2018 solar power year in review (part 2)


Continuing from yesterday’s part 1, here are the rest of the top 10 trends that we saw this year.

6) The 100% renewable energy movement gains steam

The Trump Administration’s moves to prop up coal and abandon the Paris Agreement have lit a fire under conscious citizens and leaders across the United States, and nowhere has this been more obvious than the dramatic growth of the 100% renewable energy movement.

The action by Sunrise Movement and Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-New York) to launch the call for a Green New Deal including 100% renewable electricity by 2030 was the big national headline. However, the path forward for this to actually become federal policy got a new roadblock with the appointment of Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) as the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Action at the state level was much more promising. California was again in the lead, becoming the second state to mandate a pathway to 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045 (following Hawaii’s 100% renewable energy mandate), but several other states took the first steps in that direction.

This was particularly notable in the aftermath of the November 6 election, which saw five governor-elects pledging to move their states to 100% renewable energy. In terms of incumbents, both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) have put 100% zero-carbon electricity on their list of 2019 legislative priorities, and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) has issued an executive order calling for 40% greenhouse gas reductions by 2025, which if acted on could result in up to 25 GW of new solar.

At the city level this movement is also strong, with Cincinnati becoming the 100th city to set a 100% renewable energy target. This is not to mention the growth of community choice aggregation, which is allowing California cities and counties to move to 100% renewable energy faster than the state’s mandate.

But perhaps the biggest action this year was by a utility, with Xcel Energy setting a target to move to 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2050, and reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030.

And just this week, the Washington DC City Council passed a bill to put the district on a path to 100% renewable electricity by 2032, including a requirement for up to 20% of this power to come from local solar, as well as setting requirements for decarbonization of fleet vehicles – a package more aggressive than any state renewable or clean energy mandate to date.

7) Technology advances

While more politicians are finally starting to get serious about decarbonizing electricity, solar power is getting smarter. It’s a learning curve thing. The market gets broader, more engineers get involved, there are more experiments with ideas, and often just enough customers to let an idea live.

First off, mono PERC solar modules have pushed efficiency up, while still dropping in price – and soon enough they’ll dominate the global market, as their high efficiency is lowering the cost of solar projects.

The broader maturation of Sonnen into its Eco line and communities in the United States, along with players like STEM should really scare every single centralized energy management firm on the planet, as these intelligent inverters have the chops to run the whole show.

Module level electronics are making their position stronger with SolarEdge & Enphase taking over residential, while SolarEdge is now making major progress in the commercial and utility space. And proving that SolarEdge’s utility fascination isn’t a solo foray, electric utilities are also looking at module level electronics to maximize management in high penetration situations.

There were also wisps of Tesla’s Solar Roof in the wild, and Powerhouse 3 flirting with us.

Finally, there was also a LOT of research being conducted – with some suggesting oversizing solar was cheaper than seasonal storage and gas plants, other showing that we could reach an 80% powered grid with 12 hours of energy storage, and still others showing that we could make more money with solar in today’s power grid by strategically shutting down solar. And this is before we consider the craziness of 90% efficiency, 40% of electricity coming from our windows, perovskite-silicon at 28% and endless research coming from scientists around the globe.

8) Solar power as a code requirement

California has once again rocked the solar power industry by mandating that starting in 2020 all new homes built in the state will have to include solar power – either via community solar or integrated at time of construction. This will also lead to a redesign and a reassessment of what residential solar power costs, with pv magazine USA suggesting prices will approach $1/W installed with a lifetime 2.5¢/kWh levelized cost of electricity.

There are at least two other places outside of California with a requirement of solar at time of construction – South Miami on residential, and Watertown, MA setting a requirement that all commercial greater than 10,000 sq feet build solar. And with ⅔ of Americans suggesting they’d support some sort of home solar power mandate, it seems this is a trend that could have some legs.

9) Solar: Not just for California anymore

One of the biggest trends of 2018 was not new, but rather the continuation of something that has been happening for years: a geographic shift in U.S. solar markets.

In the past, markets in the Northeast and Southwest, such as New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts were the largest regional players outside of California, to be joined by North Carolina around five years ago. But starting last year Florida’s utility-scale solar market started to take off, and now Texas is threatening to emerge as a major destination for solar, with not only nearly 1 GW already installed in the first three quarters, but another 32 GW of projects in the interconnection queue of its grid operator.

Texas and Florida are the #2 and #3 largest U.S. states by population and as such this indicates that solar markets are starting to align with population distribution. Both states are driven by large-scale solar, not DG. And while the logic of summer peaks and high mid-day power prices are the same in both, in Florida this is being driven by voluntary utility procurement whereas in Texas’ more transparent market the numbers are obvious for everyone to see.

And it is not only Texas and Florida. This year saw progress on large solar (20 MW+) projects in many states that did not previously have significant markets, in the West, Midwest, South and even New England:





And while it was the 10th-largest market in 2017, Virginia super-sized its solar ambitions by approving the 500 MW Pleinmont solar project, the largest East of the Mississippi river. In fact, there are few states known to pv magazine USA that do not have at least one solar project 20 MW or larger either built or in some stage of development.

10) The price of solar keeps falling

Solar power electricity generation pricing is the cheapest electricity you can get every single day at 12 noon in many places across the United States – and right now 8minutenergy is in a 25-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy has set the bar at 2.376¢/kWh for the output of a 300 MW solar power plant. Rough math suggests that the price, when accounting for inflation, would be equivalent to 1.795¢/kWh in 2043 – following nearby that price is an Arizona PPA at 2.49¢/kWh and one just signed in Texas “below 2.5¢/kWh” – proving that 8mintuenergy’s deal is no fluke.

This is leading toward solar+wind+storage taking over coal and gas in utility plans – happened in Colorado, Indiana, and Oregon as these utilities are legally obligated to pursue the “lowest cost” option.

A recent Wood Mackenzie Renewables & Power reported that despite tariffs on modules, inverters, aluminum and steel installation costs in all sectors were at their respective all time lows: $2.85/Wdc, $1.47/Wdc, $0.93/Wdc and $1.04/Wdc, residential, commercial, fixed utility, and single axis tracker, respectively.

NREL says much of that price drop is driven by more efficiency solar modules, cheaper and smarter inverters, as well increased levels of productivity.

We at pv magazine USA think that this is just the beginning. Not only are we expecting a boom in deployment next year, but as previously predicted by Ray Kurzweil, get ready for solar to massively scale and replace most other forms of power generation in the 2020s.

The best is yet to come. We’ll be providing more data to back this up at the start of 2019.