Highlights from the 2017 Greentech Media Conference presentation showed that the solar market in the U.S. and around the globe continues to grow and is buoyed by lowering build costs. The U.S. installed 14.5 gigawatts last year, up 95 percent over 2015. The market basically doubled in the last year.
In 2016, for the first time ever, solar was the single largest source of new generating capacity in the U.S. "We added more solar to the grid in this country than any other individual resource, more than natural gas, more than coal, more than nuclear, more than had ever happened before," according to U.S. Department of Energy and Greentech Media.
Today, the cost of solar, if taking the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) into account, is more competitive throughout most of the country than any other resource, except in areas with high wind resources.
Solar is often the cheapest new source of generation, and in some markets this is true even without taking the ITC into account. If all you care about is getting the cheapest kilowatt-hours from any source of generation -- solar is that generation source.
This isn't just a U.S. phenomenon, it's a global phenomenon as well. Average PPA prices globally are now below five cents per kilowatt-hour, according to GTM Research. Most of these markets are unsubsidized, so there's no access fee in most of these places, it's just pure solar prices.
There's a race to have the next record for lowest power-purchase agreement price that continues to happen. According to Greentech Media, "We'll get probably the lowest one again in the next couple of months. We have a sub-$30 megawatt-hour price in the U.A.E. We've got another one at about $30 in Mexico. In India, we're down to about $40 a megawatt-hour. India historically has been a much more expensive market for solar, so these projects are real. This is a notable change."
It’s not that there are individual projects which are so cheap, it’s a broader market trend. This is the pricing for big utility-scale solar projects in most of the world.
The more solar you put on the grid, the less value it's going to have on its own as it saturates the wholesale markets -- and that means it must continually get cheaper. Solar must continue to reduce in cost to counter the value deflation effect. According to the DOE, the way you achieve lower cost energy is by reducing panel costs down to 30 cents a watt (without import tariffs), reducing balance-of-system costs by 30 cents a watt over that period, and by deploying 50-year lifetime solar content with 0.2 percent per year degradation.
What’s the Future Hold?
As of 2016 year end, solar is at about two percent penetration globally. Greentech Media proposed a trend that would have solar achieving about 17 percent global market penetration by 2035. Looking at the growth rate and the cost trends for solar over recent years, it’s not an unreasonable number, given the opportunity and need for electricity generation globally. If that is true, we're going to go from a market that is about $87 billion a year to about $250 billion a year. Over that period, we would install three terawatts, or 3,000 gigawatts, of solar energy -- that's about $2.8 trillion in investment over the next 18 years.