L R AS Published on Monday 20 September 2021 - n° 374 - Categories:US policy

Details of the US study to achieve 40% RE in demand

More is known about the US Department of Energy's (DoE) proposal to achieve 60 GW of installation per year by 2030, so that solar contributes to more than 40% of US electricity demand (see What target for solar installations should the US set for 2035?).

The study analyses three scenarios: the decarbonisation of the US electricity system; this is the reference scenario. The other two, Decarb and Decarb+E, call for further decarbonisation of the country's electricity, and in the latter scenario even considerable electrification of energy-intensive industries such as heavy transport.

By 2030, the Decarb and Decarb+E models forecast the installation of 720 GW and 1 TW of solar panels respectively, which would generate between 37 and 42% of the country's electricity demand. By 2050, this figure will increase further to between 1,050 GW and 1,570 TW, or 44-45% of total electricity demand.

According to the DoE, this proliferation of solar energy will be implemented efficiently and cheaply, refuting the argument that the concept of "zero emission" is too expensive. The results of the study show that US electricity prices will not increase with the proliferation of solar power, provided that targeted technological improvements are made.

Compared to the baseline scenario, the Decarb scheme is only 10% more expensive, which is equivalent to an additional expenditure of $225 billion. The Decarb+E scenario is about 25% more expensive, or an additional $562 billion.

Employment in the sector would increase from 230,000 today to between 500,000 and 1.5 million by 2035, depending on the rate of solar installation in previous years.

As the initial investment costs remain high, the transition to a more solar-intensive grid may leave out areas of the country that are not served by solar power. Given that initial investment costs remain high, the transition to a more solar-intensive grid risks leaving low-income areas and neighbourhoods out in the cold with higher costs, which would further exacerbate the problem.

RE all right, but what about the grid?

The biggest challenge to the DoE's solar vision for 2035 is undoubtedly the grid, or more precisely, adapting the grid as we understand it today. The proliferation of weather-dependent, inverter-based energy resources - what the study defines as solar - will change the very nature of how the grid is perceived. The grid, according to the Decarb and Decarb+E studies, will require new approaches to system reliability, to respond to system changes and events. Residential solar, particularly installations associated with energy storage, is ideal for shaping this response, enabling the development of more microgrids and local energy communities.

At the production level:

A more geographically diverse manufacturing base needs to be installed. Photovoltaics must exceed current efficiencies by implementing TOPCon, HJT, interdigitated back contact (IBC) and CdTe thin film technologies, and mastering perovskite cells.

Most importantly, the study looks at production and the context of the Xinjiang silicon import ban, the possible extension of Section 201 tariffs, and petitions for the extension of measures to South East Asian countries. The study discusses US competitiveness with Chinese products where the supply chain is much more established. Certainly, increased automation of manufacturing, and US production of more solar components (silicon, wafers, ...) could reduce costs.

The Department of Energy study shows how, in general, the US can move towards a solar-intensive grid with a portfolio of The Department of Energy study shows how, in general, the US can move towards a solar-intensive grid, with a more diversified and technologically advanced portfolio of solar generation assets, which would become the country's primary source of energy. While there are still challenges and barriers to overcome, the Solar Futures Study makes it clear that they are eminently solvable.

The study makes it clear that solar power is not limited by its own technological limitations, cost, or the readiness of existing systems to accommodate it, but depends primarily on state and federal policymakers. Perhaps the strongest conclusion of the report is that long-term policies and market support are needed for solar PV to realise its potential.


PV Tech of 13 September 2021

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