Solar is cheapest based on price alone, Wood Mac reports: How falling costs will secure solar’s dominance in power

Freedom Forever extends its Sunrun ties, and this EV battery may offer a 250-mile range, a 10-minute charge, and 0-60 in 3 seconds. JANUARY 21, 2021 DAVID WAGMAN, PV Mag

A researcher at Sandia National Laboratories’ solar evaluation center.

The cost of solar power has dropped 90% over the last two decades and will likely fall another 15% to 25% in the decade to come, says Wood Mackenzie in a new report.

By 2030, solar will become the cheapest source of new power in every U.S. state, plus Canada, China, and 14 other nations.

The report, Total eclipse: How falling costs will secure solar’s dominance in power, calls the solar power industry “highly investible” due to its growing ability to meet both economic and policy goals.

Wood Mackenzie research director Ravi Manghani said: “As the world strives to recover from the economic slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and simultaneously meet the climate and environmental goals of the Paris Agreement, solar is uniquely placed to advance efforts towards a low-carbon, sustainable future.”

Solar is already the cheapest form of new electricity generation in 16 states, plus Spain, Italy, and India, the report said. Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, global installations exceeded 115 GW in 2020, compared to 1.5 GW in 2006.

While the growth of solar to this scale was driven partially by government subsidies and environmental goals, solar generation is now attractive based on price alone. In the next decade, Wood Mackenzie expects more cost reduction to be driven by growth and development in several technologies:

Bifacial panels. New solar cell technology allows both sides of a panel to generate as much as 15% more power.

Larger solar modules. This allows more of each panel’s surface area to generate power, leading to big gains in output.

Trackers. More solar installations include motorized systems that track the sun’s movement and change the alignment of the panels to increase energy capture.

Wood Mackenzie said that its outlook only factored in technological improvements that are already well into the commercial development pipeline. The projections do not assume any breakthroughs in next-generation solar technology or other innovations, which could provide further upside to the outlook.

Operating costs are expected to drop as well over the next decade, the report said. Technologies that are already widely in use by the wind power industry, such as using drones and thermal imaging for inspections, will make operations more efficient, as will developing technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The sector is not without risk for some players, Wood Mackenzie said. For example, as costs drop and installed solar capacity increases, wholesale prices may decline as well, reducing profitability. Even so, falling prices should allow solar to displace coal and other more expensive technologies and increase its markets share.

The report said that battery storage is becoming a larger part of the solar development equation as peak-price hours for electricity still coincide with solar generation hours in most markets. Both developers and utilities are preparing for potential changes in demand by including storage in their plans.

Freedom Forever extends its Sunrun run

Freedom Forever, one of the largest residential solar installers, has selected Sunrun as its primary solar + battery as-a-service provider for the next three years. The company will leverage Sunrun’s home solar and battery service offering, as well as its favorably branding among consumers.

Sunrun has been part of Freedom Forever’s growth over the last three years. The business has expanded from seven states at the beginning of 2020 to 20 states by the end of the year.

The expanded partnership with Freedom Forever is intended to expand Sunrun’s footprint in existing markets, with plans to enter new markets.

Quick-charge EV battery

Penn State engineers are developing lithium iron phosphate batteries that they say combine a range of 250 miles with the ability to charge in 10 minutes.

“We developed a pretty clever battery for mass-market electric vehicles with cost parity with combustion engine vehicles,” said Chao-Yang Wang, director of the Electrochemical Engine Center at Penn State. “There is no more range anxiety and this battery is affordable.”

Penn State engineers say the battery can charge in as little as 10 minutes and offers a range of up to 250 miles.Image:Chao-Yang Wang’s lab, Penn State

The researchers say that the battery should be good for 2 million miles in its lifetime.

They report in Nature Energy that the key to long-life and rapid recharging is the battery’s ability to quickly heat up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for charge and discharge, and then cool down when the battery is not working. The fast charge allows developers to downsize the battery without incurring range anxiety.

The battery uses a self-heating approach previously developed in Wang’s center. The self-heating battery uses a thin nickel foil with one end attached to the negative terminal and the other extending outside the cell to create a third terminal. Once electrons flow it rapidly heats up the nickel foil through resistance heating and warm the inside of the battery. When the battery’s internal temperature is 140 degrees F, the switch opens and the battery is ready for rapid charge or discharge.

Wang’s team suggest that by using this self-heating method, they can use low-cost materials for the battery’s cathode and anode and a safe, low-voltage electrolyte. The cathode is thermally stable, lithium iron phosphate, which does not contain any of the expensive and critical materials like cobalt. The anode is made of very large particle graphite, a safe, light and inexpensive material.

According to Wang, these smaller batteries can produce a large amount of power upon heating — 40 kWh and 300 kW of power. An electric vehicle with this battery could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds and, he said, would drive like a Porsche.

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 David Wagman is a senior editor at pv magazine USA. David is a seasoned energy journalist and editor.

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FERC Shifts January 20, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered blows yesterday to a number of natural gas projects that had been Trump administration priorities, including the controversial Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export facility off the Oregon coast.

During a monthly meeting, FERC commissioners unanimously rejected a bid to overturn Oregon officials’ denial of a key permit to developers of the $10 billion LNG export terminal, marking a significant victory for the project’s opponents. Outgoing Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette tried to streamline authorization for the Coos Bay, Ore., project last summer (E&E News PM, July 6, 2020).

And in an unexpected setback to Republican FERC Chairman James Danly’s final agenda as chairman, Republican Commissioner Neil Chatterjee joined his Democratic colleagues in rejecting an array of natural gas items related to the Mountain Valley and Sabal Trail Transmission pipelines, LNG company New Fortress Energy Inc., and Enbridge Inc.’s Weymouth compressor station in Massachusetts.

Many of the denials applied to draft orders, meaning the commission could take further action on the proposals under the Biden administration.

FERC also quashed a bid to begin voluntary compliance with President Trump’s overhaul of the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act. Newly seated Republican Commissioner Mark Christie joined Chatterjee, along with Democratic Commissioners Richard Glick and Allison Clements, in rejecting the proposal, citing its timing. The commission likewise declined to act on a highly anticipated electric transmission incentives proposal.

Chatterjee pushed back against two other agenda items related to FERC’s oversight of power markets, including one that would have extended a contested capacity market rule to New York state. Opponents of that rule change say it would harm renewable resources, and the item was pulled from yesterday’s agenda due to a lack of consensus.

Chatterjee also took issue with a follow-up item tied to FERC’s 2019 decision to add a so-called minimum offer price rule, or MOPR, to PJM Interconnection’s capacity market for future electricity needs. PJM is the nation’s largest regional grid operator, with a footprint spanning 13 Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. Broadly, the MOPR blocks sources of generation that receive government subsidies — like many wind and solar farms — from competing in key electricity markets.

Chatterjee said he would reject an item yesterday relating to the MOPR because it failed to address “confusion and conflict” created by a footnote in a recent FERC order on the rule. The footnote has spurred questions about which electricity resources would be covered by the MOPR as PJM moves to comply with it.

“Instead, the order doubles down” on the confusion, Chatterjee said during the meeting. “I cannot support such a path.”

Chatterjee told E&E News that his flurry of “no” votes was not due to a “macro-level” rejection of Danly’s agenda.

“There were specific elements to each of the individual cases that caused me to vote no,” he said in an interview. “In many instances, I feel that edits could get me to a place where I could support those orders.”

Glick and Clements attributed their opposition to environmental justice and landowner rights concerns with gas projects, particularly in light of research showing that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.

“I have seen little in the way of orders that do more than give lip service to environmental justice,” Glick said, referring to the way FERC calculates impacts.

There is no checklist the commission is required to follow when weighing impacts to low-income and Black communities, which often disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental pollution (Energywire, July 31, 2020).

FERC’s current process “amounts to saying there are no concerns about environmental justice or discrimination because rich white people don’t live there,” Glick said. During his opening remarks, Chatterjee also voiced concern that environmental justice and landowner rights were not being duly considered.

While it is rare for a FERC chairman to place items on the agency’s agenda without first securing affirmative votes, Danly defended his decision, citing his commitment to legal procedure.

“I brought these up for a vote knowing full well there would be a great likelihood that they would be voted down,” he said. “NEPA requires us to look into the information and comments that are submitted, and the [Administrative Procedure Act] requires all comments to be responded to, and so it is in fact the fidelity to legal regimes that required me to offer these for a vote.”

Danly also said he took “umbrage” with the claim that FERC does not take environmental justice seriously. Still, the commission has never rejected a project on environmental justice grounds even after finding significant impacts to marginalized communities.

Environmentalists and clean energy advocates praised the commission’s actions, or inaction, while also registering their surprise at the way yesterday’s meeting played out.

“Didn’t expect to be so excited by news from @FERC today but truly thrilled that #JordanCove is now all but dead,” tweeted David Turnbull, strategic communications director for Oil Change International, a group that documents the cost of fossil fuels.

The Sustainable FERC Project also praised the commission for pulling the New York market proposal from the agenda, calling it “an important surprise (but still unofficial) win for New York’s clean energy agenda.”

Road ahead under Biden

During the meeting, Clements and Christie welcomed their new staff and offered insights into their priorities. The two were confirmed by the Senate late last year, restoring the agency to its full complement of five voting members. The panel has not had five sitting commissioners since 2018.

Clements noted that she was eager to help establish the agency’s Office of Public Participation, which Congress directed FERC to design, fund and operate in the recently passed COVID-19 relief package.

“There is no better week to emphasize a need for the establishment of this office,” Clements said.

The office is intended to ease public participation at FERC, whose technical work can be difficult to follow and often plays out behind closed doors. Clements said she hopes the office will be an access point for not only landowners in the path of energy projects, but also others living in frontline communities within FERC’s jurisdiction.

Christie said he hopes the commission will examine how it can harmonize states’ public policy priorities with market rules administered by regional grid operators. Under the Trump administration, states have threatened to exit regional markets, claiming that federal rules effectively block them from following through with their low-carbon energy goals (Energywire, June 8, 2020).

“Each state is unique, and each state has different needs,” Christie said. “I have always agreed with [former Supreme Court] Justice [Louis] Brandeis that states are the laboratories of democracy and should be respected as such.”

Chatterjee noted his willingness to work with the Biden administration.

“Biden is a person of enormous compassion,” he said. “It will be steadying to have his experience and leadership in the White House.”

Chatterjee said he anticipates working with the commission’s new chair on revisiting the panel’s approach to evaluating greenhouse gas emissions. The issue is likely to be a top priority for the incoming administration, given Biden’s pledge to zero out electricity-sector carbon emissions by 2035. While some observers have wondered whether Danly will resign after Biden appoints a successor — likely Glick or Clements — as chairman, Danly said he looks forward to the coming years at FERC, signaling his intent to stay.


Breaking already this morning — Biden just named Richard Glick as FERC Chair, replacing terrible Trump GOP guy James Danly. Dems are still down on the Commission 3-2 until July at the earliest, but the Chair has a lot of power to set FERC’s agenda, direct its focus, etc. 


Hawaiian Electric takes an ‘install first, approve later’ approach to residential solar

The utility has launched a new program, Quick Connect, aimed at accelerating the process for turning on new residential solar systems.JANUARY 21, 2021 TIM SYLVIA

Image: RevoluSun


Hawaiian Electric Co. has introduced a new program, dubbed Quick Connect, that will accelerate the process for turning on new residential solar systems.

For the next 12 months, utility customers on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii islands installing new systems on circuits where the new program is available will not need the standard approvals before activating their systems.

Instead, the approval process, one which typically takes several weeks or months for each step to be completed, can now be handled after the system is built and turned on, substantially reducing the wait for many new solar customers.

Customers looking to install new systems still must start by applying for a county building permit, make sure their proposed system conforms to the PUC’s Rule 14H, and ensure their planned installation is no larger than 25 kW in capacity, with other technical requirements.

According to Hawaiian Electric, the program has been enacted in order to support customers and the state’s solar industry during the economic downturn that has come with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are committed to help our customers save money and help invigorate Hawaii’s economy as we get through the pandemic and move aggressively to 100 percent renewable electricity,” said Lani Shinsato, customer energy resources co-director at Hawaiian Electric.

Hawaiian Electric noted that if Quick Connect proves to be successful, the program could be extended beyond just one year.

Customers and contractors can find detailed specifications for eligibility at

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