Wind and Solar Accounted For 57 Percent of New U.S. Generating Capacity Additions in First Quarter

Policy sure makes one heck of a difference. Thanks to legislation and investments by China, the U.S., Europe and numerous other countries around the world, solar energy has reached price parity or better with natural gas and coal over a growing subset of the globe. In the United States, fully 36 states in 2017 are seeing solar at parity with fossil fuel based generation. And costs for this new, clean energy source are expected to keep falling over at least the next five years as production lines continue to expand and technology and efficiency improves.

Wind, already competitive with natural gas and coal in many areas by the mid 2000s, is also seeing continued price declines as turbine sizes increase and industrial efficiency gains ground. As a result, the two mainstream energy sources most capable of combating human-caused climate change are taking larger and larger shares of the global power generation markets.

(Solar and wind continue to gain a larger share of new capacity additions than competing fossil fuel based generation. Image source: SEIA.)

This trend continued through Q1 of 2017 as about 4 gigawatts of new generation capacity or 57 percent of all new generation came from wind and solar in the U.S. Solar added about 2.044 GW, which was a slight drop from Q1 of 2016. Wind, however, surged to 2 GW — representing the strongest first quarter since 2009. In total, U.S. renewable generating capacity including wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal and others is now at 19.51 percent of the national total. Expected to hit above 20 percent by year-end, renewables have now far outpaced nuclear (at 9.1 percent) and are swiftly closing on coal (at 24.25 percent).

Globally, 24 percent of electrical power generation was produced by renewables by the end of 2016. This share will again jump as 85 gigawatts of new solar capacity and 68 gigawatts of new wind are expected to be added during 2017. As a result, total renewable generation is now set to outpace global coal generation in relatively short order.

Such rapid adds in renewable capacity are being fed in part by expanding solar production around the world and, particularly, in China. During late 2016, solar manufacturing capacity in China had expanded to 77.4 GW per year — with more on the way. And even as production capacity continues to grow in China and across Southeast Asia, places like the U.S. (with Tesla’s Buffalo Gigafactory 2 alone expected to eventually pump out 10 GW of new solar cells each year), Canada, Turkey, Korea, and Mexico are also rapidly expanding the production pipeline. Meanwhile, the global wind production pipeline continues to make significant gains.

(By 2020, global wind and solar generating capacity is expected to roughly double. Rapid growth in renewable energy is a necessary mitigation for harms resulting from human-forced climate change. Image source. FIPowerWeb.)

The rapid additions to renewable energy capacity provide hope that the world will soon start to see falling carbon emissions overall. Such an event is key to reducing harm already coming down the pipe due to human-forced climate change as global temperatures begin to challenge the 1.5 C threshold during the next two decades and as CO2e (including CO2 and all other greenhouse gasses) levels threaten to cross the critical 550 ppm demarcation line.

The strong progress of renewables does not come without a number of concerning difficulties and challenges. These challenges are primarily political — with Trump’s backing away from Paris threatening to upset the emissions reductions apple cart and Suniva’s recent ITC challenge injecting uncertainty into the U.S. solar energy market. Meanwhile, fossil fuel based industry backers continue various attempts to sand-bag or, worse, reverse renewable energy growth.

Despite these various difficulties, renewables like wind and solar will likely continue to gain ground as markets expand, technology and efficiency continue to improve, and as states, nations and industries jockey to claim their own share of the growing renewable energy market windfall. The big question that should concern pretty much everyone, however, is will this expansion in renewables proceed fast enough to afford the world a much-needed chance to slake an extraordinary amount of climate change related damage that’s now moving rapidly down the pipe in our direction.

Links:

SEIA

AWEA

2016 Was the Year Solar Panels Became Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

FIPowerWeb

Trump Will Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement

Global PV Manufacturing Expansion Rebounds in Q1 2017

Solar Power in China

Global Wind Capacity Nears 500 GW in 2016

GTM Forecasting More than 85 GW of PV to Be Installed in 2017

Could a Trade Dispute with China End the U.S. Solar Boom?

Spectacular Drop in Renewable Energy Costs Lead to Global Boost

Solar to See 9 Percent Growth in 2017

Wind and Solar Equal More than Half of New Generation Capacity in Q1 of 2017

Hat tip to Greg

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Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil

The future is not good for oil, no matter which way you look at it. — Motherboard

*****

Solar — it’s not just a clean power source producing zero emissions and almost no local water impact, it’s also now one of the best choices on the basis of how much energy you get back for your investment. And with climate change impacts rising, solar’s further potential to take some of the edge off the harm that’s coming down the pipe makes speeding its adoption a clear no-brainer.

In 2016, according to a trends analysis based on this report by the Royal Society of London, the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) for oil appears to have fallen below a ratio of 15 to 1 globally. In places like the United States, where extraction efforts increasingly rely on unconventional techniques like fracking, that EROEI has fallen to 10 or 11 to 1 or lower.

Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Imperial College of London, solar energy’s return on investment ratio as of 2015 was 14 to 1 and rising. What this means is that a global energy return on investment inflection point between oil and solar was likely reached at some time during the present year.

solar-energy-conversion-efficiencies

(Rising solar cell conversion efficiencies, expanding production bases, and better supply chains are helping to drive solar energy return on energy invested higher. Image source: Commons.)

How much energy you get back for each unit invested has often been seen as a viability factor for modern civilization. And returns higher than 5 to 1 were often thought of as essential for the maintenance and progression of present high standards of living in advanced societies. However, in the past, alternatives like wind and solar were at first criticized for perceived low rates of energy return. In the end, it appears that these criticisms have turned up false.

The higher energy returns for solar come as module efficiency, supply chain efficiency, and production and installation efficiency are all on the rise. And as solar is a technology-based energy source, we can expect these returns to continue to increase as production bases widen and as innovation drives modules to continue to improve their ability to collect power from the sun. For oil, the story is quite a bit more grim. Falling production in conventional wells has resulted in more reliance on hard to extract oil — and this makes pulling oil out of the ground much more expensive from an energy investment standpoint.

Record Rate of Solar Installation

Solar’s sharpening edge vs oil as an energy source came during a year when new installations boomed globally. Annual installations are expected to hit a record 70 gigawatts (GW) around the world in 2016 — ahead of early predictions for 65 GW of new installations earlier this year. China, the U.S. and India all likely saw record rates of solar adoption. Falling prices have helped to push the surge even as energy policies within many countries remain favorable to solar. In the Middle East and South America, new solar purchase agreements continued to break records for lowest cost. In Abu Dhabi, one solar project moved ahead with a 2.42 cent per kwh price tag. In Chile, a separate project broke ground at 2.91 cents per kwh. These prices are considerably lower than new oil or gas plants and are a primary driver for rising rates of adoption.

rate-of-solar-energy-installation-us

(Under Democratic President Barack Obama, solar energy expanded at a very rapid clip. This was partly due to a mostly positive policy environment at the national level and due to widespread support by various executive branch agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy. That said, from 2013 onward, falling solar prices and better solar economics have become a larger driving force for market expansion. Reactive policies coming from the Trump Administration may put a wet blanket over this rate of solar growth. However, it is likely only to slow solar’s rise. In any case, given the amazing benefits provided by solar power, efforts made to slow this transition by Trump and others in his administration should be seen as a protectionist, nonsensical, and amoral top-down defense of the harmful fossil fuel industry. Image source: CleanEnergy.org.)

Higher energy return on investment ratios for solar is one of the primary drivers enabling such low overall power prices. And the impact is starting to ripple through global markets which are steadily embracing transformation (as in California) or are responding in a reactionary/protectionist manner in an attempt to slow solar’s advance (as in Nevada). Favorable energy economics are just one of solar’s many benefits — including less water use, lack of requirement for a centralized grid in undeveloped regions, low cost, zero air pollution, and in providing a mitigation for the rising problem of global climate change (which is primarily driven by human fossil fuel burning). And those seeking to remove policy support for continued rising rates of adoption for solar will not only be denying basic economic realities, they’ll be supporting the irrational continuation of an inherently harmful set of industries.

Links:

Implications of the Declining Energy Return on Energy Investment for Oil

PV Energy Payback and Net Energy

Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil

CleanEnergy.org

World to Install 70 GW of Solar in 2016

World Record Breaking Price for Solar in Ahbu Dhabi

Hat tip to Climatehawk1

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