11 July 2012
Intersolar North America 2012 opened this week in San Francisco with a ceremony that culminated in the signing of a memorandum of understanding among the three leading solar research institutes in the world: Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE, Germany), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, US), and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST, Japan).
Before the focus turned to this significant global cooperation, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee thanked the industry for ensuring that the conversation never ends. He said that whether based on “economics, smartness, or cost factor, we’ve got to—in our generation—leave this world a better place.”
Professor Dr. Eicke R. Weber, Director of Fraunhaufer ISE said that we should plan to attain is 100% of the energy used in the world from renewable sources, and he added that right now in Germany, solar is the fastest growing renewable. How we achieve the 100%, however, includes the three pillars: solar, wind, and hydro/geothermal,/biomass and “all has to be connected to the grid to get enough power to equalise time issues.” This scenario is not far off, especially considering that on one day this past year, Germany achieved a total of 22GW of solar power, replacing the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants in energy production from renewables. And despite the strong media campaign in Germany against solar, he countered that, “The train has left the station”.
The US SunShot initiative has a goal of reducing the cost of solar by 75% by the end of the decade or bringing it down to 5 to 6 cents per kW hour at utility scale pricing. Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Director of the SunShot program for the Department of Energy (US) said that “solar has become the poster child of competitiveness.” But he said that to be competitive we need to manufacture. He asked whether the US is “walking away… from manufacturing,” adding that, “you just can’t be a service economy.”
Ramesh gave an example of the costs of residential solar in the US in 2010, where it cost about $5.71 a Watt installed. Of that, $2.04 was in “soft costs,” such as permitting and other regulatory red tape. He said that in Germany residential PV is about $2.44 a Watt. “Can we do that?” Ramesh asked. Cutting soft costs and streamlining every step of the process is imperative. He talked about the day that PV is like a TV, when there are no permitting problems, easy installation, seamless grid installation, and he looked toward the day when we have smart homes, smart grids, and smart cities.
Researchers around the world have been working for decades at bringing down the cost of solar, improving efficiencies, building new technologies and smoothing integration. Up until the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes, the memorandum for which was signed at Intersolar this week, the researchers were not engaged in a formal dialog with a common voice. With ISE, NREL, and AIST now in a global alliance, the top scientists in the world can hold discussions, exchange ideas, and develop solutions that solve the energy problems that we know can be solved.
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today