Oct 5, 2017

IEA expert on Trump, tariffs and solar

Solar panels that are part of the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association's community gardens. Photo: Jim Mone / AP

We caught up by phone Wednesday with Paolo Frankl, who leads the International Energy Agency's renewable division, to talk about the group's just-released report and more. The highlights:

Beating expectations: "If someone just a few years ago would have told me that in the year 2017 we will be saying that solar is the first choice of new power capacity ahead of coal, I would have responded, 'you're kidding. ' "

Big picture: "We are speaking about solar entering a new era, but in terms of percentage of global electricity, it is still 1.5%."

On President Trump's policies & domestic renewables: "I may be proven wrong, but in my honest view, the drivers in favor of renewables remain very strong at the business, state and local levels."

Yes, but: "I see for the moment a limited impact," Frankl says. Two specifics:

  1. Potential tariffs on imported solar equipment could increase costs for the domestic industry, but the impact would be limited because "the rest of the system is the biggest chunk of the price," Frankl says.
  2. If the industry's investment tax credit is repealed earlier than currently scheduled as part of broader tax reform, "that would have an impact," Frankl says.

Gritty details: "The question about system integration of wind and solar, we hear many wrong things," Frankl says. "Like, 'You can't do solar without storage.' False." Battery storage of electricity is one way to ensure the intermittent resources of wind and solar seamlessly integrate into an electricity grid, he says. Bigger factors are more flexible grid systems and other resources that can ramp up and down quickly, like natural gas.

Go deeper: Axios story on the IEA renewables report, and the report itself.

Go deeper