Despite its recent growth, solar power remains an expensive energy alternative and accounts for only a small percentage of electricity generation in Massachusetts. If the state is going to make sharp reductions in carbon emissions as well as enjoy healthy economic growth, solar generation will have to be greatly expanded. But given the already high cost of electricity in Massachusetts, it is critical to obtain solar power as cost-effectively as possible to ensure that all consumers benefit.
In a recent study, an MIT team that I led presented a set of policy changes to make solar more affordable. The study shows that because of current policies, we are paying a good deal more for solar electricity than we need to. Residential solar systems are significantly more expensive per unit of capacity than utility-scale systems — about 70 percent more expensive on a levelized-cost basis. In addition, high levels of residential solar penetration often require substantial investments in distribution systems.
Residential solar continues to grow robustly, nonetheless, in large part because it is more heavily subsidized than utility-scale solar. The main federal subsidy, the investment tax credit, has just been extended for an additional five years. Since the amount of the tax credit is directly proportional to system cost, residential systems, which are more expensive on a per-unit of capacity basis, receive larger tax credits per unit of capacity than megawatt-scale, utility systems. This translates into a higher subsidy per kilowatt-hour of residential solar electricity, paid by taxpayers.
Few product launches in recent memory have captured as much attention as last week’s unveiling of the Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle (EV), Tesla’s first vehicle pitched at the mass market.
Orders were flooding in even before Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the car to a giddy audience last Thursday evening, with prospective buyers queuing at Tesla stores throughout the day to place a deposit on a vehicle they might not even receive for two years or more.
The Model 3 is really important for the future of Tesla and the future of EVs. It promises the sales growth that automotive wunderkind Tesla needs to survive and renews interest in a technology that is yet to have significant real-world impact. Yet even with the introduction of Tesla’s flashy new sedan, more pieces need to be in place before the EV market goes truly mainstream.
Battery prices dropping
When the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle hit U.S. showrooms in December 2010, the price of gasoline was rising, and so were expectations for the future of EVs.
Such has been the remarkable success of Tesla Motors that news of its production and financing challenges came as a surprise for some. Tesla plans to raise an additional $640 million from capital markets, and downgraded its 2015 delivery forecast by up to 5,000 vehicles, citing potential complications with supplier qualification and the ramp up of manufacturing for the Model X SUV.
This news serves as a timely reminder of the enormity of the challenge that Tesla is pursuing in bringing its high-performance electric vehicles to market. Basically, building cars is a very expensive business. A new vehicle costs at least $1 billion in development and tooling, and Tesla is developing two new vehicles concurrently (the Model X SUV and the smaller Model 3).
The world’s population is expected to increase from 7 billion today to 9 or 10 billion by the end of the century, according to the United Nations. We also can expect more pressure on the food supply as people in the developing world adopt middle class lifestyles, which usually involve eating more meat. To satisfy global demand, we will need to roughly double today’s output, which means getting smarter about how we produce and manage food.
The good news is that innovation is coming to the farm. Advanced information technology, improved communications systems, robotics, drones, and other new technologies have the potential to boost agricultural yields and reduce waste while tempering environmental degradation.
Lee Ullmann, Director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office Office of International Programs
Approximately 34 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean don’t have electricity in their homes and 75% of the regional energy matrix relies on nonrenewable sources of energy, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). However, increasing access to energy and increasing renewable energies and efficiency are critical for sustainable development. In recognition of this major need, the United Nations has made it a goal to make sustainable energy for everyone a reality by 2030 in its Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) global initiative. Read More »