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Big Meets Small – What I Learned about Solar at the Annual MIT Energy Conference

March 11, 2016 / Jill Feblowitz / Conferences, Distributed Energy Resources, Solar

The MIT Energy Initiative’s annual energy conference has it all.  It’s the place to be for a global view of the latest discussions about policy, research and development, commercialization of new technologies and business models, navigating energy finance, energy markets and so on.  The 2016 conference was no exception.  There is always something new to learn, especially in a learning environment.  In the context of this year’s theme –  Big Meets Small: A New Era Emerges – the discussion about solar ranged from big (utility-scale solar farms) to small (residential and small community).

Everyone has heard the story on what has driven the growth in solar – lower prices, greater panel efficiency, renewable portfolio standards (RPS), tax credits (ITC) and accelerated depreciation (MACRS), third party ownership, new financing methods, etc.  It is also widely accepted that the value of solar will increase as battery technology advances and the cost of storage decreases.  Shifting demand – taking advantage of the duck curve – is also recognized as important.

There are always new things to learn, however.  Here are 5 new things I learned (some of you may already know them!):

  1. Not only have panel prices dropped, but installation costs have dropped as modular design speeds installation and companies, like SolarCity, find deployment efficiencies.
  2. More than half of solar capacity in the US is installed outside the RPS standards.
  3. Solar is being talked about in 20 states that are attempting to value distributed energy resources; as solar increases its penetration at distribution “nodes”, solar value will drop.
  4. Manufacturing is at scale and technology has improved, so there are fewer efficiencies to be gained. The industry will need to go back to the lab and support the development of technologies like thin-film and roll to roll manufacturing.
  5. Moving panels as the sun moves yields more energy;  west facing panels produce energy at times that are aligned with demand – i.e. solar panels producing energy later in the day when residents arrive home.


This piece was drawn from The Innovation Roadmap for Solar, moderated by Dr. Sriram Krishnan, Director, PHOTON Consulting, Shayle Kann, Director, GTM Research, Francesco Venturini, CEO and General Manager, Enel Green Power and Dr. Francis O’Sullivan, Director of Research MIT Energy Initiative and Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan.  By the way, take a look at the MIT Energy Initiative on The Future of Solar.  It’s worth reading.

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