and battery storage (for which prices are also rapidly dropping) can easily fill in the other 20 percent plus a 10 to 20 percent overbuild.

        3. Renewables can’t exceed a 30 percent grid penetration (see above).

        Reply
  4. This is really good news. When oil prices inevitably go back up that’s when I think we will really see a big increase in solar adoption. It appears to be ready for large scale deployment. I loved the 30% of all power figure, that would be incredible.

    Reply
  5. wili

     /  February 26, 2015

    Related: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/02/25/3626956/jordan-mosques-are-going-solar/

    The main thing is to be sure that as poorer countries develop, most of the new generation is in solar and wind. Developed countries are already moving steadily away from coal, by and large. And lots of the savings there needs to come from increased efficiency and outright curtailment.

    Ultimately, none of this development of renewables really becomes good news until annual global CO2 emissions start coming down.

    Reply
    • Willi,

      none of this development of renewables really becomes good news until annual global CO2 emissions start coming down.

      Exactly. There is no proof that more renewables means less fossil fuels. We need moratorium on fossil fuel extraction (so search for MORE resources is totally rodiculous in the face of GW).

      Alex

      Reply
    • We need to be adopting more than 250 GW per year of renewable energy for that total to start coming down. We’re a little less than halfway there now. Basically, the rate of renewable build-out must subsume all new net power sources and also begin to replace net existing fossil fuel generation capacity.

      The good thing about solar is that it is uniquely suited to beat out peaking sources like coal and gas. So adoption rates don’t have to run too high before those plants begin to be rendered obsolete. Home solar ownership really helps this paradigm, as it takes the adoption of solar out of the hands of the utilities who have traditionally dragged their feet on renewable energy and puts it directly in the hands of the energy consumer.

      This means that the energy consumer is less and less a captive and more a captain of their own energy destiny. If you want to give the stiff finger to fossil fuels without going back to the 15th century, you can do it now on your own with home solar and bicycles or EVs. And the prices are now such that if utilities do not stop the foot dragging, then homeowners will be able to pick up the pace of progress without them.

      Reply
  6. I am assuming that the cost per watt of solar PV includes a standardized lifespan of the panels? How long might this be? And how long might the real life lifespan of a PV panel run? I have seen estimates that eighty years is possible even now.

    Reply
    • Standard lifecycle assumptions are in the range of 20-30 years. As you note, this can often be very conservative.

      Reply
      • Rod

         /  February 26, 2015

        I’ve been off grid for 25 years. The panels I started with back then are still going at about 50% output and I assume the modern panels are far superior. My first panels cost about Au$600 for 60 Watts. Now they are $390 for 250 Watts.

        Reply
        • Fantastic. It’s great to see so many down there in Au taking on solar panels. The rest of the world should be following your example soon.

  7. Colorado Bob

     /  February 26, 2015

    Severe floods engulf Sao Paulo, Brazil

    Severe infrastructure damage and disrupted traffic brought Sao Paulo to standstill on Wednesday because of flooding caused by several hours of heavy rain. Reportedly, one resident died of fatal electrocution. Cars were swept away by the waters as emergency services attempted to alleviate traffic jams and stem the hazardous impact of the floods. Authorities called a state of alert in several parts of the city. The flooding comes after Sao Paulo worst drought in over 80 years.

    http://rt.com/in-motion/235647-brazil-heavy-rains-flood/

    Reply
  8. Colorado Bob

     /  February 26, 2015

    Quirky Winds Fuel Brazil’s Devastating Drought, Amazon’s Flooding
    Boom-and-bust water phenomenon could become a new normal in South America, scientists say

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150226-drought-floods-south-america-brazil-bolivia-flying-rivers-environment/

    Reply
  9. Apneaman

     /  February 26, 2015

    How many climate change studies have underestimated negative effects?
    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Felling of tropical trees has soared, satellite shows, not slowed as UN study found
    Date: February 25, 2015 Source: American Geophysical Union

    Summary:
    The rate at which tropical forests were cut, burned or otherwise lost from the 1990s through the 2000s accelerated by 62 percent, according to a new study which dramatically reverses a previous estimate of a 25 percent slowdown over the same period.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150225151839.htm

    Reply
  10. Kevin Jones

     /  February 26, 2015

    Was about to link and comment on this, Apneaman. What is the take-away? If it’s good news, ignore it. And if bad, multiply? The UN cannot help if the nations are united in corruption….

    Reply
    • Apneaman

       /  February 26, 2015

      The take away is that the hour is later than we are being led to believe; it does not matter why anymore. Prepare.

      Reply
  11. -Arctic and ‘What are they up to?”:

    The Arctic Institute | Center for Circumpolar Security Studies

    The Arctic Melt: Turning Resource Development into Human Development

    The Arctic Melt is a three-part analysis of the Arctic Human Development Report II: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Developed over a ten-year period, the study assesses the state of Arctic human development and highlights major regional changes. Its findings will be important in informing the decisions and policies of the upcoming US Arctic Council Chairmanship.

    In the context of Alaska, this series will take an in-depth look at three of the key trends underscored by the Report: globalization, urbanization, and demographic shifts. On Monday, Part I: Investing in Place will explore how we create livable, localized places in a globalized north. On Wednesday, Part II: Investing in Innovation will consider the opportunities of urbanization for entrepreneurship and economic ingenuity. On Friday, Part III: Investing in Communities will conclude the discussion by looking at ways to sustainably connect the growing young and old sectors of Alaska’s population.

    Taken together, these three trends provide a chance to redefine how we conceptualize, and realize, Arctic investment – a chance to turn economic growth into human development.

    https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/uz5g4I0LoUvgnduROMFquNv5esHWWpe_TnTcve6Rg0dsU667EBfUaqIHgaiOHmOaNoUsgI0d_81fnXZ2NNfOcpJ7BVFCor3bjtaduzNoL25FT-qPmqajqOaWv6DOshYW1h8

    Reply
  12. Googles putting serious money in solar deployment. They’re basically leasing it, which I think will appeal to those who want to switch but are deterred from the large up front installation costs.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/02/26/3627172/google-solarcity-big-solar-fund/

    Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  February 26, 2015

    New Doc Exposes the ‘Experts’ Peddling Misinformation About Global Warming

    Documentaries have found new visibility in recent years, thanks to the rise of streaming services, but the same doesn’t hold for the people who make them. Fortunately, Robert Kenner is an exception. For more than 30 years, the award-winning director of Two Days in October and Food, Inc. has been one of the few acknowledged masters of the form, distilling sprawling, unwieldy topics into concise, compelling films. His latest, March’s Merchants of Doubt, pillories the “scientific experts” maintaining that cigarettes don’t cause cancer or that global warming is a myth. It’s an urgent cry for people to confront scientific misinformation, and it finds Kenner at the peak of his abilities.

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  February 26, 2015

      “In my opinion, it definitely relates to warming and permafrost,” said Vladimir Romanovsky,a geophysicist who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

      Romanovskythinks he knows how this occurs: Pressurized gas — mostly methane, but possibly carbon dioxide as well — exists beneath the permafrost. Since warming temperatures thaw the permafrost from the bottom up, an underground cavity forms, Romanovsky said. As the gas gets close to the surface, it deforms the ground above, creating a small hill. Finally, the pressurized gas erupts through the surface, forming a crater, he said………………………………………..
      These craters should only form when the temperature is warm enough to melt the permafrost. “If the warming continues, we will see more and more of this phenomenon,” Romanovsky said. It could happen anywhere there are enough sources of natural gas, including parts of Alaska and northwestern Canada, he added.

      Link

      Reply
  14. This is totally random, but I’ve been reading this site for a couple years now, originally brought here by Colorado Bob links from other places-Thank you Bob! Anyway, I just noticed that when I post a comment it’s 5 hrs ahead of my time…Robert, are you writing from England or Europe? It’s odd I’ve been reading your writing for a while never knew where you were writing from. Just curious.

    Reply
  15. Colorado Bob

     /  February 27, 2015

    ‘Blue-green algae’ proliferating in lakes

    “We found that cyanobacterial populations have expanded really strongly in many lakes since the advent of industrial fertilizers and rapid urban growth,” says Zofia Taranu, who led the study as a PhD candidate in McGill’s Department of Biology. “While we already knew that cyanobacteria prefer warm and nutrient-rich conditions, our study is also the first to show that the effect of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, overwhelm those of global warming.”

    Alpine lakes affected

    Researchers from France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Malaysia, and across Canada contributed to the study. While the increase in cyanobacteria in agriculturally developed watersheds was in line with their expectations, the scientists were surprised to find that cyanobacteria also increased in many remote, alpine lakes. In those sites, warmer temperatures and nutrient loading from atmospheric sources are likely to have played a bigger role than direct agricultural runoff.

    Read more at: Link

    Reply
    • ” …nutrient loading from atmospheric sources are likely to have played a bigger role than direct agricultural runoff.” -From above link from CB.

      This is very much in line with what I am seeing, and photographing, in the vegetation of urban Portland, OR USA. It’s getting pretty blatant, too.

      Reply
      • Has there been, or is there ongoing, in-depth measuring or monitoring of exactly what is in our atmosphere — ground level and otherwise? We keep putting thousands of different chemical aerosols into a limited volume of air.
        Has NASA ever done a ‘generic’ and comprehensive inventory? Like if they were studying the atmosphere of a distant planet?

        Reply
    • Apneaman

       /  February 27, 2015

      “…the scientists were surprised …” Lots of that going around.

      Reply
  16. Portland’s community FM 90.7 radio KBOO (I sometimes do reports there.) had 4 min interview with Dr. Jennifer Francis today. Our PM News and Public Affairs Director Jenka Soderberg talked to her on the phone — with Q’s about the Pacific Northwest. It’s a nice chat and it starts at 27:35 in broadcast.

    [audio src="http://kboo.fm/sites/default/files/episode_audio/kboo_episode.2.150226.1700.2651.mp3" /]

    Reply
  17. longjohn119

     /  March 1, 2015

    We need to start applying them architecturally and by that I mean every rooftop should have them built it except perhaps in areas with lots of snow where they’d get covered and have to bear a lot of weight. I also see an awful lot of glass sided buildings and the south side should be covered in panels, you could probably work it out so you couldn’t even see them behind the glass.

    As for plastics, petroleum isn’t a necessity for making plastics, one of the most popular with 3D printers, for medical implants and food packaging in more environmentally conscience Europe is PLA which in the US is made from corn, in other parts of the world sugar cane and cassava …. basically the same stock you make ethanol or high frucose sweeteners from. For medical implants like pins it dissolves on it’s own (PLA – Polylactic Acid basically breaks down to simple lactic acid in the body) completely non-toxic for food packaging, it’s biodegradable and relatively safe when burned, basically the same as burning an equivalent weight of plain paper.

    The main reason for using petroleum for making plastics is the chemicals are really a by-product of the gasoline refining process and would otherwise be considered waste so they are cheap ….. Plus it’s a great way for oil refineries to get rid of what would otherwise have to be treated as toxic waste so even if they just break even they are really money ahead

    Reply
  18. Chris Mooney has a tight piece about the spreading “heat blob” in the gulf of Alaska

    Two new studies have just hit about the “warm blob” in the northeast Pacific ocean — a 2 degree C or more temperature anomaly that began in the winter of 2013-2014 in the Gulf of Alaska and later expanded. Scientists have been astonished at the extent and especially the long-lasting nature of the warmth, with one NOAA researcher saying, “when you see something like this that’s totally new you have opportunities to learn things you were never expecting.”

    The Pacific Ocean may have entered a new warm phase — and the consequences could be dramatic
    The 2013-2014 “warm blob” was just the beginning.

    Reply

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