By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association
The re-election of Barack Obama was seen as a good thing for clean-energy interests, as it was expected that Mitt Romney would remove the government subsidies supporting the industry. It is estimated U.S. electrical production from renewables increased by nearly 75 percent during Obama’s first term.
Yet, the role of renewables in our immediate energy future remains somewhat clouded, as low natural gas prices led to its increased use in electrical generation.
PV and inverter prices are expected to continue to decline in 2013. Federal tax breaks are still in place, as are state rebates. Tax breaks, rebates and large flat-roof areas continue to serve as incentives for solar installations. The threat of climate change adds to their appeal.
The impact of Chinese PV manufacturing remains huge. China has targeted international markets for the sale of their solar panels, driving down prices. According to Doug Young, China is allowing smaller manufacturing plants to go out of business and has closed down nearly 80 percent of its polysilicon manufacturing capacity in an attempt to bring production into balance with demand. Their manufacturing capacity exceeds 40 gigawatts per year while the global market for the next two years is expected to vary from 20 to 40 gigawatts. To absorb excess capacity, China has increased its goal of national installations from 5 GW to 40 GW by 2015.
A concern of the PV industry in the U.S. is that varying state and local standards and fees adversely impact the cost of installing systems. It is claimed that installation costs are nearly twice that of Germany because of red tape. The industry has a program called Solar Freedom Now to create national standards for solar installations.
Barry Cinnamon of Solar Freedom Now has predicted that incumbent energy suppliers and utilities will intensify what he has called their all-out war on distributed or rooftop solar generation in 2013. He expects solar energy will be portrayed as expensive, unless utility managed and net metering portrayed as shifting costs from the rich to the poor. He expects net metering to be under widespread attack. He envisions conflicting research reports on these issues, which will delay government actions.
Utility-scale PV installations have led to a dramatic increase in PV systems in Illinois. The University of Illinois plans to break ground this year on a 20.5-acre solar farm, which is expected to produce about 2 percent of the electrical demand at its Champaign-Urbana campus by 2015.
In a paper on The Solar Energy Outlook for 2013, Vince Font revealed plans by Saudi Arabia to install 54,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. Six solar projects and one wind project of 100 MW each will be initiated this year. The program is in response to projections indicating that Saudi Arabia could become a net importer of oil by 2030.
Such emerging markets for solar energy around the globe could add 30 GW of PV capacity over the next four years, helping to stabilize the solar industry, which is experiencing cutbacks in government subsidies in existing markets.
Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail email@example.com.
From the Jan. 9-15, 2013, issue