At Solar Power International in September, former President Bill Clinton told thousands of solar industry professionals that they are the “true pioneers and entrepreneurs of America.”
There is no question that the global solar industry has yet to realize its full potential, and that’s part of what makes current and past generations of solar professionals ‘true pioneers.’ Indeed, most Americans would readily agree that solar technology is the future of energy generation.
But what often gets left out of the mainstream discussion is how cost competitive and mature the global solar industry has become, which the industry has generally achieved without the lavish subsidies provided to traditional sources of energy generation. As President Clinton noted, according to PV Magazine, “For every dollar which is invested in clean energy, we are paying 22 dollars in subsidies for oil, coal and nuclear.”
Consider this: in California, utility-scale solar power can now be delivered at prices below USD$100/MWh (USD$0.10/kWh). That’s lower than the cost of electricity provided by most peak-time generators, even those running on low-cost natural gas, and it’s a price point guaranteed for 20 years or more (Link). Utilities are seeing the value. Arizona Public Service’s latest long-term planning report shows that new solar projects are competitive against new natural gas projects – both resources are cheaper than coal or nuclear – and solar provides less risk to ratepayers (Link).
It’s not just the U.S. In Chile, Suntech recently supplied one megawatt of solar panels for the country’s first utility-scale solar project, Calama Solar 3 in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. Interestingly, the project was built without any major government incentives or rebates, reflecting solar’s unique ability to provide reliable, long-term electricity supply with limited risk or price volatility.
We’re seeing the same economics at work for small-scale, off-grid generators. In India, where off-grid consumers pay as much as USD$ 0.30/kWh for diesel-generated electricity, and can be expected to pay as little as only USD$ 0.17/kWh in early 2013 for solar power (Link)
Because the economics of solar electricity generation are better than ever, the industry continues to beat growth expectations. In fact, GTM Research raised its forecast for U.S. installations to 3.3 GW this year, up from the 2.8 GW, it had predicted in March. That figure is significantly higher than the 1.85 GW of US solar panel installations in 2011. According to the annual PV market report, 2012 Marketbuzz® issued today by NPD Solarbuzz, the PV industry generated US$ 93 billion dollars in global revenues in 2011, which is similar to the 2011 nominal GDP of Uruguay and Guatemala combined (2011 nominal GDP numbers from International Monetary Fund here)
Solar is still a thing of the future, to be explored by pioneers; but it is also now a big part of our everyday lives.