Solar Electricity – Where Are We?

by | May 31, 2017

The news is generally good for photovoltaic (PV), also known as, solar electricity generation in the United States (US).

The cost of solar electricity production continues to decrease and the efficiency of solar cells is increasing with new technologies and methods.

The industry still suffers from stiff competition from cheaper hydroelectric and natural gas production, but solar electricity costs half as much as coal and stands its ground with nuclear energy.

The Outlook for Solar Electricity

The outlook suggests solar electricity will become more competitive over time.

According to a recent article in Science by senior scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), photovoltaics is outperforming all projections for:

  1. total electrical generation on a year by year basis;
  2. the cost of solar cell production; and
  3. the total number of installations per year.

The figure below illustrates how PV repeatedly outperforms the annual predictions of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In 2002, the EIA predicted a marginal increase in solar electricity generation by 2020.

They dramatically missed the mark again in 2010 and 2012. The actual PV generation exceeded their very aggressive prediction for 2015.

solar generation

Figure 1 – Actual PV Generation v. Predicted by EIA

It appears obvious that solar electricity is poised to be an integral part of the future US electric generation portfolio; however large unsolved problems loom heavy on the industry.

Storage and Connectivity Issues with Solar Electricity

The largest problems include grid-scale storage to manage peak demand and periods of low PV production.

There is also an issue with upgrading the current electric grid to manage the incredible complexity and flexibility needed to manage millions of unique sources of solar energy production and demand.

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