SAN FRANCISCOBy 2015, two-thirds of the U.S. will have achieved grid parity, the point at which electricity generated from photovoltaics is equal in cost or less expensive than grid power, an analyst said Monday (July 13). At that point, solar power will be no more than 5 cents per kilowatt hour more expensive than grid power for 99 percent of the country, according to Travis Bradford, founder and president of the non-profit research group The Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development.
Speaking to a packed ballroom at the Intersolar North America event here, Bradford said the combination of falling photovoltaic system costs and larger government subsidies juxtaposed against the rising cost of grid electricity means that the U.S. is "rapidly approaching grid parity."
But Bradford added that there is skepticism that grid parity is within reach, especially among those who last looked at photovoltaic system costs back in 2007, when they were significantly higher. "I'm not sure that a lot of people believe it," Bradford said.
Others have predicted previously that a majority of the U.S. would achieve grid parity by 2015. But Bradford's assertion that 99 percent of the country could access solar generated power for no more than 5 cents/kWH more than grid power appears to be a first.
Andrew Beebe, managing director of energy solutions at SunTech America, the U.S. subsidiary of China's
SunTech Power Holdings, said it was the first time he had seen such an aggressive prediction. "It's great, assuming that it is true," Beebe said. He added that research from The Prometheus Institute is generally very accurate.
Getting solar power within 5 cents/kWH of grid generated power would be significant because it would close the economic gap and allow more environmentally conscious consumers and organizations to switch to solar power without feeling the financial pain, said Shyam Mehta, a senior analyst with GTM Research.
"The economics need to get closer so that the externalities can come into play," Mehta said. "They won't come into play if the economics aren't close enough."
Bradford said solar in the U.S. will get a big boost from economic subsidies as part of the financial rescue package enacted by the U.S. last November and from the huge fiscal stimulus pushed through earlier this year. At the same time, he said, government incentives to push solar in European countries like Spain and Germany are, at least temporarily, on the decline. As a result, Bradford said, the U.S. has a shot to become the biggest market for photovoltaics and one of the largest producers over the next few years.
"The U.S. is going to be an extraordinary market," Bradford said. Later, he added, "If this [solar] industry is going to be a revolution, I think now is the time."
In a panel discussion following Bradford's presentation, Julie Blunden, vice president of public policy and corporate communications at SunPower Corp., said the growth of the solar industry could be slowed by political forces as the solar industry attempts to enter the power industry.
Intersolar North America is a tradeshow for the photovoltaic industry co-located with Semicon West.