Solar, the most attractive power generation source once again in 2019

FuturENERGY July-September 2020

In 2019, the global solar power sector returned to a two-digit growth path, increasing by 13% to 116.9 GW to set a new annual installation record. This growth helped solar expand its annual share among all other power generation technologies to 48%. In other words, almost half of the global net power plant capacity installed in 2019 was based on PV technology. While solar’s combined electricity output reached a mere 2.6%, this highlights the immense growth potential, which is increasingly in reach. These are some of the main conclusions of the report “Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2020- 2024”, released last June by SolarPower Europe (SPE). This article sets out these and other interesting findings from the report.

 Analysis from various sources substantiates the fact that utility-scale solar is often the lowest cost power generation technology, with costs continuing to fall. The latest LCOE analysis, version 13.0, released in November 2019 by US investment bank Lazard, shows utility-scale solar’s cost improving over the previous version by 7%. Utility-scale solar is again cheaper than new conventional power generation sources nuclear and coal, as well as combined-cycle gas turbine. However, solar has started to compete with another fossil fuel segment: gas turbines used to meet peak demand. With the rapidly decreasing cost for batteries, solar plus storage can outcompete gas peakers, depending on regional and framework conditions. Last year in Arizona, for example, a utility ordered a 100 MW/4-hour battery storage system to provide peaking capacity for its solar power generation fleet.

Only one year after several tenders saw solar-winning bids enter the 2 US cent/kWh level, the next frontier was reached in 2019, when solar tariffs in the 1 US cent range were reported from four different regions: Latin America, North America, Europe and the Middle East. The world’s lowest solar power contract was awarded in Portugal’s first solar energy auction in August 2019 at 1.65 US cents/kWh for a 150 MW system, to French PV company Akuo, beating the lowest solar bid of 1.69 US cents/ kWh achieved in Brazil’s A-4 New Energy Auction only a month earlier. A third 1 cent range deal was claimed in November, at 1.7 US cents/kWh for a 900 MW part of Dubai’s Rashid al Maktoum Solar Park, which is targeted to reach 5 GW by 2030.