dinsdag 2 november 2010

What will happen at “grid parity”? We need “Solar As a Service”

"Grid parity" is considered the holy grail for the pv industry: the moment in time and place where the cost of solar electricity equals the price of electricity from the grid. The long awaited moment when solar PV will be able to compete (without subsidies or other incentives) with fossil generated electricity. But, what will actually happen when this mark in time is reached?

First of all, there is no 'one' grid parity for the solar industry. It will depend on various variables, like region (local sun shine conditions), the local cost of grid electricity
and the actual price of a PV system (varying per application and country due
to different cost for permits etc.).

Solar electricity is not an Apple gadget
Grid parity will be achieved sooner in Southern Italy than Germany for residential applications (more sunshine, higher electricity rates and, sometimes, higher cost for permits) than in Germany. Actually, grid parity is close (maybe even within 2
years) for home owners in the South of Italy.
Will these lucky Italians run to their installer when grid parity is reached? I am afraid not...
There is an important hurdle to take: will these lucky Italians in 2013 have the 6000 euro on the shelf to buy their money making 3 kWp solar energy system? They probably can save a few euro’s per month, admitted, for the next 20 years. But I’m afraid that it will not convince them. Like other people, electricity is not their top-priority. Electricity is not an Apple gadget, but a commodity. A natural thing that is supposed to be available all the time. Not something to worry about. A commodity that will be available anyway, green or not. Probably the Italians  will be more concerned about tickets for the next football game, which is typically not a commodity, providing more pleasure (emotion and passion). For most Italians, like others with a grid connection, having a PV system is not their dream or lifetime fulfilment. Except maybe for the green and environmental oriented people and some technology geeks. But this is (still) a minority group and won’t make the solar PV market boom.

The ‘energy utilities of tomorrow’
The critical challenge for PV market development at, or even just before, grid parity is the financing. Almost half of the modules is put up a residential roof. So, the financing of such a PV system for private households is the new business opportunity. So, how can the solar industry reach the masses to create a real market boom?

The most logic way is by offering a simple and compelling service: selling cheaper electricity for a fixed price during the next 20 years. It is time for ‘the energy utilities of tomorrow’. Where you pay less per month, still are secured for permanent electricity supply and can show off with your own green power system on your roof. Without any upfront investment. The new energy utilities will take care of all the risks and hassle: investment, system design, installation, financing, maintenance, billing, etc.

Solar As a Service
Grid parity will mean the start of a new era opening up many business opportunities for lease companies and for the financing industry, offering new types of PV mortgages and other financing products. This also means that the solar pv market development will not depend on the brand, size or price of solar modules. To reach the critical mass of customers, more companies are needed to sell the new financial services. The pv industry, for good reason, has been very focused on technology. But what is needed next to let the market really boom, are (new) players selling solar as a money saving service. Like the software industry, we switch to SAS: Solar As a Service. This means that many new companies are needed to develop the market. The industry will have to switch its focus. Electrical installers, are not born financial service companies. It will take time to develop this new business infrastructure.

Solar is all about saving money
At grid parity, customers will be able to save a few euro’s on their monthly energy bill. But, this will not offer them the high returns like in the good old times with high feed-in tariffs. Grid parity without further incentives will not inspire the many investors. In the residential sector, a new market and customer group will have to be explored. And this will take time. My forecast is that, at grid parity, the solar PV market will continue to grow substantially, every year again. But, without incentives, an enormous grid-parity market boom does not seem logic. Unless, of course, the oil price jumps to $200 in 2 years (who knows?) and solar becomes so attractive....But, even such a case, I expect the financing to be critical.

In the near future, PV systems will be sold to the mass as a smart way to save money without any hassle. Solar energy as a service. Financially attractive. The money you save, you can use to visit more often the arena supporting your favourite football team. 

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