Can USA take over Global Leadership in Solar Energy?

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Can USA take over Global Leadership in Solar Energy?

Postby Probir Ghosh » Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:49 pm

Germany has 40% less sun radiance, 1/1000th free land, 1/4th the GDP of USA but installed 6 times more solar panels in 2008. What’s wrong with this picture? Can USA take on global leadership in solar installs? Will you support this initiative? Should your state be one of the showcase states to lead this initiative?


The two figures above show total PV installed in 2008(actual installed until Q3 2008 and projected PV installs in Q4 2008) and 2009 (projections) by Vishal Shah of Barclays Capital, which tracks the Solar PV industry closely, in a report published in November, 2008. Figures 8 & 9 compares where Germany stands compared to USA for Solar PV installs.

Germany, which has approximately 30% of US GDP & population, about 8% of US landmass and 40% less sun radiance, installed 1.8GW capacity in 2008, 5.3 times more that USA in 2008. So, if we assume USA needs to replicate Germany in 2009, USA needs to install 8GW of PV. US GDP & population profile match that of OECD Europe and OECD Europe will install about 4 GW in 2009.


Historically, Japan was the first country that initiated the Solar panel industry, since Sharp started production in the early ‘90’s. The country adopted an long term policy to nurture the industry and brought the price of solar panels from the high $20/W to low teens by start of 2000. Germany took the baton on and initiated a 20 year program with a reducing FIT (feed in tariff) and by Q4 2008 the average price was down to $6/watt. The flat plate panel industry is maturing rapidly and with many more thin film companies coming on line the prices for solar panels are getting very close to $2/W when it reaches price parity for many states in USA for residential installs and when it reaches $1.50/W it will reach price parity for industrial rates of about 7 cents/kWh.

This actually provides our country with a once in a life time opportunity to take on the global leadership in Solar Energy Initiatives, that in turn will create huge job opportunities and lead to a vibrant new energy economy. If we do not, we may see China take on a much larger role than what is projected by Barclays as almost 50% of solar PV manufacturing operations are situated in China and China will consider using a part their $600 Billion stimulus package to save this large manufacturing base. The next page shows USA is ideally suited for harnessing solar energy compared to almost all parts of Europe.

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Probir Ghosh
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Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 5:13 pm

Re: Can USA take over Global Leadership in Solar Energy?

Postby Sol Shapiro » Fri Apr 24, 2009 2:49 pm

On the subject of the United States taking leadership on solar, I don’t think the competition should be in capacity installations, but on smarter technologies - lower cost, etc. Thus, I don’t share the competitive concern to outdo Germany.
I think we should be looking more at central solar with all solar technologies - pv, cpv and cst and probably even dish. Central installations are just less expensive by virtue of scale; and when you look at the quantitative savings on transmission cost for distributed, they hardly are significant compared to the scale of installation. I’ve looked at the numbers for typical grid connected distributed pv. And this is receiving some recognition; I recently heard (don’t have more detail than this) that a utility is allowing homeowners to buy pieces of central solar.
As to the decision among the three technologies above, we need time to let them play out. PV has had lots of exposure and seems to have an excellent public relations organization. The fact that it has gotten this far at earlier and even current cost speaks to that.
CST is now getting play in the U.S. west and in Spain and a bit in Africa that I know of; current unsubsidized cost in good solar locations is under 20 cents per kwh; with input that suggests that this cost is the same - with or without storage - provided the generator is downsized to offset storage cost.
CPV is really quite new and we need to look at it for a while as suppliers, under current rps start to deploy some hardware.
On a grander scale, it might be time for a national rps; but, I think doing this should include allowance (and ecouragement) for utilities located in poor renewable resource areas to own generation in richer resource areas; and to create this rps along with a national grid concept; perhaps with a “virtual grid” of some sort being credited to receiving locations until we get the transmission hardware in place.
And one more thing, I think we should be thinking of how what we are doing now can not only meet 20% penetration, but what path will be needed to get to 80%. Here, what I am really saying, is that we better consider the cost of storage.
Sol Shapiro
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