By Frank Thomas
This article is a continuation of the series on PV (photovoltaic power) power generation. Previous articles were Learning from the Cascading Power Failures that Brought Down the Power Grid in India by Deb Severson and Power to the People or Power to the Corporations by John Lawrence.
The evidence is substantial that distributed local PV power plants have the lowest transmission loss and cost as well CO2 pollution footprint of all available energy sources. In Germany, more than 98% of all PV power plants are decentralized. Of course, this is easier for European countries each of which is a population intensive, closely knit national community. PV solar, in particular, is rapidly becoming a price competitive, significant sustainable renewable source. The development of average system prices indicates that Germany´s decentralized PV electricity production will likely achieve competitive parity with electricity from the grid for private consumption by 2013.
In my earlier writing on energy developments, I highlighted how Germany and Denmark are totally committed to a step-by-step process of being entirely covered by renewable energy sources by 2050 – in addition to aggressive programs for effective energy conservation (waste reduction) and efficiency in both electrical generation and consumption. It is expected that PV solar energy will account for 25-30% of Germany´s total electricity needs by 2050 vs. less than 4% today!
Between 2012 and 2050, Germany will have phased out of all of its nuclear power plants. This reflects a recent government decision to build no more nuclear plants and to gradually shut down its current plants! Denmark is on a similar 100% clean energy course by 2050.
Europe is playing a dominant role in the world distributed PV market systems. According to research by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), PV prices are decreasing faster than expected. This along with the highly efficient and environmentally friendly (almost zero carbon) features of PV power plants is attracting more and more interest by other European countries (and countries outside Europe) in generating PV solar power close to the end customer. The EPIA makes the following forecast of European cumulative installed PV capacity by 2020:
PV Installed Capacity 2020 GW=Gigawatt
EUROPE 240 GW
Germany 80 GW
Italy 55 GW
France 30 GW
Spain 17 GW
UK 11 GW
U.S. 18 GW 2015* /40 GW 2020
Source: Solar Energy Industry Association Q1 2012 Market Report
Germany is going from 25 GW installed PV solar capacity today to 80 GW by 2020 and Europe to an amazing 240 GW by 2020. Compare this to the U.S. which is going from 5 GW of installed capacity today to 18 GW by 2015 rising to 40 GW by 2020.
It is obvious the U.S.is way behind Europe in photovoltaic solar development … whether decentralized or centralized. BUT, on the positive side, PV solar plant activity is sharply increasing across the U.S. There are now 46 operating utility-scale plants of which 9 are in California; 28 plants under construction of which 12 are in California; and 120 are under development of which 62 are in California! Clearly, California is one of the remarkable world leaders in its commitment to transition relatively quickly to PV solar systems.
A conservative estimate of total added U.S. GWs, allowing for delay and no go-ahead for some of the planned PV power plants, is as noted above 40 GW, hopefully more, by 2020 … still far behind Europe! This along with the grand rush to exploit huge internal reserves of unconventional shale/tight oil, tar sand oil, and conventional Artic offshore oil reserves means we are stacking the cards against ever stabilizing near/long-term polluting CO2 emissions and holding to a maximum earth temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.
We simply do not a have a simultaneous, coherent national energy plan that step-for-step takes us off conventional fossil fuels (ignoring unconventional oil resources for the moment) by at least 70% by 2050 … while still getting our imported oil dependence down significantly. This 70% goal is piddling compared to Germany and Denmark’s plans to be 100% on renewable energy sources by 2050.
Frank Thomas–A graduate of Bowdoin and Dartmouth colleges, I was an independent management consultant and entrepreneur working with Dutch international shipbuilding and offshore oil/gas contracting firms for many years. In recent years, I have been a trainer for such firms as ING, DSM, Siemens, the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Justice in The Hague and have been a teacher/lecturer at The Hague University and NTI University in Leiden. Training and lecture subjects covered have included: finance, legal writing, commercial law, report writing and presentations, advanced English writing and conversation.