Despite ongoing political rhetoric surrounding the controversial Green New Deal, at least one portion of the proposed measure is well underway and growing in the battle to address climate change.
Renewable energy in the form of solar and wind power is rapidly becoming a preferred energy source, according to Deloitte Insights, a thought-leadership service of the big audit, consulting, tax, and advisory firm. The report cites a series of global enabling and demand trends that are driving solar and wind to compete on a par with conventional energy sources.
Enablers include price and performance parity, cost-effective help in balancing the grid, and the development of new technologies that will reduce costs and improve integration. Current demand drivers include renewables integration by cities, community energy projects, deployments in emerging markets, and the expansion of solar and wind procurement on corporate levels.
Already at grid price parity, Deloitte notes that wind and solar technology also is edging closer to performance parity with conventional sources.
“While resources such as combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) have more flexibility to follow the load curve, increasingly affordable battery storage and other innovations are helping smooth the effects of wind and solar intermittency, giving them more of the reliability required to compete with conventional sources,” the report states.
Deloitte references 2017 figures from Lazard that show onshore wind has become the world’s lowest-cost energy source for power generation, with an unsubsidized levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) range of $30–60 per megawatt hour (MWh), below the range of natural gas at $42–78 per MWh.
Meanwhile, utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) is the second-cheapest energy source, notching an LCOE range of $43–53 per MWh. Solar has reached price parity in the United States, China, Germany, Italy, India, and the United Kingdom. As for Japan, a high-cost solar market, solar price parity is expected between 2025 and 2030.
Solar Market Heats Up
Following a year of upheaval in the global solar PV market, there have been positive signs for a rebound since the beginning of 2019, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
“We’ve already seen policy clarity emerge in China and Saudi Arabia, highly aggressive solar-plus-storage pricing in Hawaii, and more bold plans for some of the world’s largest single-site PV projects in India,” the analysts reported as the year got underway.
In a special free report, available through their website, Wood Mackenzie forecasts a number of key trends affecting solar PV in 2019, including:
- The market should crack 100 gigawatts (GW) for the first time, topping 103 GW for the year (Other market estimates call for even higher numbers)
- As technology costs continue to fall rapidly, ultra-low PV costs could fall as low as $14 per MWh under optimized assumptions
- An increasing portion of U.S. utility PV demand is being driven by non-utility entities, with 56 percent of corporate buyers from the technology and data sectors
- More projects trading hands, particularly in the U.S., as financiers are becoming more comfortable with solar as an asset class
- Oil and gas companies are embracing solar in upstream and power
Despite a falloff in U.S. solar installations last year following U.S. tariffs placed on overseas-made panels, analysts say the weakness will be offset over the next five years by larger volumes of projects than previously anticipated since solar energy is cheaper now than ever before.
Advanced Solar Tech Proliferates
EnergySage, an independent online comparison-shopping marketplace for solar panel systems, recently reported that new advancements in solar panel technology are being unveiled almost every week and that the cost of solar is dropping across the U.S.
In the last year, there have been major developments in solar efficiency, solar energy storage, wearable solar tech, and solar design tech, the service notes.
Emerging technologies in the sector include aesthetically pleasing solar panels; solar powered roads; new solar textiles for home and auto; and cost-effective improvements in battery storage options.
A team at MIT formed Sistine Solar two years ago, a startup venture that has engineered a new “solar skin” that matches the appearance of a roof without interfering with panel efficiency or production. The Boston-based design firm is tackling homeowner resistance to what many consider to be the “unsightly” look of solar panels by creating high-efficiency panels that come in multiple colors and patterns to blend into individual rooftops.
Taking to the roads, tests have been underway since last summer on solar-powered pavement technology designed to illuminate roadways at night and provide thermal heating capacity to melt snow during the winter. The tests are being conducted along stretches of historic Route 66.
For home use, new technology is being developed to extend wearable solar options to include textiles for use in curtains and car seats, taking solar beyond the typical hard plastic material used in watches and stitched into clothing to a more user-friendly textile option.
And, new developments are ahead in 2019 to increase the storage capacity of solar batteries, a potentially major trend that can have a big impact on solar power expansion.
“Solar storage is still a fairly expensive project in 2019, but a surge in demand from solar shoppers is expected to bring significantly more efficient and affordable batteries to market in 2019,” EnergySage predicts.
Gust of Growth for Wind Power
Wind power capacity in the U.S. has continued to experience strong growth over the last couple of years, boosted by a production tax credit, various state-level policies, and improvements in the cost and performance of new technologies, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a unit of the Department of Energy (DOE).
Improvements in design engineering and manufacturing have led to higher hub heights and larger rotors, which have helped lead to higher capacity factors. Turbines with larger rotors spin blades that sweep a larger area and result in greater energy capture, the energy office reports, adding that using taller towers to increase hub height can lower the cost of wind energy by providing greater access to higher wind speeds.
Meanwhile, the global wind energy sector is expected to bring increased development of offshore wind farms in 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), an international trade association for the wind power industry. The group says that through technological advancements, offshore wind is taking shape as a mainstream energy source.
In its latest Global Wind Report, released in early April 2019, GWEC market intelligence anticipates more than 300 GW of new capacity will be added in the next five years, driven in the short term by governmental support via auction and tender programs along with renewable targets.
New Spin on Wind Turbine Tech
Other recent trends advancing wind power success include replacement of major components in older wind turbines with more advanced technology, according to the U.S. DOE. Many of the upgrades install longer blades and replace major components, such as the generator, gearbox, drive train, and brake assembly.
In recent years, an increasing number of major wind projects have involved the installation of turbines with multiple hub heights and rotor diameters, most likely to take advantage of maximum energy capture, but also to qualify for production tax credits.
Various forecasts point to wind power capacity additions in the domestic market to range from 8,000 to 11,000 MW per year during the period 2018 through 2020, with some market contraction anticipated beginning in 2021 as tax incentives are phased out.
Going for the Green
While prospects may be dim for complete energy transformation under the proposed Green New Deal and its disappearing planes, cows, and automobiles, wind and solar power initiatives quietly are becoming huge bright spots in a developing ‘Green Big Deal’ of competitive renewable energy.
As the larger discussion over climate change likely will continue for some time to come, the successful steps taken in wind and solar already have gained enough momentum to begin significantly changing the green narrative across the globe.