I'm involved in some utility-grade solar projects in the US. The ideal size is 4 to 5 MW, which will require approximately 20 acres. With all government incentives combined, solar projects are currently not bankable.

If homeowners are going to take on solar, most shouldn't use their roofs as their platform. Most homes are oriented incorrectly and will their roofs will not produce the optimum amount of power. A better approach is to mount panels on the ground. Ground-mounted panels are cheaper to build, cheaper to operate and will always produce the optimum amount of power.

In most states, net-metered panels cannot produce more power than the customer normally consumes. This is normally not a problem for homeowners because panels only produce power a third of the time and peak consumption tends to occur slightly after the panels are dark.

For U.S. consumers, it is not worth the investment to go off the grid. Energy storage equipment are costly and inefficient; they will consume approximately 20 to 30 percent of all energy produced.

When judging the efficacy of solar, consider the various points of view. If you are a consumer in a deregulated state, you want your neighbor to build a lot of solar. Solar has production costs approaching zero. The market-clearing price of wholesale power is largely based on production costs. If your neighbor's solar facility is producing power, it displaced the marginal generator or most expensive power producer. In deregulated states, solar reduces the cost of wholesale power.

If you are a utility in a deregulated state, you are indifferent about solar. Electric utilities in these states are not regulated power producers.

If you are a policymaker, solar is a winner. It is an ideal peaking generators as it produces power during the peak of the day. It will displace the the most costly generator and, in all likelihood, the dirtiest generator. You have an economic win and an environmental win. Score!

If you are a utility in a regulated state, you are also indifferent about solar. Electric utilities in these states will get a return no matter what assets are deployed.

If you are a consumer in a regulated state, you might have some concerns about solar. The levelized cost of solar is high and you will have to pay that price plus a margin. High prices are offset by lower fuel adjustments, but not a full offset.

If you are an independent power producer such as Calpine, GenOn Energy, Dynegy, Exelon and Entergy you might not like solar. Solar is hitting your gross margins. When solar power facilities are producing, market clearing prices fall and so do your gross margins.

Keep in mind, most power production policies are set at the state level, not the federal level. This might explain why northern states (deregulated states) endorse solar power and why southern states (regulated states) do not.

Bruno comments:

This is what you said. The little guy is making sacrifices for the future.

If you look at the problem only from an energy standpoint, the German look stupid. They are building renewable capacity which is more expensive than nuclear.

But if you look at the whole picture, this is brilliant. They pay more today to have an even more competitive economy in the future.

It is like building autobahns and panzer divisions. Out of the box thinking, a bit of daring going against conventional wisdom, sacrifice for the population, flawless execution (> 26 GW solar installed in less than 3 years, that is no small feat, and they are doing the same with windpower), incredible discipline (they are doing exactly what they said they would do a few years ago).

If you were the little guy, what would you prefer? Consume a bit less today and still have a job in 10 years, or consume more today and have no job in 10 years?

Does it mean that each household is forced to pay for the "their" piece of the renewables infrastructure? If so, is this the new advanced German "invention": let's make the little guy pay for our competitive industry and that's how we'll finance our future competitiveness? Sounds surprisingly old school, if that's the case.

Stefan Jovanovich comments:

A few minor quibbles. The Germans did invest in panzer divisions; what they did not invest in were maintenance and supply corps. The basic logistics of the German Army in the field in WW II were handled as they had been in WW I - by horse-drawn wagons off-loading from rail depots.

When the German General Staff ran the military exercises for Barbarossa, they found that they had to stop in front of Moscow, even if the Russian Army completely disappeared; the forage loads for the horse transport were consuming 100% of the supply chain capacity.

The autobahns were almost entirely a show-piece; the national transport network was rail. The U.S. alone produced nearly 2.4 million trucks in WW II; the Germans made fewer than 350,000. The British built 100,000 more lorries. Using WW II as an example of Teutonic foresight is not - perhaps - the best example.

The local market for power is, as you say, deregulated; but the market for capital has the Federal government's thumb on the scale, along with many of the state's that have deregulated the buying and selling of power itself. It is, as you say, what it is. I may be expressing my bitterness at California's capacity to do everything so badly - slaughter raptors in the name of wind power, adopt the one kind of deregulation that could allow the clowns at Enron to think they were the smartest guys in the room since the ones from Baldwin-United. Happlly, after tomorrow, that is no longer my concern.


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