Projected levelized cost for utility-scale photovoltaic systems compared with conventional generation, in China
By the end of 2011, the global installed capacity of grid-connected PV systems was over 69 GW, which could annually produce 85 terawatt-hours
(TWh), enough to power more than 20 million households (European Photovoltaic Industry Association 2013a). Preliminary estimates indicate that the installed capacit...
y crossed the 100 GW threshold by the beginning
of 2013, assuming additions in 2012 at the same pace as in 2011 (EPIA 2013b). Notably, six countries in Asia and the Pacific have over 100 MW of grid-connected PV systems: the PRC with 7,000 MW, Japan 6,914 MW, Australia 2,200 MW, India 1,461 MW, the Republic of Korea 963 MW, and Thailand 360 MW.
How will PV prices evolve over time? Figure 2.3.4 compares the levelized cost of solar power from utility-scale plants (generally with capacity above 10 MW) with some conventional technologies. It suggests that even by 2030 PV-generated electricity will struggle to compete with large hydropower, cheap coal, nuclear, and cheap
gas at today’s prices. However, if coal and gas prices were to escalate significantly over this time horizon, solar could become more competitive.
PV installations can be integrated into the grid from a central plant, as with conventional power plants, or distributed around many locations on the grid. Distributed systems can be mounted on roofs and facades, minimizing land use and
providing power close to where it is consumed, which reduces losses in transmission.
Concentrated solar power also has potential to contribute. Investment costs for concentrated solar power systems range from $3,800/kW without storage to $7,700/kW with storage, for
an estimated levelized cost of electricity in 2009 ranging from
$0.18–$0.27/kWh. Continued development is expected to halve the cost by 2025. US and European research and development
programs envision even more dramatic cost reductions,
targeting $0.05–$0.06/kWh by 2020 (Arvizu et al. 2011), which is cost-competitive with conventional alternatives. In the meantime, governments have offered subsidies to spur the development of solar power by the private sector. Many governments
hope that such subsidies, while costly in the short run, will accelerate the
development of cost-competitive technologies and provide net economic
and environmental gains over the long term. In sum, solar power has numerous advantages over conventional
power. The solar PV system is modular, so little technological change
is needed for fitting individual homes, including even PV lanterns. It
is virtually free of GHG emissions, and the primary energy source—
sunlight—is freely available and widely distributed, notably in remote
locales with no access to the grid.
PV is already cost competitive in many remote areas where the cost
of extending electricity grids would be prohibitive: remote islands in
the Pacific, the Philippines, and Indonesia; in the mountains of Bhutan
and the PRC; and the sparsely populated plains of Mongolia. These
installations use public finance and international aid, but, as PV system
costs decline, so will the need for subsidies. Improvements in battery
technology will enable households to tap PV systems at night, making it
an attractive investment. The Energy and Resources Institute in India has
led the global distribution of solar lanterns that provide basic but clean
light to poor households.
However, the prospects of utility-scale solar power becoming
cost effective within the forecast horizon are uncertain unless
more investment is forthcoming to further develop the technology.
Satellites can assist evaluation of solar potential in a particular region,
but assessments of capacity factor at specific locations, and thus of
commercial solar potential, requires gathering data on the ground.
------ lcoe = levelized cost of energy, PV = photovoltaic.
----- Source: Ross, forthcoming.