Renewable energy gains market share

By Drs Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

There is much to be enthusiastic about in the renewable energy world.

A study from MIT reports that if made in sufficient numbers today’s solar panels could meet the global demand for electricity and give the world a carbon free future. Ongoing research will continue to make technological improvements and reduce system costs.

While it is too early to declare victory over fossil fuel consumption, the renewable energy industry is experiencing significant global growth.  According to Brent Blackwelder global rooftop solar installations are increasing 50 percent annually. The cost of manufacturing solar cells has fallen to as low as $0.36 per watt. Every five hours another 23 MW of solar are installed across the globe. In ten days the rated capacity of solar installations would equal that of one large power plant using coal, nuclear or natural gas as a fuel.

The goal being set by countries and states to move ahead with renewable energy and eventually replace fossil fuels is another encouraging development.  For example, Denmark intends to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Renewables currently account for nearly half of Denmark’s electrical production.

California intends to get 40 percent of its power from renewables by 2024 and 50 percent by 2030. Illinois has a goal 25 percent by 2025. Hawaiian Electric has a goal of 65 percent by 2030.

The goal of relying 100 percent on renewable energy has been achieved by Apple with Facebook, Google and Amazon heading in the same direction.

The current emphasis on improving electrical storage systems and lowering their costs will accelerate the appeal of solar power. A recent announcement by Tesla provides an example of advances in storing electricity. They are marketing two types of battery packs. One, the Powerwall, is intended to provide energy storage for homes and the second is for utility scale installations. Both systems are being used in selected applications; supplies will increase as their new production facilities doubles the current global battery manufacturing capacity.

By linking a wind or solar system with a battery bank, customers have a reliable source of power if grid service is interrupted. By storing electricity, they buy less from their utility. It provides a means to buy electricity for storage when prices are low and use it during times when prices are high.

While the cost of utility electricity is rising the costs of solar energy continue to fall. One prediction is that by 2017 the cost of solar energy will be competitive with grid electricity in 80 percent of the global market.

A local solar installer estimates that with existing subsidies installing a grid connected solar system in this part of Illinois offers payback within six to seven years on a system projected to last 25 years for a residential customer and four to five years for a business customer.

For individuals lacking the capital to finance a solar system, some firms offer to install them with no money down while providing electricity to the homeowner at a price at or below that of grid electricity. Known as third party financing, the offers involve signing contracts which should be fully understood before agreeing to all the terms involved.

Reach the Vogls at sonia@essex1.com.

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