By Herman Trabish
With 5.7 gigawatts of solar power now in place and growth booming, how many total installed gigawatts of solar will the U.S. have in ten years? What impact will the outcome of the November presidential election have on growth?
These and other predictions were asked of six of the most prominent solar industry players by Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) President Julia Hamm and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch at the kickoff event for Solar Power International 2012, the solar energy industry’s annual conclave.
The CEOs’ predictions for solar’s 2022 installed capacity ranged from 45 to 75 gigawatts.
“I see headwinds, and I’m very concerned,” NextEra Energy subsidiary Florida Power and Light (NYSE: NEE) President Eric Silagy, the panel’s utility sector representative, said of economic uncertainties, conservative political forces, cheap natural gas prices and creative destruction in the manufacturing sector. “Now is the time to be worried.”
“These things are true in any innovation cycle -- the early cell phone business, for instance,” venture capitalist Nancy Pfund, Managing Partner of DBL Investors, said. “Solar isn’t there yet, but signals are everywhere of mass adoption.”
--How many regulated utility monopolies will the country have in ten years?
Peter Marte, President of Georgia-based Hannah Solar, did not see utilities giving up their power easily. “Southern Company (NTSE: SO) is a fourth branch of government in the Southeast,” he said. “It is not going to go away.”
Recalling how disruptive to the recording industry the MP3 player was, SMA AmericaPresident Jurgen Krehnke said he foresees a completely new role for the utilities as a manager of the transmission and distribution network. “Completely new business models will emerge. It will happen.”
“It took 100 years to build a dumb grid,” Pfund said that a utility executive recently noted to her. “Don’t hold your breath for a smart grid.” But, she added, renewable energy “is nimble” and can be effective in a new utility model.
--Will storage be commonplace for solar energy within five years?
Pfund pointed out that it is already in place in solar power plants and, because it is an ideal solution to solar’s variability, it will be commonplace within two to four years.
“I see the need,” Silagy said, “but don’t see it [becoming] affordable in the next five years.”
--With the manufacturing side of the industry now going through a painful process of maturation and consolidation, how many of the roughly 1,500 module manufacturers will be left in 2016?
“It is going to be 100,” said NRG Solar CEO Tom Doyle. The pipeline for low-cost modules of unproven quality is not there, he explained. There is a new, higher level of scrutiny by project funders. It requires a much higher level of demonstrated quality.
“Shoddy product quality,” Krehnke agreed, “is a threat to the industry.”
Proven quality and a good balance sheet, Doyle said, are the limiting factors to acceptance for a module manufacturer.
-- The industy now employs just over 100,000 people; how many will it employ in 2016?
Pfund, who just co-authored a white paper reporting enormous growth in green jobs, said the industry is “crossing the chasm of acceptance and people are finding solar at Home Depot or their auto dealerships. Solar installers,” she added, “will also get other work installing energy storage and electrical vehicle charging systems."
On the utility scale, she predicted, “once the gigawatt of solar power plants now under construction flip their switches over the next three years, reality will set in and growth will take off.”
“There will be more jobs,” Werner said. ‘The question is, how many more?” It is unclear right now, he said, because of so much economic and policy uncertainty.
--How much impact will the November presidential election have on the solar industry over the next five years?
Only one of the six expected the election to have a significant impact.
“It won’t disrupt solar growth,” Doyle said, “because that is being driven by state policies and because it is up to us to drive down costs.”
“As soon as the elections are over,” Krehnke said, “common sense will set back in and the financial sense of residential installs will drive further growth and greater acceptance.”
“We must continue to control our own destiny,” Werner said. “It is all about quality.”
Source: Bloomberg Business Week
Sept. 20--A new solar company wants to add more sun power to Georgia's grid and compete with Georgia Power and other utilities.
Georgia Solar Utilities said it plans to build as much as 2 gigawatts of solar electricity capacity in the state by 2016. The company asked the Georgia Public Service Commission Thursday morning to be considered as a regulated utility.
To get started, Georgia Solar Utilities wants to build an 80-megawatt solar farm in Putnam County. The solar array would hook up to Georgia Power's grid. Georgia Solar Utilities would sell the electricity directly to customers.
But it's not that simple.
To operate as a utility, a company must win federal and state approvals as well as gain transmission rights to the grid. The PSC likely would review the request in a process that could take six months or more.
"There are obstacles, there's no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards," Georgia Solar president Robert Green said at a Capitol news conference. "We don't know what it's going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary."
But any move to help the company in the legislature would likely face strong opposition from Georgia Power and the municipal and electric cooperatives. A Georgia Power spokesman said the utility is still reviewing Georgia Solar Utilities' request.
PSC Commissioners Bubba McDonald and Doug Everett attended Georgia Solar Utilities's news conference in support. Later, the two made it clear that the PSC would have to review the company's plan as well as any others.
"If it goes down, it goes down, if it needs further work to go in a different direction, that's what we'll do," McDonald said.
PSC member Chuck Eaton has been working with Georgia Power behind the scenes on a solar plan expected to be released early next week. It's expected to call for utility-scale solar projects -- large-megawatt projects where the electricity typically is sold directly to a utility instead of to individual homes or businesses. The solar power generated would be"significantly" more than the 50 megawatts Georgia Power must have on the grid by 2015 under a prior agreement with the PSC.
"I'm confident that our plan will not raise rates," Eaton said.
By Clay Bolton
A new company called Georgia Solar Utilities filed a proposal Thursday to build a $320 million dollar solar power plant in Milledgeville.
The new utility also hopes to build smaller solar plants across the state and generate up to 5 percent of the state’s power directly from the sun.
Georgia Power declined to partner with the company last May.
After that, President Robert Green and his colleagues moved forward as an independent solar utility.
But a 1973 law gives Georgia Power exclusive rights to continue serving their existing customers. Robert Green is asking the P-S-C to change that.
“The law would have to tweaked a bit the Service Commission does this all the time the Public Service Commission is required their mission is to move in the best interest of ratepayers. And I think that creating a solar capacity in our grid is in the best interest of ratepayers,” said Green.
Public Service Commissioner Bubba MacDonald says the plan warrants a serious review.
By Chris Meehan
If a newly proposed utility gets its way the state could have a new, 90 megawatt, purely solar-powered utility. That is, if Georgia Solar Utilities, Inc., can get approval from the state’s Public Service Commission’s Energy Committee.
“It’s going before the commission but it’s by no means a done deal,” said Georgia Solar Energy Association (GSEA) Executive Director Jessica Moore. “Their proposal was to be set up as a new utility,” she said.
However, that means they would have to become a competitor to Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co. The company is the state’s largest utility and operates under a nearly 40-year-old law granting it exclusive rights to continue serving existing customers, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. It also owns the transmission lines in the state, meaning that any power produced by the Georgia Solar Utilities system would have to be transmitted on Georgia Power’s transmission lines.
Still, at this point, Georgia Power has not come out against the proposal, according to Moore. “Our perspective is that any additional solar deployed in ths state is going to be good for solar,” she said.
The project also asks a lot of the utility. “If they undertake the project they would sell the power generated, not directly to customers, they would sell power generated to Georgia Power,” Moore said. “They would also be asking the public service commission to require Georgia Power to let them use the grid and require Georgia Power to buy the electricity they generated,” she said.
The 90 megawatts being proposed is larger than Georgia Power’s current 50 megawatt solar program. “Currently the largest solar farm is going to be the Simon Solar Farm. That’s going to be 30 megawatts but they haven’t broken ground on it yet,” Moore said.
The 90 megawatts proposed by the utility hopeful is projected to cost about $320 million. The project is proposed for 2,200 acres in Baldwin County near Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Branch, according to GSEA. During construction it would create hundreds of jobs, the organization said.