What drives the cost of PV systems? GW Solar Institute director Ken Zweibel answered this question and presented "The Economics of PV Devices" at the 2009 International Semiconductor Device Research Symposium at the University of Maryland. The answer is the PV device, in two ways. One, as the most costly and complex component of the PV system. And the other, because its output defines the cost of the entire system in terms of unit electricity output. In addition, reliability of PV is essential, with operating lives warranteed to thirty years, and possible lifetime extending as long as 50-100 years. Thus the success of PV depends on the properties of the PV device that converts sunlight to electricity. The price of PV electricity is often misunderstood, because it can be quoted for systems that are in good or poor sunlight and of substantial to tiny sizes. Each has a different price. With these variations, prices can vary from a high of about 50 ¢/kWh (for small systems) to a low of about 12 ¢/kWh for the largest systems in the sunniest locations. This range explains why there is so much misunderstanding about the economics of PV systems.
"Solar energy has valuable characteristics for adoption as a major part of a solution to climate change and oil fuel dependence. Sunlight is abundant,nearly ubiquitous, and solar technologies are rapidly falling in cost. Photovoltaics has additional advantages: simplicity, long operating life,
and minimal or no use of water. Carbon intensity for solar energies are also quite low, below any but wind. Solar electricity is also a potential energy source for electrified transportation. These characteristics make solar PV and solar thermal electric critical technologies among the various choices
for addressing climate change and oil dependence. Solar institute director, Ken Zweibel, gave this presentation on solar energy at the recent "Congress on Assessing America's Renewable Energy Future," hosted by the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation in Reston, Va., December 8-9, 2009."
Ms. Jacobson explained that the eGRID system average methodology (currently used by the Climate Registry) significantly understates the emission reduction benefits of renewable energy, including solar photovoltaic energy, in most regions of the United States. She stressed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Congress should avoid the adoption of the eGRID system average methodology in development their greenhouse gas (GHG) registries.
In her talk, Ms Jacobson stressed that the essential features of a reliable methodology for calculating the emission reduction benefits of renewable energy are as follows:
1. Reductions must differ in each power market (to reflect the differences in the mix of generation sources in each region);
2. Emission displacement rates must be based on emissions from fossil fuel-fired units rather than the average emissions of the power market; and
3. Emission displacement rates should be calculated on an hourly (or at least a seasonal) basis.
The work in this area has been co-authored by Dr. Colin High, Chairman of Resource Systems Group, and much of the initial analysis was funded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy. Current work is continuing under the auspices of the GW Solar Institute and Resource Systems Group.
The Journal of Energy and Environmental Law of The George Washington University Law School will be publishing an in-depth paper about this work in the spring of 2010.
Harvard University's Paul Epstein organized "The True Costs of Coal" workshop held at the Willard Hotel, Washington, DC, October 15-16, 2009. Fifty attendees shared discussions and talks on Climate Change, US coal mining, mountain top removal, carbon capture and sequestration, coal reserves, coal combustion pollutants, alternatives sources, alternatives for the coal field regions, and the smart grid. GW Solar Institute Director, Ken Zweibel, presented "Cost Comparison of PV with Other Electricity Options" in the alternative sources session. Other representatives from GW were Robert Nordhaus and Celeste Monforton who also gave presentations. The conference had representatives of the press and White House in attendance.
Key issues in the Appalachian region included the continuing presence of miner's black lung disease, possible contamination from mountain top removal of private well (which remain untested), landslide risks during heavy rains, sludge dams containing contaminated coal ash, poverty concentrated in regions with the most coal extraction, intimidation of those who speak out about working or health conditions, dependence on coal silencing other concerns, contaminated soil and waterways, plummeting employment per unit extracted with mechanization and the mountain top removal strategy, and dust spread from explosives. In the west, issues included aquifer depletion and contamination, dust from explosives, and the concentration of about 40% of all US coal supply in one county of Wyoming. Possible issues associated with coal and oil peaking in the nearer term than expected were also discussed, with a consensus developed that current knowledge of coal is incomplete.
Concern stated for a climatic tipping point short of 450 ppm CO2 (where other sources of GHGs from, e.g., methane liberated from the tundra) would make 1000 ppm unavaoidable, impelled substantial discussion of faster and more effective anti-climate change strategies.Solar, wind, and electrified transport received a great deal of attention.
The George Washington University Solar Institute has completed its first year. Read the Institute's Annual Report to learn about the many accomplishments, ongoing research and growing partnerships of the Institute, including details on the Director's role with the US Department of Energy's Solar Vision, which is developping a 20 year roadmap for solar energy.
Ken Zweibel gave a presentation on the cost-competitiveness of solar PV at the MIT-hosted Technology Review EmTech conference in Boston, September 24, 2009. He spoke on a panel entitled “The Energy Agenda” designed to respond to issues of climate change and the discussion of cap and trade in the US Congress. Zweibel presented the opening remarks and challenged a number of myths about solar energy in a talk entitled “PV Now: 4 Reasons for Not Waiting.” He strongly countered the misconception that solar was not ready for major deployment. Instead, Zweibel indicated that: (1) solar energy would likely be able to provide the US with as much electricity as we want in the 10 c/kWh range (and this is also true of wind) within ten years; (2) that in the long term (using a metric that measures cost over the life of a power plant) solar and wind are already less expensive than any form of fossil fuel power production, and especially generation with the added expense of carbon capture; (3) that since solar and wind, especially combined with electric transport, can meet all our needs without any carbon dioxide, there are few technical or economic challenges to meeting climate change goals ; (4) that our current portfolio of solar PV R&D overemphasizes long-term, high-risk research and nearly ignores the most likely route to success, and is thus sub-optimized for practical progress. and (5) that direct incentives of solar, wind, and electric transport are an essential complement to any cap-and-trade legislation. Watch the video...
In an interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Ken Zweibel spoke about the potential for solar energy to supply our growing energy needs. Zweibel and Solar Energy Industries Association President, Rhone Resch, responded to questions from callers on residential and utility scale solar, as well as electrification of transportation.
The Swiss Embassy in DC hosted 200 people for a forum entitled "Making Solar Competitive." Ken Zweibel gave a presentation characterizing PV cost competitiveness four ways: as a multi-billion dollar societal investment by the government of China; in terms of cost reductions achieved by technical improvements and economies of scale; in a comparison between powering vehicles with electricity or gasoline; and finally based on annual electricity cost over typical power plant lifetimes.
Stephen Lacey, of Renewable Energy World, interviewed Ken Zweibel as part of the website's weekly podcast. In the podcast, Zweibel discussed the feasability of powering a significant portion of the nation with solar energy and what it would require to attain that goal.
Ken Zweibel, director of the Solar Institute, presented a talk,Solar Energy: A Better Option, to The International Conference on Energy and Sustainability, sponsored by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences, in Stavanger. Zweibel summarized the benefits that society would realize from accelerating investment in solar as a solution to climate change and energy price escalations. Zweibel explains that over the lifetime of a solar PV system, which can extend to almost 100 years, it is the lowest cost energy now available in terms of total cost per killowatt hour. The two-day conference featured scientists and scholars in technology from around the world who addressed prospective aspects of energy, social change and social responsibility.
The Institute's Kickoff Symposium was a great success with nearly 250 people in attendance. Ted Turner delivered a rousing speech mid-way through the conference that reminded the crowd and the speakers why solar energy is so important. Presentations, video and photos of the day's events are available on the Symposium page.
On March 19, 2009 the Institute announced it will be holding day-long symposium on solar energy entitled "Solar Energy: A Solution to Energy and Environmental Problems?" The symposium, taking place April 24, 2009, is intended to be the first of many that IASE will host in the coming years. This first symposium will feature key technical leaders and decision makers in the world of solar energy. Some of IASE's ongoing research will also be featured as a preview of the important research that is being conducted by the Institute. More information on the symposium and registration...
The presentation “PV Innovations” summarizes the past, present, and future of PV technology development. It was presented March 13, 2009 at the “Energy Innovation from the Bottom Up” Photovoltaics Workshop in Washington, DC.
IASE Director, Ken Zweibel, presented a talk about solar powered plug-in hybrids and technology trends in thin film PV at an international conference in Eilat, Israel, February 17 and 18, 2009. The Jerusalem Post and Israel Radio interviewed Zweibel after the conference.
IASE director, Ken Zweibel, delivered a presentation, "Plug-in Hybrids, Solar, and Wind" at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, February 6, 2009. The talk examines in more detail the idea of using solar and wind energy to power plug in hybrid electric vehicles, simultaneously reducing our dependence on oil imports while minimizing their contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. Expected results of such a program would be to stabilize energy prices and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the US by about one gigaton.