These are the six solar energy trends to watch in the 2020s
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For the last five years “repowering” solar sites has been expected to be the next big thing in large-scale projects, or the revamp and replacement of older parts.
Market researcher Wood Mackenzie says this should actually begin to take off in this decade as the global solar base ages.
“The repowering of solar systems allows for production of more electricity while using existing land, interconnection points and other infrastructure, leading to a lower levelised cost of electricity (LCOE),” analyst Lindsay Cherry said.
“From 2020 to 2030, the potential market for solar repowering sites that have reached 20 years of operation could hit 67 GWdc (gigawatts direct current) cumulatively. This could be a major boon for asset owners, O&M providers and solar component manufacturers.
“With the advent of more efficient and less expensive technology, repowering may even pencil out for sites younger than 20 years,” she said.
The market researcher says the coming decade in solar will be defined by six key trends:
The way towards lowering the LCOE, a measure of a power source that allows comparison with different methods of electricity generation, is through technological improvements, senior analyst Xiaojing Sun says.
She says panels are likely to start using a kind of technology which improves performance in low light and reduces degradation caused by high temperatures, as well as integrate data analytics software and real-time performance monitoring.
Warranties of 30 years for modules will put solar power plants’ lifetime on par with that of natural gas combined-cycle plants.
The Australian solar industry has some of the cheapest energy generation in the world as some solar projects were reaching a LCOE as low as $27-36 per megawatt-hour (MWh) late last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
BNEF global data showed average LCOE for solar in November was $51/MWh and for onshore wind $47/MWh, down 11 per cent and 6 per cent respectively from six months earlier.
Wood Mackenzie says solar energy as a standalone application will become less relevant this decade.
“Utilities are likely to turn to solar-plus-storage instead of solar-only procurements to provide more dispatchable capacity on their grids. Recent utility solar-plus-storage procurements in the US give a good preview of what’s to come during the new decade in system design,” it said.
Sun says any “sudden do-away” of tariffs would damage the US and South East Asian solar panel industries, but be a boon to consumers and Chinese manufacturers.
As of January 2020, solar modules sold in the US were on average 45 per cent more expensive than in other major developed countries due to three different solar-related tariffs.
“If the US were to remove all tariffs on imported solar modules today, system prices would go down by nearly 30 per cent,” Sun said.
“In the no tariff scenario, utility-scale solar in the US would cost less than $1/Wdc to build in 2020, two years earlier than its current cost trajectory.
“On the contrary, if the US decided to repeat the same set of tariffs for another round, by 2026 it could cost twice as much to buy solar modules in the US than in Europe or Canada.”
More artificial intelligence, internet of things technologies, 5G, and fully automated production lines could slash costs and make solar panels and their manufacture much more efficient.
But with this would also come rising cybersecurity threats.
“Security experts view an attack on the electricity grid as imminent, which could have serious and far-reaching implications for the solar industry,” Cherry said.
“The growth of distributed energy resources is of particular concern.”