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Intersolar: Most of U.S. Solar Market to Reach Grid Parity by 2015

solarpanelgeneric3Few ideas drive as much excitement in the solar industry as grid parity, the point at which solar systems — or any other renewable source of energy — cost the same as producing electricity from conventional sources like fossil fuels. Travis Bradford, founder of The Prometheus Institute, on Monday said that the research group forecasts that two-thirds of the U.S. market (by electricity sold) using photovoltaic systems will be at grid parity by 2015. “The U.S. will be an extraordinary market in a few years,” he said while giving a morning keynote address at the Intersolar conference in San Francisco.

The figure includes federal tax incentives and assumes that electricity rates will rise on average 1 percent per year, a conservative assumption, according to Bradford. Solar systems can produce electricity at or below grid prices in about 10 percent of the U.S. market today, Bradford said. That number will rise to two-thirds of the U.S. market because of the fast decline in the cost of modules and other system components like racks. Bradford said commercial solar systems would reach about $2 to $3 per watt installed and residential about $4 per watt installed by 2015, down from more than $6 per watt today.

Bradford said the United States “is entering a period” when it could become the largest market for and producer of solar modules. The rapid advance toward grid parity and government incentives like tax credits and renewable portfolio standards are the main drivers behind this potential shift. “I don’t think a lot of people believe this yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true,” Bradford said.

Image courtesy of NREL.

15 Responses to “Intersolar: Most of U.S. Solar Market to Reach Grid Parity by 2015”

  1. The above comment is an excellent (if not snippy) point. But in the interest of healthy debate…

    According to Ray Kurzweil’s figures, the amount of solar power going into the grid doubles every two years and follows the same exponential growth pattern as most other technologies. That means there will be 8 times the supply of today in 6 years. More importantly that means 16 times in 8 years, 32 times in 10 years, 64 times as much in 12 years, and so on. Price and size also have exponential curves. Those curves may seem pretty shallow at the moment, but at that rate, within a couple decades solar power will meet the entire planets energy needs for the same cost as coal and oil. The same trends are occurring in wind, geothermal, hydrogen, etc. Most people – even politicians and CEOs – can’t grasp that idea because we think linearly.

    The iPhone that I hold in my hand is 1,000 times more powerful today than a computer 1,000 times larger 20 years ago. Solar is just starting to hit the curve.

    I think Humanity as whole over estimates what it can do in the short term, but underestimates what it will do in the long term. Most of us have no idea what is in store for us when it comes to technological innovation in the next 50 years. It’s going to change everything (and I don’t use that word lightly). For better or worse, we’ve yet to see.

  2. A.M. Jacobs

    Wait a minute.

    I just read on bnet ( that the Chinese were thinking of some comparitively huge projects — totalling 1.8GW — with the following caveat:

    “…it could be wishful thinking to imagine solar panels turning much of a profit even at 16 cents per kWh. That would assume much more efficient manufacturing and better installation techniques than companies have figured out to date.” Let’s be clear here: they are unsure of PV’s competitive market position, despite projects that will occupy about 2 MILLION acres and a 16 cent/kW-hr FEED IN TARRIFF!!!

    In Japan, where PV manufacturing technology leads the world and dependency on imported fossil fuels dwarfs our own, officials see a 3% contribution from PV by 2013 as a “lofty but achieveable” goal.

    So, the booming solar manufacturing center of Jiangsu, with cheap labor and huge infusion of government capitalization, doesn’t yet see solar competitive with the rest of the market. Japan, who is THE world leader in PV and storage battery technology, sees PV as making a modest symbolic blip.

    But somehow here in the US, we’ll get to “grid parity” in 6 years.

    Riiiiight. The funniest thing about this is the statement the guy from this comical “institute” makes: “I don’t think a lot of people believe this yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.” Did you get that? Just because it doesn’t make sense to thinking people doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I think the inverse makes much more sense: Just because somebody hopes his dream comes true doesn’t mean it will.

    Is it possible that the author of the article could have spent FIVE MINUTES analyzing the rationality of this claim? Just because your “news” service specializes in renewables doesn’t relieve you from some sort of factual responsibility.