Maximpact Blog

Solar Power Comes of Age Across the World

Contracted workers clean heliostats at the Ivanpah Solar Project, a concentrating solar power facility in California's Mojave Desert. Over 300,000 software-controlled mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight to boilers that sit atop three 459 foot tall power towers. July 26, 2017, Nipton, California. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab) Public domain

Contracted workers clean heliostats at the Ivanpah Solar Project, a concentrating solar power facility in California’s Mojave Desert. Over 300,000 software-controlled mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight to boilers that sit atop three 459 foot tall power towers. July 26, 2017, Nipton, California. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2019 ( News) – Solar is already the world’s fastest-growing power generation source, and the solar future looks bright for the widescale adoption of solar power. As this decade nears a close, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry has designated the next decade The Solar+ Decade.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), with its members and allies across the energy spectrum, has set an ambitious goal: solar energy will generate 20 percent of all U.S. electricity by 2030.

To reach this target from the 2.5 percent that solar contributes today, solar, wind and storage must work together to transform a complex and interrelated world of markets, customers and electricity systems to build a strong Solar+ economy.

“It is incumbent upon us to create a shared clean energy vision,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “It won’t be just the Solar Decade, but the Solar+ Decade where Solar + Storage, Solar + Grid Modernization, Solar + Wind, and Solar+ Overwhelming Public Support combine to define our nation’s clean energy future.”

To chart the industry’s course, SEIA is producing a roadmap to the Solar+ Decade that will set forth the policy, social, environmental and economic elements that must be in place to make solar a leading source of new power generation in the 2020s.

Over the next 10 years, the Solar+ Decade will be about collaboration and building the partnerships and expertise needed to overcome systemic challenges preventing the widescale adoption of solar.

The world’s largest solar thermal system is operating at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert. Ivanpah, which began commercial operation in 2013, delivers power to PG&E and Southern California Edison. The project is owned by a partnership consisting of NRG Energy, Bright Source Energy, Bechtel and Google. The 377 megawatt facility produces enough power to serve more than 140,000 homes in California during the peak hours of the day.

Increasing solar generation from 2.5 percent today to 20 percent by 2030 could add more than US$345 billion into the U.S. economy and grow the workforce to 600,000 solar professionals, from nearly 250,000 today, the SEIA says.

“The goal is bold but achievable,” Hopper said. “If we hit 20 percent solar by 2030, we will prove that solving the climate challenge won’t hurt the economy, but instead will be one of the greatest economic growth opportunities in decades.”

This effort is challenging. To get there, the industry must reach an average annual growth rate of 18 percent and cost reductions across all market segments by nearly 50 percent. The industry will need to install an average of 39 gigawatts (GW) each year throughout the 2020s, including 77 GW in 2030 alone.

On May 15, Hopper testified on Capitol Hill before the House Science, Space, and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy where she outlined the technical and market challenges the industry needs to overcome.

These challenges and priority research areas include:

  • Growing a more diverse workforce, which will require federal job training
  • Cutting soft costs and streamlining permitting and interconnection
  • Prioritizing the security and resilience of the grid with cyber-secure technologies
  • Supporting advanced manufacturing, demonstration and deployment projects that scale up energy storage

“The 2020s will be the decade where we take action and work with our partners to solve our most pressing climate problems,” Hopper said. “The stakes have never been higher as we take our first steps into the Solar+ Decade.”

Some states are already making great progress on the solar scene.

On January 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his inclusion of the state’s Green New Deal in his executive budget.

New York State has set the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, from 1990 levels. Installing solar power is proving to be a good way to get there – good for both the economy and the climate.

“Climate change is a reality, and the consequences of delay are a matter of life and death. We know what we must do. Now we have to have the vision, the courage, and the competence to get it done,” Governor Cuomo said.

“While the federal government shamefully ignores the reality of climate change and fails to take meaningful action, we are launching the first-in-the-nation Green New Deal to seize the potential of the clean energy economy, set nation’s most ambitious goal for carbon-free power, and ultimately eliminate our entire carbon footprint,” the New York governor said.

During Governor Cuomo’s first two terms, which began January 1, 2011, New York banned fracking of natural gas, committed to phasing out coal power by 2020, mandated 50 percent renewable power by 2030, and established the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Agreement. Since Cuomo took office, New York has increased solar power generation by nearly 1,500 percent.

A new legislative proposal by the Cuomo administration to generate six gigawatts of solar energy by 2025, could power one million homes and lead to the creation of more than 11,250 jobs, the nonprofit solar advocacy group Vote Solar said in a report issued Friday.

New York already has 1.425 gigawatts of solar installed; another 4.575 GW of solar is needed to reach the governor’s goal of six gigawatts by 2025.

“New York State’s energy future is dependent upon the development of solar energy if we are to address climate change and become energy independent,” said Senator Kevin Parker, who chairs the State Senate Energy Committee. “As highlighted in Vote Solar’s report, solar energy development also holds the promise for increased economic activity – from jobs to purchasing of materials to tax revenue – which will further benefit all New Yorkers.”

What happens when the sun stops shining? The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has $280 million available for energy storage projects. The funding is part of a larger $400 million energy storage investment to put New York on the path to carbon neutrality, under the Governor’s Green New Deal.

But despite New York’s efforts, the state does not lead the United States in solar power generation.

Comfortably ahead, California remains the undisputed leader when it comes to U.S. solar power, with almost 23 GW of installed solar and the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, the 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. The concentrating solar power facility, opened in February 2014, deploys 173,500 heliostats focusing solar energy on boilers located on centralized solar power towers.

In Vermont, climate-aware Green Mountain Power May 6 announced a partnership with Tesla to install battery storage systems in every home it serves.

Green Mountain Power is launching a pilot program allowing 250 customers to get two Tesla Powerwall batteries for $30 a month. They will store power from variable sources like wind and solar, trim power usage when demand peaks, keep lights on during outages, and measure energy use, rendering meters obsolete.

Mary Powell, Green Mountain’s CEO, said in an interview with Bloomberg News, “Our vision – our dream – is that there ends up being a battery in every home and business.”

Solar in Sunny Southern Africa

Across the world, Namibia on Africa’s southeast coast is one of the driest countries and one of those hardest hit by climate change, but Namibians are working to change that.

Namibia's first solar-powered water desalination system, 2019 (Photo courtesy Solar Water Solutions) Posted for media use via Facebook

Namibia’s first solar-powered water desalination system, 2019 (Photo courtesy Solar Water Solutions) Posted for media use via Facebook

Namibia’s first fully solar-powered desalination system, which makes high-quality drinking water straight from the ocean, has been commissioned as a joint initiative of the University of Namibia and the University of Turku in Finland. The sustainable seawater desalination plant was inaugurated by Dr. Sam Nujoma, founding president of Namibia, on May 10 at the University of Namibia (UNAM) campus.

“The impact we hope to receive through this plant is to contribute to food security and increase energy supply while simultaneously combating and mitigating the effects of climate change. We can make Namibia green,” said UNAM Vice-Chancellor Professor Kenneth Matengu.

The system is designed and delivered by the Finnish water technology company Solar Water Solutions. Among the first desalination systems to operate on 100 percent renewable energy, it produces safe water for drinking and irrigation.

“This life-cycle costs of this solar-powered desalination solution are more than 70 percent lower than conventional systems, as there are no energy costs or need for fossil fuels,” says Antti Pohjola, CEO of Solar Water Solutions.

Located close to the beach and installed in a container, the modular, scalable system produces 3,500 liters of water an hour from the ocean with free solar energy, zero energy costs and no batteries. It removes salt, bacteria, chemicals, viruses and other impurities from the water. Using boreholes that only produce saline or brackish water, the system can desalinate seawater for human consumption and for food security as well as animal consumption.

Pohjola envisions decentralized solar-powered desalination systems that resolve water scarcity issues in off-grid islands and communities where no community water infrastructure exists.

Solar Power a Natural for Sunny Middle East

Solar power in the United Arab Emirates has the potential to meet most of the country’s electricity demand. While a major oil producing country, the UAE has taken steps to introduce solar power on a large scale, although solar is still a small share of the country’s energy production.

The Middle East, generally, has its eyes on concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities. They use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity whenever it is needed, day or night. CSP projects in the Arab countries are expected to become larger – over 100 MW on average.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, a 700‑MW CSP project in the United Arab Emirates, is expected to be the largest globally once commissioned in 2023.

Implemented by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the Al Maktoum Solar Park is spread over a total area of 77 square kilometres (30 square miles) in Seih Al-Dahal, about 50 km south of the city of Dubai.

The largest single-site solar park in the world, Al Maktoum has a planned capacity of 1,000MW by 2020, and 5,000MW by 2030, with a total investment of 50 billion Arab Emirate Dirham (US$13.6 billion, €12.2 billion).

The solar park will use a range of photovoltaic and concentrated solar power technologies to provide clean energy to Dubai. It incorporates an Innovation Centre, an R&D centre, testing facilities and a solar powered water desalination plant.

Elsewhere in the sunny Middle East, solar power has failed to carry the day. Last October, Saudi Arabia cancelled a US$200 billion, 200-gigawatt solar plant planned by SoftBank and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, partly because of technical concerns over grid integration.

The main concern was that the megaproject appeared to have been approved independently of plans for an orderly ramp-up of solar through a tender program managed by the Saudi Renewable Energy Project Development Office. Soon after the SoftBank agreement was made public, it emerged that top officials in the kingdom had been excluded from negotiations.

The Kingdom revised its renewable energy targets in January, now aiming for an ambitious 27.3 gigawatts of clean energy by 2024 and 58.7GW by 2030. The 2024 target will include 20GW of PV solar, with the 2030 target a PV solar capacity of 40GW.

South America Jumps on the Solar Bandwagon

Northern Chile has the highest solar incidence in the world. In October 2015 Chile’s Ministry of Energy announced its “Roadmap to 2050: A Sustainable and Inclusive Strategy,” which plans for 19 percent of the country’s electricity to be from solar energy by 2050.

In November 2016 at Vallenar in Chile’s Atacama region, the 246 MW El Romero single-axis tracking solar photovoltaic plant began operating, with a 493 GWh annual average output. With 776,000 polycrystalline silicon photovoltaic modules, it was the largest solar farm in Latin America when it opened.

That record no longer stands.

In Argentina, at more than 4,000 meters above sea level, Cauchari is one of the highest solar farms in the world. Expected to begin sending current to the grid in August, the China-funded facility will generate up to 300 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 120,000 homes. A planned expansion to 500MW would boost that to 260,000 homes and bring the project’s total cost to $551 million, provincial officials told Reuters.

China is the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels and inverters, a dominant position that has seen European and U.S. producers struggle to compete.

Argentina’s third largest city, Rosario, with a population of 1.2 million, is encouraging widespread use of solar water heaters as a way to help meet its energy needs sustainably, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

On the west bank of the Paraná River in the south of the province about 300 kilometres from Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires, Rosario’s households have, on average, reduced their hot water energy costs by 80 percent compared to the cost of conventional water heaters.

Following this successful local implementation, the market for solar water heaters is expanding across Argentina. Working with national partners, the municipality provides dedicated training for other communities to adopt the heaters, together with loan options to fund installations.

A solar thermal ordinance requires that all new or upgraded public buildings, such as sports facilities and community centres, heat at least half their hot water with solar. The policy, which forms part of Rosario’s Sustainable Building and Energy Efficiency Plan, aims to help increase the use of renewable energy across the municipality.

According to projections from the Brazilian Photovoltaic Solar Energy Association (ABSOLAR), the national voice of the solar PV sector in Brazil, the photovoltaic solar sector will surpass the 3,000 MW milestone by the end of the year, attracting more than US$1.3 billion in new private investments, and adding more than 1,000 MW in small, medium and large-scale PV systems throughout the country.

“Distributed generation is on the rise and is essential for the advancement of PV in Brazil. It will be responsible for more than US$750 million in all the states and municipalities of the country, bringing economics and sustainability to public and private consumers, while generating thousands of qualified local jobs for the population,” said ABSOLAR CEO Rodrigo Sauaia in March.

“The myth that photovoltaic solar energy was expensive has already been busted. PV has become one of Brazil’s most competitive renewable energy sources, with returns on investment between three and seven years at the distributed generation segment. PV will be a great prosperity driver, contributing to the progress and economic, social and environmental development of Brazil. This will be another great year for the Brazilian PV market, with good opportunities, new businesses, new private investments and strong job creation,” enthused ABSOLAR President of the Board of Administrators Ronaldo Koloszuk. “The country has a privileged solar resource and can become one of the leading nations in PV over the coming years.”

The Greeting to the Sun consists of 300 multi-layer glass panels set into the quay paving in a circle 22 meters in diameter. Beneath the conducting glass panels are photovoltaic solar modules providing symbolic communication with nature. October 24, 2012, Zadar, Croatia. (Photo by Tim Ertl) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The Greeting to the Sun consists of 300 multi-layer glass panels set into the quay paving in a circle 22 meters in diameter. Beneath the conducting glass panels are photovoltaic solar modules providing symbolic communication with nature. October 24, 2012, Zadar, Croatia. (Photo by Tim Ertl) Creative Commons license via Flickr

‘Upward Trend for Solar in Europe’

Across the European Union, the Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 established an EU-wide binding renewable energy target of 32 percent by 2030.

The European Union installed around eight GW of solar power systems in 2018. That is a 36 percent year-on-year increase over the 5.9 GW connected to the grid in EU-28 in 2017, according to an estimate from SolarPower Europe, an industry association for the solar power sector in Europe.

SolarPower Europe CEO Walburga Hemetsberger said, “It is good to see Europe fully embracing solar again. With solar being the most popular energy source among EU citizens, the most versatile and often also the lowest cost power generation source, and with cost reductions continuing, we are only at the beginning of a long upward trend for solar in Europe.”

Europe’s largest solar market in 2018 was Germany, followed by Turkey, which topped European solar market the previous year. A rising solar star, the Netherlands, ranked as the third largest solar market in 2018, entering the ‘solar gigawatt-club’ for the first time.

In the United Kingdom, superb conditions led to solar panels breaking their all-time record for energy generation two days running.

On May 13, solar power generation hit a peak of 9.47gigawatts and the record was broken again May 14, when it hit 9.55GW. Solar advocates maintain that this shows UK energy can be produced cleanly and affordably.

The generation records come as the solar industry remains in flux while the UK Government deliberates on the future of the renewable energy sector.

The Solar Trade Association was quick to welcome the record-breaking figures as a sign that solar can help plug the energy gap in the UK, but pointed out that solar isn’t as incentivized as it used to be, which has slowed solar installations.

The solar feed-in tariff which offered subsidies to homeowners installing solar panels was first scaled back and in April was phased out entirely, reducing the incentives for homeowners, landlords and community energy groups to install solar. While existing feed-in tariff scheme contracts continue to be honored, excess energy can now no longer be sold back to the grid.

On May 15, the Solar Trade Association welcomed the Labour Party’s announcement that it will support  over a million new domestic solar photovoltaic installations across the UK,  through a mixture of fair export tariff payments, grant  funding and by  driving large  economies of scale. The policy will specifically target low-income households in social housing.

The EU contributes to solar installations around the world.

In August 2018, the EU completed the biggest photovoltaic solar field in Gaza. It will provide half a megawatt of electricity a day to fuel the Southern Gaza Desalination Plant.

The EU-funded desalination plant currently provides drinking water to 75,000 inhabitants in the Khan Younis and Rafah governorates. With the new energy field and new investments foreseen it is expected to reach 250,000 people in Southern Gaza by 2020.

Today in Gaza 97 percent of the water is unfit for human consumption. The very high population density in Gaza is putting a huge strain on the  infrastructure, which is crumbling as a result of repeated conflicts, over 10 years of Israeli closure, and the intra-Palestinian split. This infrastructure strain has led to critical water insecurity in the Gaza Strip.

Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, commented, “Limited energy supplies in Gaza are one of the main challenges when improving access to safe and drinkable water to the local population. The photovoltaic solar field is essential to respond to the urgent water needs in Gaza and create dignified living conditions for its people, thus mitigating tensions in a highly conflict sensitive area.”

Solar Power Spreads Worldwide

Across the globe, solar energy capacity increased by 94 GW in 2018, a gain of 24 percent, reports the International Energy Agency (IEA)

Asia continued to dominate global solar growth with a 64 GW increase – about 70 percent of the global expansion in 2018. Maintaining the trend from 2017, China, India, Japan and South Korea accounted for most of this, the IEA said.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is forecast to expand by almost 600 GW – more than all other renewable power technologies combined, or as much as twice Japan’s total capacity, reaching one terawatt by the end of the forecast period.

Despite recent policy changes, China remains the absolute solar PV leader by far, holding almost 40 percent of global installed PV capacity. The United States remains the second-largest growth market for solar PV, followed by India, whose capacity quadruples.

Other major increases were in the United States (+8.4 GW), Australia (+3.8 GW) and Germany (+3.6 GW). Other countries with solar expansions in 2018 included: Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, Mexico, Turkey and the Netherlands.

Yet, even with all this solar activity, the overall renewable energy picture is clouded with risk, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) annual review.

Global energy investment stabilized in 2018, ending three consecutive years of decline, as capital spending on oil, gas and coal supply bounced back while investment stalled for energy efficiency and renewables, thte IEA reports.

The findings of the World Energy Investment 2019 report signal a “growing mismatch between current trends and the paths to meeting the Paris Agreement and other sustainable development goals.”

Even as investments stabilized in 2018, approvals for new conventional oil and gas projects fell short of what would be needed to meet continued robust growth in global energy demand. At the same time, there were few signs of the substantial reallocation of capital towards energy efficiency and cleaner supply sources that is needed to bring investments in line with the Paris Agreement and other sustainable development goals, the IEA said.

“Energy investments now face unprecedented uncertainties, with shifts in markets, policies and technologies,” said IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol. “But the bottom line is that the world is not investing enough in traditional elements of supply to maintain today’s consumption patterns, nor is it investing enough in cleaner energy technologies to change course. Whichever way you look, we are storing up risks for the future.”

Featured Image: The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, a 700‑MW CSP project in the United Arab Emirates, is expected to be the largest globally once commissioned in 2023. March 2019 (Photo courtesy Dubai Electricity and Water Authority)