Distributed solar modules are gaining ground on concentrated solar thermal plants.
Jonathan A. Lesser, Ph.D., is a partner and Nicolas Puga, M.Sc., is a principal with Bates White, LLC, an economic consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. They have provided consulting services to renewable energy technology and project-development companies, including First Solar, on a variety of issues. However, the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent those of First Solar or its employees.
Like an ever-receding mirage, solar power has for decades been viewed as the future of electric generation. It always seemed to offer virtually unlimited potential, yet always was just out of reach. Now, it is closer than ever.
With soaring prices for fossil fuel and intensifying concerns about climate change, many state legislatures have adopted increasingly ambitious mandates for developing renewable resources through instruments such as renewable portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs, so-called green tags and net-metering standards (See tables, “Net Metering in the States”). These mandates, along with dollops of federal and state subsidies, are now turning the solar mirage into a reality.
As the industry approaches the new solar oasis, companies and regulators will take a closer look at the differences in prices to be paid for different solar technologies, and will compare them to other options—most notably windpower. While all of the solar technologies promise abundant and competitively priced electricity, for the long-term future the most economically viable options might not be the ones utilities have embraced in the past. Namely, photovoltaic technologies (PV) are appearing more attractive than concentrated solar thermal plants.