I have been asking why more homes and building don’t generate their electricity from the sun. Maybe a new study signals that we’re approaching the tipping point.
The study, PV Grid Connected Market Potential in 2010 Under a Cost Breakthrough Scenario, provides an estimate of the market for PV systems in the United States based on available rooftop space for residential and commercial solar PV. Navigant Consulting was contracted to create the report. After compiling information from a state-by-state analysis, Navigant concluded that the potential U.S. market for grid-connected solar rooftop PV could reach 2,900 MW per year by 2010. That goal assumes that the solar industry can achieve a "breakthrough" price of $2 to $2.50 per installed watt — as opposed to the average $6 per watt installed where the industry is today.
This would be enough new electricity, brought online in just one year, to power more than 500,000 average U.S. homes, according to the report. Moreover, the study found there is enough suitable rooftop space on residential and commercial buildings to sustain this annual level of growth.
"Solar energy has seen impressive expansion — 36 percent compounded annual growth for the global solar industry since 1999 — but it has far, far greater potential," said David Wooley, Vice President at the Energy Foundation. "This new report illustrates that PV could make a significant contribution to future electricity supply in this country. This potential justifies state and federal support in the near term to stimulate new PV manufacturing investment, accelerate growth in system sales, and help reduce the cost of PV systems."
Projections in the report don’t include possible state subsidies, Navigant Director Lisa Frantzis said. Federal incentives, net metering agreements and green power markets were included in the projections, but the goal of the report was to think of creative business models and ways to bring PV technology to the market.
"The whole point was trying to get investors to understand that if they put money into this business the market is there," Frantzis said.
Key findings from the study show that in 2010:
– At $2 to $2.50 per installed watt, the annual market potential for grid-connected residential and commercial building PV applications is estimated at 2,900 MW, representing an annual market of about $6.6 billion, including equipment and installations.
– Rooftop space is not a constraining factor for solar development. Residential and commercial rooftop space in the U.S. could accommodate up to 710,000 MW of solar electric power, if all rooftops were fully utilized, taking into account proper orientation of buildings, shading from trees, HVAC equipment, and other solar access factors. For comparison, total electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. today is about 950,000 MW.
– The Pacific and Mid-Atlantic regions together would account for 52 percent of the potential residential and commercial sector demand.
– California alone has the potential for about 40 percent of the total building rooftop market potential–through a combination of favorable sunlight levels and high retail energy prices.
– Other distributed forms of PV electric generation, including ground-mounted PV, carports, curtain walls (a type of commercial building window), and awnings could further add to the potential identified by Navigant Consulting.
"Unlike most other power generation technologies, PV can be installed on the existing building infrastructure," said Frantzis. "This study shows that the available rooftop area can provide enough space to power a significant portion of U.S. electricity needs."