Solar and storage means “game over” for traditional utilities  

Posted by Big Gav in

ReNew Economy has a pair of posts on the problems posed by the combination of renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicles to existing energy utilities - Solar and storage means “game over” for traditional utilities and How solar and EVs will kill the last of the industry dinosaurs.

Last Friday’s story about the predictions of Stanford University energy expert Tony Seba that solar would displace fossil fuels by 2030 – and how electric vehicles would do the same to liquid fuels – certainly generated a lot of readership, and a big response.

Some questioned whether we should be taking the opinion of just one academic at his word. So we’ve followed up with some quotes from two of the most senior energy chiefs in the US, the world’s biggest electricity market. And the predictions are just as striking.

Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates utilities in the US, said in an interview last week that solar will “overtake everything”, and said that once storage is brought in to the equation it is pretty much “game over” for traditional forms of generation. “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” he told Greentech Media on the sidelines of the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

He noted that in the next 2.5 years, the US will double its entire cumulative capacity of distributed solar built up over the previous four decades, and the installation cost of solar would continue to plunge from its current level of $4-$5 a watt, to $2 a watt and $1 a watt.

“At its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there,” he said. “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”

That is an extraordinary comment by the head of the US energy regulator, and not one you will hear in Australia, even though the level of penetration of rooftop solar is much higher, the installed cost of solar much lower (Australia has fewer “soft” costs and is already at around $A2/watt), and the retail price of solar is much higher.

But Welinghoff’s comments fit in with what the heads of his country’s biggest independent generation and utility companies have said about the potential of solar to change the game. That is just starting to dawn in Australia, where the market operator and utilities admit an increasing impact from solar, and state energy ministers are admitting that they are struggling to cope.

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