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With India Building Solar Power Stations For 65 Cents per Watt, Suniva’s ITC Complaints Kinda Make You Want to Laugh (and Cry)

So in the world of solar there’s various different price structures. There’s cell prices, there’s module prices, and then there’s total system prices. The cells are the little bits that go into a solar panel. The module is the solar panel itself. And the system is the complete array of modules that’s been racked, packed, and assembled.

Solar Cells are Now Produced For as Little as 20 Cents Per Watt

In business, the best way to get the lowest prices is to do things en masse. The largest, most efficient solar assembly plants in China and Southeast Asia now produce solar cells for as little as 20 cents per watt. As of June 28th, solar modules from this region were going for as little as 33 cents per watt.

Low to very low solar cell and module prices are helping to enable a mass global construction of clean energy producing solar power stations that are either competitive with other fuels — or that just basically blow them away when it comes to price. And such high volumes of renewable energy construction around the world are providing some hope that humankind will be able to stave off the worst impacts of fossil-fuel spurred climate change. A greenhouse gas based of warming airs and waters that is already threatening keys species, putting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in an existential crisis, and endangering the future of thousands of coastal cities as melting glaciers start to flood the world’s oceans.

Solar Power Stations For as Little as 65 Cents Per Watt

In the U.S., solar power stations now average about $1.10 cents per watt once all the cost of labor and construction is added in. For most instances, this price is competitive with highly polluting power stations like gas and coal. It’s about half the cost of nuclear energy. And solar prices are now also dipping below the price of new wind energy (which is also falling).

(GTM finds very low and falling prices for solar globally.)

In other regions of the world, solar energy is even less expensive. In the UK, Egypt, Mexico, China, and India, the cost of building a solar power plant is now $1.00 or less. A price which is now lower than the cost of a new advanced coal or gas power station. India, which boasts the least expensive construction costs for solar, can now build a renewable energy station for about 60 to 70 percent of the price of a comparable coal or gas plant at 65 cents per watt.

In this global economy, solar is now becoming cheaper than any other traditional source. It is also far cleaner than the other sources with the possible exception of wind. Solar has, by reducing costs so precipitously and by increasing access, become a game-changer both for the global energy market and for humankind’s prospects for reducing the considerable damage caused by fossil fuel based greenhouse gas emissions.

Subsidies vs Tariffs 

Enter Suniva, which is one of the world’s less efficient solar manufacturers. Based in the U.S., but majority owned by China, Suniva was unable to compete in a global market that produced solar cells for such low cost and high availability. This year, the firm filed for bankruptcy. The firm was unable to compete despite tariffs that the U.S. had already imposed on some solar panel importers. A set of tariffs that have already helped to make the U.S. solar market more expensive than other comparable markets. Tariffs that have arguably slowed U.S. solar adoption rates while doing little to actually protect less competitive manufacturers that would probably have eventually failed anyway.

The tariffs were, however, set in response to a legitimate gripe. Subsidies by China had probably created an unfair advantage for Chinese solar panel manufacturers. And these subsidies likely continue to generate advantages for such manufacturers in both China and in Southeast Asia. Subsidies that, in part, probably sped along Suniva’s bankruptcy and the approximate loss of 1.200 U.S. solar manufacturing jobs.

Suniva’s Selfish Suit Threatens to Wreck U.S. Solar Industry

Suniva’s response, however, is pretty overblown. One that threatens much of the solar market as it presently stands in the U.S. The corporation is asking for a $.40 floor on imported solar cell prices — which is basically double that of the lowest cost solar cell presently on the market. The company is also asking for a $.78 cent floor on import module prices — which is 45 cents higher than current lowest module spot prices. Such added costs would ripple through the U.S. solar production chain and would probably result in plant prices that range from $1.34 to $1.89 per watt. The reason is that the U.S. panel market is considerably dependent on imports and presently has few manufacturing plants that can produce cells and modules for prices low enough to prevent a big jump in industry-wide costs if Suniva gets its way.

(Evidence mounts that Suniva’s ITC case could sabotage the entire U.S. solar market. Image source: GTM.)

Such a jump in prices would result in considerable harm to the various solar companies that buy solar modules and build power plants, commercial and non residential systems by destroying a good deal of the present and rising solar demand in the U.S. This particular industry is now quite large and recent research by GTM indicates that as much as 66 percent of new construction could be halted if Suniva is allowed to so considerably distort the U.S. market. Ultimately, this risks the loss of thousands of jobs (not just the few hundred that have been lost in the manufacturing sector)– as much as 88,000 if the recent report by SEIA is correct.

So what’s the upshot? If Suniva’s suit goes through, it’s a big blow to both U.S. competitiveness and to our national responses to climate change. Chinese subsidies may, indeed, be distorting markets. But the solution that Suniva presents is basically to recommend drinking a hemlock that would kill off a big segment of the U.S. market while doing little to actually support U.S. solar manufacturing. Some jobs may trickle back as manufacturers try to meet the demand of a much reduced U.S. market. But the rest of the world will move on as incentives for U.S. manufacturers to improve dry up and as the home market itself contracts.

For the flip side of Chinese subsidies is that they not only subsidize Chinese solar manufacturing capacity, they also serve to advance a global energy transition through the mechanisms of direct investment and scaling. And there are so many larger benefits that the U.S. can take from the reduced pollution, increased secondary markets, increased competition, energy independence, and reduction of climate change based harms that are resulting from this major investment. The correct response is to meet investment and innovation with the same if we wish to reasonably compete. But the present federal administration appears to have completely lost sight of a better American future as it fights to regain the distorted ideal of an imagined past greatness.

Which is why Suniva’s ITC suit, in its present form, is at best short-sighted and at worst both selfish and broadly destructive.

Links:

Solar Costs are Hitting Jaw-Dropping Lows

PV Spot Prices

China-Owned US Solar Manufacturer Seeks Tariffs on Imports

Solar Industry Expects Loss of 88,000 Jobs in U.S. if Government Rules in Company’s Favor in Trade Case

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35 Comments

  1. climatehawk1

     /  June 29, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  2. Suzanne

     /  June 29, 2017

    Sorry..if this has already been posted.
    A fascinating interview this week at Envision Nation by Nick Breeze with Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov….

    “Subsea permafrost on East Siberian Arctic Shelf in accelerated decline”
    http://envisionation.co.uk/index.php/nick-breeze/203-subsea-permafrost-on-east-siberian-arctic-shelf-now-in-accelerated-decline

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, Suzanne.

      Reply
    • JPL

       /  June 30, 2017

      Nick Breeze: In relation to the ESAS, how do you know these hydrates are there and that they are a potential threat?

      Dr. Shakhova: The importance of hydrates involvement in methane emissions is overestimated. The hydrate is just one form of possible reservoirs, in which pre-formed methane could be preserved in the seabed if there are proper pressure/temperature conditions; it is just the layer of hydrates composes just few hundred of meters – this is a very small fraction compared to thousands of meters of underlying gas-charged sediments in the ESAS.

      Dr. Semiletov added that the 5 billion tonnes of methane that is currently in the Earth’s atmosphere represents about one percent of the frozen methane hydrate store in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. He finishes emphasising “…but we believe the hydrate pool is only a tiny fraction of the total.”

      Uhhh… that’s not good…

      Reply
  3. Paul

     /  June 30, 2017

    Here is an article about a utility pulling the plug on one of the biggest “clean coal” plants in the U.S. they had been working on. Too bad they didn’t invest all that time and money in renewables. “America’s Flagship ‘Clean Coal’ Experiment Abandoned After 11 Years and $7.5 Billion”: https://www.yahoo.com/news/america-flagship-clean-coal-experiment-203046671.html

    Reply
    • At current prices in the U.S., you end up with about 7 gigawatts of renewable capacity for 7.5 billion. ‘Clean coal,’ on the other hand, has never really seen a positive learning curve except in cases where the carbon captured was also used for enhanced oil recovery. In which case, you end up with considerable second stream emissions from the enhanced oil recovery effort. The process was also terribly polluting to local water supplies and a huge water hog overall. Under climate change, in a more water constrained world, the economics for high water use coal and gas plants take a big hit.

      Broadening out the conversation a bit, utilities seem reluctant to stop building baseload fossil fuel generation even in high wind and solar penetration regions. But these overbuilt plants end up with capacity factors of 30 percent or less. As a result, the behavioral penchant is rather costly. Utilities have a number of options for baseload in a renewable dominant system that they aren’t taking advantage of to the fullest. Hydro and pumped hydro can act as both base load and storage. Energy trading into larger markets can help to flatten out the duck curve. New affordable battery storage is starting to come online. And innovative utilities can partner with EV recharging stations to provide incentives for EV charging at times when off-loading excess grid power is needed. A more highly developed partnership with EV owners could turn the approximate 25 gigawatts of EV storage (US) out there into dispatchable energy at peak hours by selling it back into the grid. Such an arrangement doesn’t require new power plants, just a smart energy trading system.

      Reply
  4. wili

     /  June 30, 2017

    From WaPo:

    Iranian city soars to 129 degrees, may have tied modern times’ world temperature record

    The country’s southwestern city of Ahvaz topped the highest temperature ever recorded in Iran and may have matched the world record of 129.2.

    Reply
  5. j_menadue

     /  June 30, 2017

    You said: “India, which boasts the least expensive construction costs for solar, can now build a renewable energy station for about 60 to 70 percent of the price of a comparable coal or gas plant at 65 cents per watt.”

    This is good news, but it’s not stopping India increasing their coal use in 2017 after a drop in 2016 (along with both China and the USA), as shown in this article:

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/coal-rise-china-us-india-record-2016-drop-48276160

    Unfortunately, there’s an awfully long way to go, since in 2015 wind and solar accounted for less than 1% of primary energy consumption.

    Reply
    • wili

       /  June 30, 2017

      Do you have a source for that last stat, ’cause it looks like it may be a bit out of date now:

      “Continuing strong growth, by 2016 wind generated 3% of global power annually.”

      “From 2012 to 2016 solar capacity tripled and now provides 1.3% of global energy.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

      Or is that figure specific to India currently?

      Reply
    • So there’s a difference between the primary energy fraction, which includes transport, and electricity generation. Here’s a graph showing the primary energy consumption base comparison.

      In order to begin cutting carbon emissions, renewables need to grow fast enough to replace, on net, fossil fuels in the primary energy consumption equation vs total demand. You get the best bang for the buck when you’re increasing renewables and efficiency at the same time. And there are some major synergies between wind, solar, EVs and batteries in this respect (more below).

      Presently, renewable + efficiency growth is approaching that inflection point. But it hasn’t quite tipped the scales. The current plateau in global carbon emissions is being driven by a combination of increased efficiency, increased renewable energy penetration, and fuel switching away from coal during recent years. That said, given the low cost of renewables and an insurgent EV production chain, the opportunity exists to begin pulling down global emissions rates within the next five years if policymakers and business leaders take the opportunity that’s been presented.

      Since it’s in electricity that wind and solar have been making large gains recently, it’s there where we should focus at least some of our attention.

      According to the renewable energy status report, wind + solar amounts to 5.5 percent of global electricity capacity. I’ve seen reliable figures from other sources that range from 6 to nearly 9 percent. But this source tends to be a good one, if a bit conservative in some respects.

      According to the report, By end 2016, 487 GW of wind had been installed around the world.

      This accounts for around 4 percent of world electricity demand. There does appear to be evidence that wind tends to be highly utilized which has some estimates ranging as high as 7 to 7.5 percent of total electricity consumption (capacity vs consumption is often a sticking point in global energy use analysis).

      Solar, by end of 2016, hit more than 303 GW PV + about 5 GW CSP. This accounts for around 1.5 percent of total world electricity demand. Solar thermal also accounted for 456 GW of water heating capacity which is not counted in the electricity generation total, but probably offsets a considerable amount of electricity, gas, coal, diesel, and wood consumption.

      http://www.ren21.net/status-of-renewables/global-status-report/

      Total renewable generation capacity grew by nearly ten percent to 2.017 TW from 2015 to 2016. The total renewables fraction of electricity capacity has risen to 24 percent in 2016. The primary growth areas are wind, solar, hydro, and biomass generation. Wind, in 2011 amounted to about 2 percent of the global total (growing to 4 percent). Solar represented about 0.2 percent at the time (growing to 1.5 percent). Over the same period coal’s fraction has fallen to 26 percent from 30 percent.

      Coal produces a considerable fraction of the world’s carbon emissions. And since coal is used primarily for electricity generation, it represents the first set of low hanging fruit when it comes to attempts to reduce emissions overall. For this reason alone, it’s very important to pay attention to the electricity generation fraction of renewables.

      As for total energy use, EV penetration is a potentially serious game-changer. For efficiency advocates, electric motors are far more efficient than ICEs. So simply switching to EVs takes a bit out of net btu demand in transport. This efficiency gain is equivalent to cutting oil equivalent consumption by around 60 percent or more in an EV vs an ICE. When you mate EVs with wind and solar, you get the electric motor efficiency gain on top of cutting a carbon based fuel out of the loop. This has a synergistic multiplier effect when it comes to carbon emissions which is why hitting a high penetration of EV replacement is so important.

      Musk and others also envision a need for less vehicle production due to EV automation and ride sharing. If such a trend takes hold, it could actually reduce the number of vehicles on the road worldwide, further reducing net energy consumption. It remains to be seen whether society will support such a trend. But there appears to be some cause for optimism among the younger generation.

      Reply
      • Important piece of background is that the original source (that deniers are using to bash clean energy) was talking about primary energy, not electricity. Electricity is about 1/3 of the energy we use. As you and others have pointed out, the numbers are expanding rapidly, but that’s how it might have been less than 1% in 2015.

        Reply
  6. j_menadue

     /  June 30, 2017

    Sorry, forgot to quote the “less than 1% wind and solar” source. Here it is:
    https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-primary-energy-consumption-by-source-1800-2015

    Reply
    • wili

       /  June 30, 2017

      Ha, we were posting at the same time apparently. Yeah, Smil has a bit of an ax to grind on this issue and I wouldn’t take everything he has to say on it as gospel. Do you have any other sources on that. I do, by the way, think it is important for people to have a clear understanding just how far behind the ball we are on gearing up renewables, but I also don’t want to understate their current contributions more than necessary, so any other sources would indeed be appreciated.

      Reply
  7. bostonblorp

     /  June 30, 2017

    “Major correction to satellite data shows 140% faster warming since 1998”
    https://www.carbonbrief.org/major-correction-to-satellite-data-shows-140-faster-warming-since-1998

    Reply
  8. wili

     /  June 30, 2017

    ‘Very strong’ climate change signal in record June heat
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40449234

    “Now, researchers with World Weather Attribution have carried out a multi-method analysis to assess the role of warming connected to human activities in these record temperatures.
    “We simulate what is the possible weather under the current climate and then we simulate what is the possible weather without anthropogenic climate change, and then we compare these two likelihoods which gives us the risk ratio,” Dr Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford, one of the study’s authors, told BBC News.
    “We found a very strong signal.”
    That signal, according to the authors, made heat waves at least 10 times more likely in Spain and Portugal.”
    (thnx to crandles at ASIF for this)

    Reply
    • Thanks for this wili. Getting the models to assess weather data for climate change attribution is a huge leap for the science.

      Reply
  9. http://e-activist.com/page/8922/data/1 is a petition against the ITC suit. A friend of mine in solar industry says it’s legitimate and should be signed. There are many more jobs in solar installation than manufacturing and China’s going to clean our clocks anyway in production.

    Reply
  10. Companies need to disclose more on climate risks, panel says
    December 14, 2016 by Danica Kirka
    https://phys.org/news/2016-12-companies-disclose-climate-panel.html

    Investors need more information about the risks companies face from global warming so they can fund development of the new technologies that are needed to control climate change and mitigate its effects, a task force said Wednesday.

    An international panel, chaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, developed recommendations over the last year based on the idea that markets need more and better data to respond to the challenge of climate change.

    The task force was appointed by the Financial Stability Board, an arm of the Group of 20 industrialized nations and led by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

    “The challenge is that investors currently don’t have the information they need to respond to these developments,” Carney and Bloomberg wrote Wednesday in the Guardian newspaper. “This must change if financial markets are going to do what they do best: allocate capital to manage risks and seize new opportunities.”

    The task force is composed of executives from major companies, banks and insurance companies, including J.P. Morgan Chase, BHP Billiton and Swiss Re. The companies represented have a combined market value of $1.5 trillion, while the financial institutions oversee $20 trillion in assets.

    The panel developed its recommendations after the G-20 asked it to examine the financial stability risks posed by climate change. The advice focuses on “practical, material disclosures” that can be used by all financial institutions and companies that raise money from investors, Carney and Bloomberg said.

    Reply
  11. Suzanne

     /  June 30, 2017

    I know this comment has nothing to do with CC..but it does have everything to do with stopping tyranny and saving our Democracy. Please read…and then call your governors:

    The chair of President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter-roll data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.

    In the letter, a copy of which was made public by the Connecticut secretary of state, the commission head Kris Kobach said that “any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/06/29/trumps-voter-fraud-commission-wants-to-know-the-voting-history-party-id-and-address-of-every-voter-in-america/?tid=pm_pop

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  June 30, 2017

      BTW..if someone has your last 4 digits of your SSN…your birthdate..and address..it is really, really easy if you were issued a number before 2011…to figure out the rest of the number.

      Reply
    • And they were supposed to be concerned about the security of Americans…

      Reply
    • As of this writing, it says on Twitter that 21 states have refused to comply.

      Reply
      • I hope they all refuse. This is a public safety risk.

        Reply
        • Suzanne

           /  July 1, 2017

          The #Resistance were doing mass callings and emails all day today….saying NO to Kobach’s commission….From the feedback…lots of State Capitols were getting a blizzard of calls from all the “snowflakes” 🙂

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