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Solar Energy: Grid Parity In India, Italy, and More to Come in 2014

Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
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  • Mar 5, 2013

solar power grid parityDeutsche Bank just released new analyses concluding that the global solar market will become sustainable on its own terms by the end of 2014, no longer needing subsidies to continue performing.

The German-based bank said that rooftop solar is looking especially robust, and sees strong demand in solar markets in India, China, Britain, Germany, India, and the United States. As a result, Deutsche Bank actually increased its forecast for solar demand in 2013 to 30 gigawatts — a 20 percent increase over 2012.

Here’s Renew Economy with a summary of Deutsche Banks’s logic:

The key for Deutsche is the emergence of unsubsidised markets in many key countries. It points, for instance, to India, where despite delays in the national solar program, huge demand for state based schemes has produced very competitive tenders, in the [12 cents per kilowatt hour] range. Given the country’s high solar radiation profile and high electricity prices paid by industrial customers, it says several conglomerates are considering large scale implementation of solar for self consumption.

“Grid parity has been reached in India even despite the high cost of capital of around 10-12 percent,” Deutsche Bank notes, and also despite a slight rise  in module prices of [3 to 5 cents per kilowatt] in recent months (good for manufacturers).

Italy is another country that appears to be at grid parity, where several developers are under advanced discussions to develop unsubsidized projects in Southern Italy. Deutsche Bank says that for small commercial enterprises that can achieve 50 percent or more self consumption, solar is competitive with grid electricity in most parts of Italy, and commercial businesses in Germany that have the load profile to achieve up to 90 percent self consumption are also finding solar as an attractive source of power generation.

Deutsche bank says demand expected in subsidised markets such as Japan and the UK, including Northern Ireland, is expected to be strong, the US is likely to introduce favourable legislation, including giving solar installations the same status as real estate investment trusts, strong pipelines in Africa and the Middle east, and unexpectedly strong demand in countries such as Mexico and Caribbean nations means that its forecasts for the year are likely to rise.

As Renew Economy also points out, this is the third report in the past month anticipating a bright future for the global solar market: UBS released a report that concluded an “unsubsidized solar revolution” was in the works, “Thanks to significant cost reductions and rising retail tariffs, households and commercial users are set to install solar systems to reduce electricity bills – without any subsidies.” And Macquarie Group argued that costs for rooftop solar in Germany have fallen so far that even with subsidy cuts “solar installations could continue at a torrid pace.”

Here in America, solar power installations boomed over the course of 2011 and 2012, even as the price of solar power systems continued to plunge. To a large extent, the American solar boom has been driven by third party leasing agreements — which are heavily involved in rooftop installation.

Meanwhile, on the international scene, the cost of manufacturing solar panels in China is expected to drop to an all-new low of 42 cents per watt in 2015, and power generated from solar is predicted to undercut that produced by both coal and most forms of natural gas within a decade.

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Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 4, 2013

This article was not about some far off technology of the future. It was about something that is actually occurring now.  This was based not on daydreams or theories, but on an economic forecast from a stodgy bank. Yes solar currently produces a tiny percentage of the world's energy, but it IS following an exponential growth curve - much like computer chip technology, remember what happened there?

"We" have never made a bet on solar. If we had, billions more would have gone to R&D long before now.  "We"' have merely settled for the path of least resistance - fossil. 

What this article says is true. We now stand on the precipice of a future in which solar energy technology (along with a myriad of other once thought fantastic technologies) are about to change the world forever. 

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 5, 2013

I see, a conservative bank's forecasts are in error because they speak of things that will happen two years from now. Got it.

In 2011, GE (a major nuclear manufacturer) made a forecast that solar will be cheaper than fossil in 5 years (by 2016). What do you think the GE analysts meant by that?  Do you disagree?  Why?

A week ago, analysts at Shell oil made a prediction that solar would be the dominant energy source on the planet by the year 2070. Do you think the folks over at Shell are wrong too? Why?

As far as storage goes, are you aware of recent strides, breakthroughs really, in energy storage technology including artificial photosynthesis catalysts and ultracapacitors based on the nano material graphene? What do you think about these advances?  Impossible?


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2013

Stephen, I would like to see a reference to your prediction by Shell analysts, because it's nonsense.

Powering the United States, on average and at any given moment in 2013, requires roughly 1 TW. With solar's meager capacity factor that's 35,000 square miles of solar panels - one third of Arizona - at a cost of hundreds of trillions of dollars. Minus infrastructure, minus storage. The U.S. can't afford it, nor can any other country.

Here's what the GE & Shell "analysts" meant by that: "We talk about solar (as we have for decades) because it makes us sound green".  It's not that they're wrong - they're actually very effective at public relations.

The innumeracy of these rosy scenarios boggles the mind.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 5, 2013
Certainly Bob. The statements were made as part of Shell's "New Lens Scenarios "  report which can be found here...
Of course no one should put a lot of stock in any prediction of the future 50 years hence. Solar as the world's primary energy source  is nonetheless possible. After all,  it has been for the 100s of millions of years before we arrived. And given the current rate of advancement in nano material technologies and catalysts, we are already seeing tantalizing glimpses of such possibilities
Solar is already moving away from panels, Bob. As it becomes cheaper, cheaper even than coal, the key to solar will become SURFACE AREA.  Light falls on every surface, then reflects and scatters. So the collection of photons can happen in three dimensions rather than two.  I'm sure you can see how this would take up far less space than the already outdated solar technology you are referencing. 
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2013

Stephen, there is a finite limit to the amount of solar power which can be recovered at any point on the earth. Assuming no clouds, that limit, as a daily average, is about 250W/m2. You can bounce photons around however you like, but you can't pull more out of thin air - that's all you get.

Add clouds into the mix and you might get 80% of that. Now for efficiency - the best panels on the market today operate (when new) at ~17%. Even with panels that are 100% efficient, you'd be left with thousands of square miles of area necessary to collect enough to run the United States.

Add in line losses, infrastructure, etc, and it should be obvious that there is not remotely enough time, enough resources, or enough sunlight to power the US with it. Humans use hundreds or even thousands of times as much energy as our animal predecessors, and there are 7 billion of us walking the Earth - so any comparison with prehistory is silly.

The longer we look to pixie dust to solve our energy problems, the more rapidly we put our survival in the gravest of dangers.

More on solar irradiance:

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 5, 2013

Dr Daniel Nocera is the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT.  He disagrees with your flat dismissal of the sun's potential.  I'll defer to him on your whole "it's impossible" argument.  

We have thousands of miles of surface area in each of our bodies, Bob. It's a good thing we don't live in  two dimensions.  The total biomass of photosynthetic life on this planet (every last cell powered by the sun) outweighs human biomass by a truly ridiculous ratio. 
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2013

Stephen, I'm familiar Daniel Nocera's work at MIT and if you look at it closely you'll see he doesn't disagree with me at all about the amount of solar energy available for use. He originally published in 2008 (if memory serves me correctly) about artificial photosynthesis using a catalyst. His work is ongoing, and promising, but there have been no breakthroughs which suggest this will prove to be any more practical than photovoltaics at providing electricity.

Your obsession with three dimensions displays a fundamental misunderstanding about the availability of the sun's energy. Though cells in our bodies use chemical energy quite efficiently, turning that energy into electricity is another matter. Our bodies consume about 3kWh a day of chemical energy, but a typical American's activities consume several times that in electricity. In the U.S., despite decades of research and subsidies, we power less than 1% of those activities with the sun.

The bottom line is that we use far more energy in our daily lives than we can practically collect from the sun, and there's no amount of creative bookkeeping or wishful thinking that can change that.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 5, 2013

"Your obsession with three dimensions displays a fundamental misunderstanding about the availability of the sun's energy."



"we use far more energy in our daily lives than we can practically collect from the sun"

This is an error or a deliberate falsehood.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Mar 5, 2013

" Add clouds into the mix and you might get 80% of that. Now for efficiency - the best panels on the market today operate (when new) at ~17%. Even with panels that are 100% efficient, you'd be left with thousands of square miles of area necessary to collect enough to run the United States.

Add in line losses, infrastructure, etc, and it should be obvious that there is not remotely enough time, enough resources, or enough sunlight to power the US with it. "


That is why in Germany, they keep their land mostly free of PV panels, and put them on their government buildings, industrial manufacturing plants, and villa's, so that the produced juice is consumed directly where it is needed, therefore reducing the grid load congestion manifold. And concerning energy efficiency, I do not think the USA has to use that excuse to say PV panels are worthless, after all, your country run dead last on that topic of efficiently applying energy resources ....

By the way, for your navel gazing US folks, there are around 1 Billion people out there without any access to electricity, because their corrupt governments are too poor to pay for centralised power plants and the copper spider web that goes with it.

And yes, poor people over there are finding a solution to that issue, it's to be read hereunder. They are clearly not waiting till 2014 or 2016 or whatever date you throw forward for 'grid parity', since they have other evaluation tools to compare....  No need to reply, I have unchecked the notify me box, since I also have solar PV panels on my home roof, to cover 100% of my electricity needs and 70% of my home heating needs (ground/water heat pump). Another 4 years, and hte whole installation is paid off, and I still will be able to enjoy that power plant on my roof for the next 20 years, at least.

April 8, 2011 - Off-Grid Solar Solutions Shine in Low-income Rural Cambodia.

There are currently over a billion people who live in remote villages and lack access to electricity. Together they spend billions of dollars each year just to have light (using kerosene lamps/candles/batteries/diesel generators...). Solar products such as solar lanterns, small solar systems and solar powered water pumps, are proving to be cheaper solutions for answering their energy needs.

In rural Cambodia, where about 11 million people live beyond the reach of electric grids, most villagers rely on one of two sources for lighting: kerosene lamps, which serve nearly half of this off-grid market, or automobile batteries, which villagers use if they have a bit more money and seek energy for lighting, cell phone charging and watching television.

But there are downsides to these two solutions. Villagers explain that the open flame kerosene lamps often burn their children. And although using automobile batteries is safer, it requires frequent trips to diesel-powered charging stations to recharge the battery.

Currently, for the average family here, fuel expenditures on a kerosene lamp are about $30 annually, while a solar lantern that lasts for two years costs only $25. For richer Cambodians who use more energy, buying a solar home system has proven to be an economic choice compared to automobile batteries. According to the Asian Development Bank, the cost for a solar home system in Cambodia ranges from $200 for a 20-watt system to $600 for an 80-watt one.

Interviews with villagers demonstrate that their investment in solar home systems usually takes three years to pay back. And solar home systems are becoming more cost competitive as diesel fuel costs escalate. During the last six months, the recharging fee of automobile batteries has already gone up by 25 percent due to rising fuel costs in the country.

Payment Solutions Designed for Rural Poor. One popular practice is to partner with local micro loan providers who can loan villagers the money to purchase solar lanterns or solar home systems. Villagers can then gradually repay the loans through savings on kerosene or automobile battery recharging fees.

For those who don’t want the loan, there is another way to embrace solar energy. Last year, a local solar company, Kamworks, rolled out a rental service that allows villagers to rent a solar lantern at a daily rate of 8 cents, roughly the daily rate for kerosene.

Distribution remains a barrier. It is hard to reach and provide after-sales services to villagers scattered in remote areas. It is sometimes villagers themselves who handle the marketing and distribution setbacks. Duc Vy is one such case. After hearing of his friend’s positive experience with solar energy, Duc travelled three hours by bus to the nearest solar company and bought a solar home system. A half-hour training session at the company plus an illustrated guidebook turned the then 53-year-old truck driver into a solar installer, at least for his own house. The solar system has been working well since he mounted it on the roof three years ago, said Duc as he greeted neighbors who came by to watch television powered by the sun.

January 24, 2011 - Inconsistent local solar permitting and inspection processes add an average of over USD 2500 (EUR 1839) per home installation, making it the most stubborn cost US solar installers face.

"Every city and town has its own set of regulations and requirements for solar installations. Our research identifies inconsistencies in local permitting as one of the most critical roadblocks to a sustainable, subsidy-free solar industry," said SunRun CEO and Co-founder Edward Fenster. "To tackle this challenge head-on, the Department of Energy (DOE) can use existing guidelines it has already funded to standardize local permitting and deliver the equivalent of a new USD 1 billion solar subsidy over five years."

By comparison, countries such as Germany have simpler processes that keep solar installation costs 40 percent lower than in the US. Germany reports about one million new home solar power installations in the past two years alone, whereas the total number of homes ever to go solar in the US has just broken 120 000.

SunRun's report recommends the DOE lead a new Residential Solar Permitting Initiative, starting with high-volume cities that impact more than 50% of the solar market. The recommendations include a contest with grant rewards for cities that make the most effective and comprehensive improvements.

(USD 1.0 = EUR 0.735)

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Mar 5, 2013

" A typical capacity utilization for these hundreds of billions of dollars of toxic solar junk, distributed accross the planet, cadmium selenide and tellurides and God knows what else, is something like 10%. "


That is indeed totally correct, IF your PV plant is located in Europe on a latitude equal to Luxembourg. That's in fact what my home solar PV panels produce, with the local 1kW/m2 solar irradiation on average over a year. And the PV panles will last 25 years (warranty) or 50 years, if I am lucky, given that their power production capacity decreases at an average of 0.5% a year, meaning they lose 10% of their power production capacity over 20 years....

Go place the same panels in the tropic, and your 10% will jump up rsignificantly.


Here's an article written in 2010....

Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is Cost-Competitive Now. So some nudnik from the oil or coal industries can stand up and say, PV is 40 c/kWh and not be lying. And I can say it is 13 c/kWh and not be lying, and all without a cent of incentives, not even traditional depreciation. Simply put, there are places and PV systems today that can sell electricity at 13 c/kWh, or even 10 c/kWh, and make an adequate return. They are cost-effective at those prices without a cent of incentives, no carbon price, and not even traditional depreciation. And there is a potential for billions of watts of these systems and, as the years go by, a diffusion of their locations from the sunniest to less sunny places.

Assuming the simplest system, a flat-plate CdTe system like First Solar makes, we can expect about the following properties:

* Cost less than $3/W installed (stated publicly by First Solar VP, Maja Wessels, at our GW Solar Institute annual symposium in April)

* Annual AC output in the US SW of about 1.9 kWh/W (DC) installed (including all losses)

* O&M about $15/kW-yr, including insurance and inverter replacement

* Thus one can calculate annual revenue per watt, at

o 13 c/kWh as 24.7 c/W-yr (multiply 1.9 kWh/W-yr times 13 c/kWh)

o 10 c/kWh as 19 c/W-yr

o Calculate annual gross profit (revenue after subtracting operating costs of $0.015/W) of

+ 24.7 minus 1.5 c/W-yr = 23.2 c/W-yr (at 13 c/kWh)

+ 17.5 c/W-yr (at 10 c/kWh)

+ And calculate first-year return on investment as annual gross profit divided by initial investment (300 c/W)

# 23.2 c/300 c = 7.73% (at 13 c/kWh)

# 17.5/300 = 5.83% (at 10 c/kWh)


Present PV systems have warranties for 25-30 years at under 1% per year degradation, so worst case, this cash flow drops 1% per year. Most PV systems are actually expected to do better, and lose less than 0.5% per year. One could argue for a power purchase agreement to sell the electricity for 10 c/kWh and a 0.5% per year inflation clause and get the 5.83% return indefinitely, like a perpetual bond or an annuity with no end date. Right now, I can’t get 5.83% without selling my soul to Goldman Sachs. How about you?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2013

a v, I'm in agreement with you on residential solar in rural areas, where solar shows a lot of promise. Our original discussion was about the claim that solar could become the dominant energy source in the United States. When Americans adopt a Cambodian or Indian lifestyle (don't hold your breath) would be a good time to resume that discussion.

Contrary to popular assumptions it's certainly not working in Germany, but that's another discussion:

"The Energiewende, it is probably fair to say, is not really about the climate at all. It is about getting rid of nuclear power, a singular obsession of the German Greens since their birth in the European anti-nuclear movement 1970s. With Germany the only Western European nation still intent on building a large amount of additional coal generation capacity (10GW according to some reports), this marks a remarkable policy failure for European environmentalism."

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 7, 2013

This whole "grid parity" business is great news for the solar industry, but bad news for everyone else!  Because solar needs a lot of fossil backup (near 100% in non-desert locations), they do not reduce the capital cost of the remaining electrical system.   So they only contribute to reducing fuel cost.  Reducing peak demand on "most days" doesn't eliminate any power plants nor any power lines.

But fuel for a coal or natural gas plant only costs about $.03/kWh, and nuclear fuel is only about $.02/kWh, much less than the cost of solar.  So how can the "grid" afford to throttle back $.03/kWh fossil fuel power whenever $.15/kWh solar is being generated?  Of course it can't, the economics don't work.  

Eventually, all (non-desert, so those of you in Nevada and Arizona will be ok) utilities will petition the regulators for a rate restructuring.  Instead of billing all costs to users on a per kWh basis (typically $.10-.20/kWh), we'll pay a hefty flat connection charge, and a low per kWh price, like $0.05/kWh.  Not only will this push "grid parity", farther out of reach, but it will discourage energy efficiency improvement.

Like a pyramid scheme, early adoptors of rooftop solar will do fine with several years of low electric bills.  But most buyers will jump in just before the bubble pops.  They'll have big loans for their solar systems, and high electric bills following the "Great Restructuring".

Not that I'm totally against solar.  If you look at the engineering studies from the DOE's NREL labs, they largely assume Americans will avoid the German-styled solar over-commitment.  They assume we do the sensible thing and put the solar panels in the desert where they belong (where they don't need a large percentage fossil backup, don't have many cloudy days per year, and don't have harsh winters).   The difference between desert solar and other locations in not simply a matter of price, but also the required fossil backup capacity and resulting fossil capacity factor.

Jeff Watts's picture
Jeff Watts on Mar 7, 2013

Actually the comments about 3 dimension energy availability show a fundamental misunderstanding of both physics and geometry.

However, that being said we probably can collect enough solar power to provide a substantial amount of our energy supply. The critical factor is and always has been storing solar power. That's a problem that is still outstanding and until we have a real, economically viable solution then solar will remain a niche market.

Currently solar is primarily limited to shaving off peak power demand between the hours of 10am to 2pm with emphasis on replacing air conditioning electrical usage. Beyond that (still substantial) power profile it's economic efficiency dwindles to insignificant or negative.

Jeff Watts's picture
Jeff Watts on Mar 7, 2013

"* Cost less than $3/W installed (stated publicly by First Solar VP, Maja Wessels, at our GW Solar Institute annual symposium in April)"


Frankly, I find this claim to be astonishing. Current costs for just panels alone are nearly $3 per watt and they amount to less than half the typical costs of a retail installation. So I suspect that someone is providing some wishful thinking to arrive at that conclusion.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 7, 2013

Tell it to the trees and the grass of the world, Jeff.  They've been evolving solar energy production into three dimensions since the inception of photosynthetic life on this planet

Better yet, use the tubes of the Internet to find something called Google then enter this phrase "solar energy generation in three dimensions "

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Mar 7, 2013

Stephen Nielsen, I want to welcome your perspective to TEC.

Please consider how optical fibers transforms the solar energy possibilities. Among the cheapest structural material is "fiber glass." Surface areas can be expanded like biology, and solar energy can be collected or chemistry done. The panels out there now are primitive and limited. Optical technology is absolutely not primitive or limited.

Don't let the critics waste your time. That is what they are trying to do.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 8, 2013

Thanks, Rick.  Yes, exactly. And the incredibly abundant creatures that make the best use of glass are diatoms, whose nearly symmetrical, glass shells encase beautiful solar engines.  Nature, though sheer trial and error and vast expanses of time, has discovered hyper efficient, fractal designs.  Now so are we! Biochemical enginees are now hacking these tiny, ultra-abundant solar factories for their secrets. Bio mimicry is just about to take solar to the next level.


Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Mar 8, 2013

Stephen, I was honored to know the guy who kind of started the word "biomimetics." His name was Otto Schmitt, Prof. of Biophysics at the U of MN. In the 1920s,30s he copied the nerve "action potential" and modeled it using tube electronics. It is still called the "Schmitt trigger" and we owe digital electronics to learning from where we can. He worked on radar before WWII, TVs, EKGs, EEGs, biomedical engineering, etc. And his sweet wife always had hot tea and cookies for grad students.

Few people seem to want to learn anymore. It must be boring being so smart and superior. I never, ever saw Otto NOT eager to learn more, and enjoy doing it. This is a different world today. I think you are looking in the right direction.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 8, 2013

Rick, Otto Schmitt does indeed sound like an amazing man. He must have had an amazing capacity to avoid ideas which violate the laws of physics, and dedicate himself to ones which show real promise.

It does take a bit more than an open mind.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 8, 2013

This report says that in the US in mid 2012, utility scale solar was about $3/W, but residential was closer to $5/W.

I have seen reports from US Gov labs that mentioned that residential prices are noticeable lower in Germany.  They didn't offer much explaination, other than the Germans apparently don't mind low pay and  low profit margins.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 8, 2013

Or so you assume, Bob... without specifying precisely which ideas did so or how they they did so.  Why is that?  Why so vague? Have you gotten in touch with those MIT biochemists and professors of energy to tell them how wrong they are about this, Bob?

How about grass, Bob? Have you told all the blades of grass in the world that they're growing all wrong and should instead lie flat against the ground? 

I K's picture
I K on Mar 26, 2013

A large solar plant will produce eletricity for 40 Euro / MWh if you assume

10% derisked return
20% capacity factor (achieveable in spain/italy etc)
200 full time equivlant employee per 1,000MWp
1.5% solar panel failure&degrading
3.5% inflation

At a cost of 850 Euro / KWp fully installed it would generate for 40Euro/MWh which is the marginal cost of coal/gas in europe. That price of 850 Euro/KWp is actually close to what it costs in europe. Residential rooftop systems are installed for 1,500 euro per kW so a large ground system would be a lot lower.

The mistake most people make is to assume once you install the system its capital value is zero, which is silly. Others calculate it as after 25 years its capital value is zero which again is silly. Once you build a 1GW nuclear plant its not worth zero. A solar PV systems value drops by its failure and degrading this instance assumed to be 1.5% a year. But the price of its output increases by general inflation, in this case assumed to be 3.5%. So the actual capital value of the plant increases by aprox 2% in nominal terms (-1.5% in real terms)

So solar is already cheaper than the grid price (abou 150euro/MWh) and is very close to being cheaper than fossil fuels.

The only problem is few banks would lend on the basis of the above becuase they dont know how long these PV systems will really last. They dont have absolute beliefe in the 1.5% degrade/failure rate. And they dont know what the secondary market prices for PV stations will be. However over the next decade as the failure rates are established and a secondary market for PV stations is clear then the economics would completely change.

Also just to note, even if you assume a 3.5% failure/degrade rate (so over 40 years the output falls 75%) , you can produce eletricity at 40Euro/MWh at a price of 675Euro/kWp and again that price is not that far from what we are at.

A big part of solar PV station battle is to show that it does not degrade more than about 3% a year and that a good secondary market will exist.

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