On December 8, 2005, a Solar Task Force submitted an 87-page report to the Clean and Diversified Energy Advisory Committee of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA). The WGA represents 18 western states and three U.S. territories.
The report concludes that as much as 8,000 MW of capacity could be installed in the western states of the U.S. with a combination of distributed solar electricity systems and central concentrating solar power (CSP) plants by 2015, and an additional 2,000 MWth of solar thermal systems could be installed in the same time frame.
At that point, the cost of electricity from future CSP plants should be on a par with that from plants burning costly natural gas, and distributed systems should have declined in price to the point that they should be able to produce electricity below retail utility rates in most parts of the West. Best of all, the fuel source for these systems in free. Once the systems are installed, all price volatility is removed, yielding the secure and predictable energy supply so critical to the region’s growth.
The Task Force further notes that the solar resource in the seven states that comprise the southwestern U.S. is very large. Of particular note, the prime solar energy resource potential there is 200 GW, and there is ample highly suitable land to support large-scale CSP development. Further, the CSP industry estimates that a total plant capacity of 13.4 GW could be deployed for service by 2015, which equals about 30 percent of the growth in peak regional demand.
The cost target for CSP, based on gas-fired plants, is slightly under 10 cents/kWh in 2015. When up to 4 GW have been installed, the cost of electricity from future CSP plants is expected to be on a par with plants burning natural gas. Using California as an example, building 4 GW of CSP plants in that state will inject, relative to installation of gas-fired plants, over $22 billion into te gross state output, approximately 13,000 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent operation jobs, and an additional $2 billion to tax revenues.
Black & Veatch conservatively projected the CO2 reduction from 4 GW of CSP to be 7.6 million tons, or seven percent of present California electric utility output. They also project substantial avoided emissions of NOx, CO, and volatile hydrocarbons.
In addition to CSP plants, the Task Force estimated that distributed photovoltaic (PV) solar could contribute 4,000 MW of clean energy. In addition, 500,000 solar thermal systems could be installed, providing the equivalent of 2 MWth of energy. This would contribute 5 to 6 million megawatt-hours of electricity annually to the region’s energy needs, shaving approximately five percent off of the West’s growth in peak energy demand over the next ten years. Moreover, realizing this potential could save 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year as well as avoid between 4.0 and 4.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually
This will also add over 15,000 high-quality jobs in the West and contribute up to 6 million megawatt-hours of electricity annually to the region by 2015 – the equivalent of the electricity consumed during peak hours by Portland, Seattle, and Denver each year combined. Ten years of growth could also drive down the cost of solar systems by approximately 50 percent resulting in an industry that should be able to thrive without financial subsidies. After 2015, assuming growth in the distributed PV industry slows to an average of 20 percent annually, by 2025 another 30 GW of systems could be installed without subsidies at prices below retail electricity rates in most states.
The report outlines a number of initiatives needed at the state and federal levels to unleash private investment in solar. Many involve changes in policies or regulations with little or no budgetary impact. Where direct incentives are involved, they are designed to decline over the next 10 years to the point that they are no longer needed to sustain arapidly expanding industry.
The full text of the Solar Task Force Report can be found at: