Plummeting kWh Cost for Solar-Generated Power

March 20, 2014
Federal target is $0.06 per kWh.

The utility-scale PV industry in the U.S. is more than 60% of the way to achieving a federal target of $0.06 per kWh, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011. It aims to make solar energy competitive with fossil-based sources by the end of the decade. DOE estimates that the average U.S. price for energy from a utility-scale PV facility has dropped from approximately $0.21/kWh in 2010 to $0.11/kWh at the end of 2013. U.S. utilities installed a record 2.3 gigawatts of solar power in 2013.

In addition to PV projects, DOE supports concentrating solar power technology (CSP).

In February, Energy Secretary Ernest Moriz dedicated the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert. Ivanpah produces electricity the same way as most of the world’s electricity is produced – by creating high-temperature steam to turn a conventional turbine. However, it uses solar rather than fossil fuels to create the steam.

Ivanpah concentrates solar power from more than 300,000 sun-tracking mirrors that focus their rays on boilers atop three 459-foot tall towers. The concentrated sunlight creates superheated steam in the boilers that is piped to a conventional turbine at the base of each tower.

Most of the power generated by Ivanpah, which has an estimated gross capacity of 393 MW, will be sold under long-term power purchase agreements to Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. The Ivanpah plant is a cooperative venture of three firms: Brightsource Energy, NRG Energy, and Google.

One of the benefits of the expanding solar industry is the impact on the U.S. job market. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013 finds solar jobs increased nearly 20% since the fall of 2012. That increase is 10 times the national average job growth rate. Currently the U.S. has some 140,000 solar workers.

In February DOE announced $25 million in new funding for PV and CSP.

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