Completed Projects: Economic Research

Calculating the Full Value of Solar Power Generation
In 2011, the GW Solar Institute collaborated with Richard Perez of University of Albany-SUNY and Tom Hoff of Clean Power Research to prepare a journal submission, “Solar Power Generation in the US: Too Expensive, or a Bargain?” for Energy Policy, an authoritative international journal which covers the major technical, economic, political, environmental, and social aspects of energy. The report found that while on the surface it appears that the cost of solar energy from photovoltaics (without incentives) is much higher than the cost of conventional power, assigning credible quantitative values to the myriad intangible benefits of solar energy, including environmental, health, economic, and grid-related, significantly impacts any cost-benefit analysis. This level of detail on solar’s many values represented a groundbreaking step forward for understanding of solar, and has been a regularly cited report since its publication in September 2011.

Reevaluating the Economics of Photovoltaics
In 2010, former GW Solar Institute Director Ken Zweibel published research in the highly regarded energy journal, Energy Policy, that compares PV to other sources of electric power over their typical operating lives of nearly one hundred years. The paper suggests that PV’s unique low cost during most of its long operating period might change the way we deploy it to meet societal challenges like climate change and energy security. According to the paper, the electricity costs of fossil fuel plants remain fairly high after initial capital expenses are paid because fuel price dominates plant economics, and fuel continues to be burned. In comparison, for power plants that use little or no fuel, such as PV,  operating costs after loan payments cease are much smaller. Today’s PV products have warranties for over 25 years, and periods of 40 years are being considered. With proper design, PV might last a century at negligible operating or refurbishing costs and with minimal production losses. Importantly, the paper considers how society and decision-makers should re-examinine PV deployment strategies given this analysis.

Analyzing the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS)
In 2009 and 2010, the GW Solar Institute funded analysis by the GW Economics Department on the solar energy sub-module of the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) – the primary model developed and maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) to generate projections for the production, importation, consumption, and prices of energy, leading to to significant improvements in their models. The researchers found that some of the primary solar technology and cost assumptions underlying NEMS needed to be re-evaluated and updated to reflect the dramatic maturation of the solar industry. In conjunction with the Institute’s then-Director Ken Zweibel and then-Co-Director Debra Jacobson, the researchers initiated a dialogue with EIA staff responsible for the NEMS solar sub-module to assist in this re-evaluation. The EIA staff also attended the Solar Institute’s 2010 symposium and subsequently asked the Institute to peer review a major report developed by EIA on national and region-specific installed costs for solar technology.