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“Solar Grand Plan” Progress Report

Graph of Fuel Type for U.S. New Electricity Generating Capacity, 2013-2015
Good news! The electricity generating capacity of U.S. solar and wind installations was 2014 was greater than the expectations in ASAP's 2008 "Solar Grand Plan." Completions of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in 2014 totaled over 5 gigawatts (GW). As shown in the figure at right, the gap between new solar and new natural gas power plant capacity narrowed significantly from 2012 to 2014.

Most importantly, notice that the combined new solar and wind power plant capacity exceeded new natural gas power plant capacity in 2014, 51% to 47%. This is a remarkable achievement! Total U.S. solar power plant capacity is about 16 GW, and wind power plant capacity is 62 GW, as of September 2014. Solar and wind power now account for about 5% of total U.S. electricity supply, wind 4% and solar 1%.

The U.S. is not unique in its appetite for solar and wind electricity. Europe and China are also installing solar and wind capacity at impressive rates. For example, China installed over 10 GW of solar power in 2014 for a total solar capacity of over 30 GW. In addition, China has about 300 GW of installed wind capacity with over 40 GW brought online in 2014.

ASAP, in the “Solar Grand Plan” proposes $20 billion a year utility scale PV plants in the years 2015-2020. PV installations in 2012 demonstrate that the U.S. is moving towards large utility scale solar plants.

2011 Was a Banner Year in Terms of Movement Toward the “Solar Grand Plan”:
  1. Long Island Completes Construction of a 32 MW PV Plant – Largest Solar Farm in Eastern U.S.
  2. U.S. PV Installations Approach 2 gigawatts in 2011 with large, greater than 10 megawatt ground installations leading the way.
  3. PV prices plummet to $1/watt.
  4. Electric vehicles hit the auto showrooms (battery electrics, not fuel cell electrics).
Global PV manufacturing growth is exploding with poly-silicon and thin film PV technologies leading the way. About a dozen companies are manufacturing at the gigawatt (GW) PV module scale, which enables large cost reductions in the manufacture of PV modules.
  1. The GW-scale PV manufacturing plants are all in Asia, primarily in China.
  2. The largest PV manufacturing plant in the U.S. is GE’s 400 megawatt (MW) thin film PV plant being built in Aurora, Colorado. When completed in 2013, GE’s PV manufacturing plant will employ 355 workers.
  3. List of Largest PV Manufacturing Companies (Wikipedia)
PV module prices are dropping to $1/watt and less.
  1. PV module costs are declining rapidly as PV manufacturers achieve economies of scale associated with multi-gigawatt PV manufacturing plants. Thin film and poly-silicon PV technologies are leading the way in PV price reductions.
  2. The “Solar Grand Plan” is based on PV plants with installed costs less than $2/watt ($1/watt PV price and $1/watt installation cost). Several PV companies will have products on the market with the ability to meet the $2/watt installed cost goal within five years. This is great news.
The “Solar Grand Plan” is based on use of 90,000 square miles of desert land in the Southwest U.S. for super-large PV plants with an interstate high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission system distributing the solar electricity nationwide.
  1. Most of the desert land in Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas is owned by the Federal government since no one is willing to pay taxes to own the desolate land. The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior is currently assessing the value of federal owned desert land in Arizona for super-large PV plants.
  2. An interstate HVDC electricity transmission system will require construction of power lines across regional electric utility jurisdictional boundaries. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has written rules for the cost allocation of interstate electricity lines that cross regional utility jurisdictional boundaries. The next step is Congressional approval of FERC’s Interstate Electricity Transmission cost allocation rules, and the Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee is currently working on it.

ASAP's activity in 2011:
  1. ASAP is working for the implementation of an Interstate Electricity Transmission System designed to distribute Southwest solar and Midwest wind electricity to local markets nationwide. Also, ASAP is working for a 20% investment tax credit to support energy storage systems designed to solve the variability in solar and wind electricity supply.
  2. ASAP met with the staffs of Senator Wyden, (D-OR, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) and Rep. Markey (D-MA, House Energy and Commerce Committee) discussing the merits of an Interstate Electricity Transmission System and the need for adoption of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules. Also, the merits of underground compressed air energy storage facilities as a cost effective means of firming variable solar and wind electricity supply.
  3. Upon publication of the “Well Production Profiles for the Fayetteville Shale Gas Play,” we communicated with Rep. Maloney (D-NY) about the need for an evaluation of how shale gas companies report their shale gas production totals. This combined with ASAP letters to Governor Cuomo (NY) calling for a blue ribbon panel to investigate U.S. oil and gas resources played a role in the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and the State of New York Attorney General’s Office opening investigations of the reporting practices of shale gas companies.
  4. We’ve also been in close contact with NYSERDA and DOE point persons following three CAES projects.