Lack of investment is a limiting factor for energy efficiency projects in the United States, often because developers are unaware of third-party financing options that have helped attract funds to the solar energy market. “Despite a lot of talk about creating third-party models and a small surge in activity, the efficiency industry is still many steps behind solar,” Lacey writes. “A lack of education in the market, an overly complicated closing process, and distrust of the claimed savings are the three big obstacles preventing a surge in deal flow.”
San José, California-based Siva Power expects to produce solar-electric cells at 28¢ per watt within four years, although industry analyst Stephen Lacey isn’t completely sold on the target. “With $60 million in venture funding, Siva plans to build a 300-megawatt plant and eventually produce modules for 28¢ per watt over the next four years, assuming the facility is ever actually built,” Lacey writes. But “Siva doesn’t even have its pilot line fully built yet,” and the company may run into technical issues that have been common to thin film solar producers.
Battery-based systems only represent about 1% of annual photovoltaic installations in the U.S. and around the world, but solar’s roots are still in off-grid storage. Now, “the industry is getting back to those roots and embracing storage once again,” Lacey writes in this feature report. “As lithium-ion batteries get cheaper and more abundant, solar penetration reaches high enough levels to worry utilities, and electricity markets evolve to reward storage, attention has suddenly turned back to batteries.” This time around, the impetus is “coming from technology pioneers in Silicon Valley and savvy industry veterans who see it as the next big business opportunity.”
SolarCity, the largest residential solar installer in the U.S., plans to build a 1-gigawatt solar module factory in New York in the next two years, following the acquisition of high-efficiency solar manufacturer Silevo. On the SolarCity blog, Elon Musk, Peter Rive, and Lyndon Rive said they plan “one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity” in subsequent years. The gigawatt plant will involve scaling up a 200-megawatt module factory that Silevo was in the early stages of building.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects that its carbon reduction rule will increase U.S. renewable electricity capacity by 50% to 67% by 2020, while coal generation declines by about 20%, Lacey reports. In the EPA’s high-deployment scenario, renewables grow by two-thirds through 2020 and another 25% by 2025. “These proposed EPA carbon pollution regulations will accelerate innovation and development across the U.S. energy sector,” said Ken Locklin of Impax Asset Management. “Other countries have surged into the forefront in clean energy practices. These standards can catalyze new low-carbon investment here at home.”
Also from the U.S. National Climate Assessment: Storms, droughts, heat waves, and other severe climate events could have an alarming effect on the country’s energy infrastructure. Extreme weather is already causing more major power outages, the heavy storms responsible for those outages are getting heavier, and U.S. electricity demand will increase as temperatures spike.