Renewable energy continues to grow

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

The U.S. Department of Energy reported that in 2015 more than two-thirds of the new power generation added to the electric grid came from renewable energy sources. According to an IEA report, for the first time new investments in renewable energy exceeded global growth in electrical demand. Renewable energy installations has been doubling every two to three years. We are at the point where continued renewable energy cost reductions will accelerate the shift to renewable energy.

By 2040 Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates 60 percent of the world’s installed generating capacity will come from wind and solar energy as their costs continue to fall.

The cost of onshore wind is expected to fall by 41 percent by 2040 as the capacity of operating turbines continues to improve. A substantial portion of the growth is expected to come from removing existing wind farm generators and replacing them with fewer, taller, more powerful generators as proposed for Lee County.

Solar costs continue their dramatic decline and could emerge as the low cost source of electrical generation in most countries by 2030. While the bulk of solar installations is expected to be utility scale projects, small scale solar systems for homes, schools, government buildings and commercial operations are expected to provide about one-third of the new solar capacity.

Even small scale solar system installations are increasing in size.  Our first home unit was a 2 kW system while our latest is a 5.2 kW system. We are now hearing of systems of 10 kW, 20 kW and up to 100 kW which reaches the limit of what is considered a small scale system.

Bloomberg and others expect battery storage will become common components of solar installations. Tesla has projected that, if reached, battery costs of 3 cents per kwh by 2020 would make them very appealing for solar electric installations.

The growth of renewable energy in the United States has been stimulated by government policies. In Illinois, a state rebate along with net metering by participating utilities provided the initial incentives to install solar systems. The 2006 federal solar investment tax credit for residential and commercial properties contributed to a 76 percent compounded rate of growth in installations. Its extension through 2023 ensures a market so that companies will feel secure in making long term investments in solar to implement improvements in the technology and lower costs.

With the tax credit in place the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that cumulative solar energy capacity could reach 100 gigawatts by 2020 from the 27GW installed by the end of 2015. Over the same period projected jobs in the industry would increase from 210,000 to 420,000.

Despite continued declines in the cost of solar systems and batteries, the projected rate of growth in the industry could be slowed by utility backlash against solar rooftop installations. Any policy changes affecting rooftop solar installations could slow their rate of installation.

While some uncertainties remain regarding policies impacting rooftop installations, many businesses are moving ahead with plans to install them. As Jeremy Leggett recently pointed out, over 600 international and multinational companies have signed on to the 100 percent renewable energy campaign. One of the latest to sign on is Apple.

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