We would like to discuss the state of solar energy in the US at the start of 2014. We would look at the findings through the lens of these categories: Government action, innovative progression, investment, corporate adoption.
Government action With many local and state governments realizing they have an abundance of sun, even in unlikely places like Iowa, Maine. It is a positive affirmation that these governing bodies see the fiscal benefit of going solar over more traditional fuel sources. However the news is not all peachy. The same study that shows that these municipalities have the sun and perhaps the will to go solar, they also show that local ordinances, permitting is still convoluted, and in many places costly.
“The report says Iowa could generate a maximum of 7 million gigawatt hours of solar photovoltaic, or PV, energy. It’s an amount that far exceeds the 57,000 gigawatt hours generated by all energy sources — coal, gas, wind and nuclear — in 2010, the group says in the report, or the 45,000 gigawatt hours Iowans consumed that year.”
Diving further into the numbers we can see a 33% increase in 2013 from the previous year in large scale projects. Additionally prior to 2013 the US had 8.5 GW of installed solar capacity and added roughly 4.3 GW in 2013.
Innovation Unfortunately while some inventions happened in 2013, the hardware part of solar has not budged enough to warrant praise, The main reason for this slowdown in innovation is due to China’s market saturation of mostly cheap hardware, often with dubious life spans. The US, Germany, and other Solar producing nations have had to compete with this market dynamic. Since no long term studies have been done on the degradation of solar modules and their cost to repair as apposed to traditional maintenance needed is unknown, but has garnered substantial interest, and caution. The 2 biggest areas in innovation and improvement comes as a result of traction in nano technology. Using nano technology engineers have created solar paint, and more applicably solar paint on windows, that can synthesize natural and indoor light to convert to energy. Also it should be mentioned that [LED] lighting has stolen the show when it comes to innovative products.
Investment The news from investors is not outwardly good. Investment dollars have fallen from 2013 even more then the $281 billion recorded in 2012, a 11% drop from the record set the previous year (2011). For some context, renewable energy and solar have a lot of cheap competition from China and other countries, and more importantly have left many venture capital, and private equity firms glum on the solar prospects. there is a slew of carcass’s lining Sillicon Valley. Cleantech is a tough market to enter with lots of R&D costs. Institutional investors were generally timid on solar in 2013. Investor returns have been [lets say] less then stellar. The macro picture however revelas that IPO’s have done very well like SolarCity, and Tesla, EnerNoc. In the case of Tesla Motors they have revolutionized more then just cars. They have changed the distribution process to one more fitting a Ferrari. Their stock has gone up 324.49%. So the news isn’t all bad for sure. Lighting and solar projects will continue to get a positive outlook from investors and companies alike.
Corporate Adoption Corporations like Google, Ikea, Walmart, GM. Corporate investment in solar grew over 33%. An impressive trend that does not seem to be slowing down.
“As we work toward our ambitious goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, solar energy continues to be an important part of our renewable energy portfolio,” Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart’s vice president of energy, said. “With our size and scale, Walmart is in a unique position to encourage innovation and accelerate the adoption of cost-effective, clean energy alternatives, including solar power.”
However as evident in the chart above some companies have vision(s), while others are putting their renewable strategies into execution. In the case of Ikea, 89% of the properties are now powered by solar. It should be noted that Google thus far has spent far more then any other companies in renewables and solar specifically. Their data centers (which are not small) are being run on solar, and the capital wing of google has made many acquisitions, and investments into solar. The sector in renewables that is set to explode in 2014 and 2015 is BI (business intelligence). As data become more accessible it will inevitably be extremely lucrative for those who are using solar technologies. This is especially a heightened issue in solar since geography and results have a direct correlation.