Foreword to the Japanese edition of “Solar Trillions”
On a clear afternoon on May 25th, 2012, solar in Germany generated 22GW, which represented a third of the whole country’s power needs . This broke the world record. The following afternoon, solar generated 50% of Germany’s power, again breaking the previous world record. At the same time, solar drove German wholesale electricity costs DOWN by more than 40% in 2012 compared with 2008. This represented more than €5 billion ($6.7 billion) in cost savings – assuming that the utilities passed the savings on to consumers.
These facts have shattered myths and misinformation that utilities persist in telling you: that solar is expensive, that the grid cannot sustain more than a small percent of clean energy, and that solar is not ready to scale.
Much has happened in the energy world since “Solar Trillions” was initially published in the United States three years ago. The most important event for my Japanese readers is certainly the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. This nuclear disaster makes reading this book even more vital. That is why we decided to offer the eBook version for FREE. After you read this book please tell all your friends about it. Feel free to email them an electronic copy or point them to where they can download it. Download it from Google Books here: http://bit.ly/ZeWHBl or from the Apple iTunes iBookstore soon.
Solar Keeps Growing Exponentially
The solar installed base continues to grow at exponential rates of more than 50% per year globally. In the United States solar wattage has doubled every year over the last three years.
Germany continues to be the world’s leading adopter of solar. As of October, 2012, there were 31 GW of solar connected to the grid. This is the peak power equivalent of 31 nuclear power plants. The country’s maximum monthly power production from conventional sources in 2012 ranged from 50 GW to 65 GW . In July, 2012, it became fairly common for solar to generate between 20% and 35% of the country’s total power needs.
Europe continues its commitment to clean energy. In 2011 fully 69% of all the new power plant capacity in Europe was either solar or wind: 48% solar and 21% wind. Spain built the world’s first baseload (24/7) solar power plant in July 2011. This 17MW solar plant has 15 hours of molten salt energy storage that generates electricity at anytime during the day or night – at 11pm, 1am, or 3am. I was there soon after it opened. Read about it on my blog here: http://bit.ly/W9es7w .
The United States is building a massive solar infrastructure of both concentrating solar power (CSP) and Photovoltaics. The US has more than 4,200 MW of projects under construction and more than 23,000 MW under development.  That is just for plants greater than 1 MW and does not include residential or commercial sizes. New Silicon Valley solar companies such as SolarCity, SunRun, and Sungevity are building hundreds of thousands of home and commercial solar. SolarCity recently went public at a valuation of more than $1 billion – and has gone up since.
In 2013 we should see the opening of the world’s largest baseload solar power plant (110MW) in Nevada (which will power Las Vegas into the evening hours) and the world’s largest solar plant (392MW) in California. MidAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway acquired what will be the world’s largest solar power plant (579 MW) when it opens in 2015. Since this company is run by Warren Buffet, probably America’s most successful investor, it may signal the mainstream acceptance of solar.
In the meantime, solar costs continue to drop, sometimes dramatically. In 2011 alone solar PV panels costs went down by 50% followed by more than 20% in 2012. Solar is already cheaper than what electricity consumers pay their utilities in dozens of markets around the world. The market price of solar panels is below 70 ¢/W. Some think (or hope) that this cost will ‘stabilize’ or even go up. I have seen business plans for solar panels at less than 50 ¢/W next year. The total capital cost of building a utility scale solar power plant has dropped below $2. Gerlicher Solar announced that they will build a 250 MW solar plant in Spain without any subsidies. Solar is already cheaper than the grid in much of Spain so this company feels comfortable that solar can compete with conventional sources of energy without financial help from the government.
Saudi Arabia has announced that they will deploy 41,000 MW of solar (the peak equivalent of 41 nuclear power plants) – at a cost of $109 billion. Why? They’re burning oil to produce electricity for things like water desalination. Instead of burning oil that they can sell for $100 per barrel (or more) in the open market they will use solar which produces electricity at a small fraction of the cost – equivalent to less than $20 per barrel.
By 2015 it is expected that unsubsidized solar will be cheaper than the grid for more than two thirds of American consumers. This means that more than 40 million homes will have to make a decision of whether they pay less for clean solar or more for dirty gas, coal, and nuclear that they buy from the utilities. The decision will not be about being green but about saving green (dollars). This residential market alone may be worth a trillion dollars (Solar Trillions.) The US commercial solar market may be larger. Similar trillion dollar market opportunities await around the world.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Disaster
Needless to say, Japan has lived through the tragic Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster. While there is very little positive that can be said about this type of tragedy, it has proved that nuclear is dangerous, expensive, and dirty – and that the country can live without nuclear.
Japanese citizens are not just paying for this disaster with their lives and their health but also with their wallets. The cleanup has already officially cost Japanese taxpayers more than $100 billion dollars  and will likely end up costing many times that over the next few decades.
Japanese taxpayers have learned that they are personally insuring the nuclear industry. This is because nuclear is uninsurable. Private insurance companies insure buildings like the new Freedom Tower in New York City (which was built on the site of the former World Trade Center towers.) Private insurance companies insure against the risk of hurricanes and airplane accidents – but they will not insure nuclear. Why? After more than six decades of data on nuclear power plants they know the risks. Not a single insurance company has stepped forward to cover the full costs of a nuclear accident. Not in Japan, not in the US, not in Germany. They know nuclear is too dangerous too insure. So taxpayers bear the costs.
A study commissioned by the German government reports that if a private insurance company were to insure a nuclear plant, the premium would amout to 0.139 €/kWh (19.9 ¢/kWh) to 2.36 €/kWh ($3.39 ¢/kWh). That is, it would cost even more to insure nuclear than to generate nuclear. The report also concluded that
1. It would cost up to €19.6 billion ($25.1 billion) to insure a single 1 GW nuclear plant, and
2. The expected damage value of a nuclear disaster (in Germany) is 5,756 billion Euro ($8.27 Trillion).
Compare that with Germany’s Gross National Product (GDP) which was about $3.57 trillion in 2011. This means that a nuclear disaster would cost Germans more than the value of their whole economy for two years. In order words, a nuclear disaster could bankrupt one of the largest economies in the world.
Faced with such daunting data Germans decided to shut down eight nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster and their whole nuclear industry by 2022. Most countries in Europe have accelerated the nuclear phase-out process that they started after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Italy held a referendum in 2011 where 94% of voters rejected nuclear.
Nuclear is uninsurable. But insurance aside, isn’t nuclear supposed to be cheap? Not quite. When the utilties say that nuclear is ‘cheap’ and generates power at 6 ¢/kWh or 9 ¢/kWh, or whatever magic accounting number they come up with, they are talking about power plants that were built in the 1970s or 1980s and have been paid for. (Fukushima Dai-ichi was commissioned in 1971.) Nuclear costs have escalated consistently over the last thirty to forty years. It is up to ten times more expensive to build a nuclear power plant today than it was back then. A new nuclear power plant will produce power at somewhere between 25 ¢/kWh and 30 ¢/kWh. According to FirsSolar CEO James Hughes, a new solar power plant (without government subsidies) can produce power at about 10 ¢/kWh to 14 ¢/kWh depending on size, technology, solar radiation and interest rates.  Also, you can put up solar on your rooftop in hours or days. It takes at least ten years to build a new nuclear power plant.
This means four things:
1. New nuclear power generation is almost twice as expensive as the total costs of generating solar (or wind.) That doesn’t include nuclear insurance (which taxpayers subsidize separately).
2. It would be more expensive just to insure nuclear than the total cost of generating solar (or wind.)
3. If you add the cost of generation and private insurance, nuclear would be up to ten times more expensive than solar.
4. Nuclear is getting more expensive while solar is getting cheaper.
Politicians or energy executives who say to you that ‘nuclear is cheap’ or ‘solar is expensive’ probably have their hands in your pockets – or will soon.
The time for solar is now
In Germany solar is already cheaper than utility power (“grid parity). Japan is sunnier on average than Germany, so the cost of solar electricity should be lower in Japan than in Germany. Solar in Japan will be cheaper than what consumers pay the utilities (“grid parity”) by 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That’s only two years away!
Speaking in my clean energy class at Stanford last year, Danny Kennedy, the President of Silicon Valley solar installer Sungevity, said that 78% of his customers start saving money on day one. Since then the cost of solar panels has gone down more than 30%.
Located next door to Stanford University where I teach, the city of Palo Alto recently signed a 25-year deal to buy solar power for about 7.7 ¢/kWh. Compare this number to what your utility is telling you that solar will cost. Also, look at your power bill and see how much you’re paying. They’ll tell you that solar is too expensive and that Japan is not a sunny county. Consider this: the solar Feed-In-Tariff in Germany is between 11.28 Eurocents/kWh (14 Yen/kWh) for large solar plants and 16.28 Eurocents/kWh (20.3 ¥/kWh) for installations smaller than 10 kW (homes or small businesses). That is, solar in Germany is already cheaper than what homes in Japan are paying for dirty nuclear and fossil power. Germany is less sunny than Japan. Ask your utility why you’re paying more for dirty power than what Germans are paying for clean solar power.
The time to go solar is now. Learn more in this book and spread the word. Solar is not just the future of energy. It’s the present.
For more information, videos, and the latest news, check out my blog (tonyseba.com/blog), YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/tonyseba), join the Solar Trillions facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SolarTrillions), or follow me on twitter (tonyseba).
Again, that is why we decided to offer the Japanese eBook version of Solar Trillions for FREE. After you read this book please tell all your friends about it. Feel free to email them an electronic copy or point them to where they can download it. Download it from Google Books here: http://bit.ly/ZeWHBl or from the Apple iTunes iBookstore soon. You can also purchase the print version (http://amzn.to/ZGlfTq) or Kindle version on Amazon.com.
 Renewable Analytics: “Effects of PV Electricity Generation on Wholesale Power Prices – Analysis March – July 2012”
 Renewable Analytics – “German Case Study Grid Adaptation to Intermittent Power Sources”, presentation at Solar Exchange West, August 2012
 “Wind in Power”, “2011 European Statistics”, Feb 2012, European Wind Energy Association, http://www.ewea.org/statistics/
 Report URL: http://www.bee-ev.de/_downloads/publikationen/studien/2011/110511_BEE-Studie_Versicherungsforen_KKW.pdf