Erin Baker, Meredith Fowlie, Derek Lemoine, and Stanley Reynolds “The Economics of Solar Electricity” (April 2013) (Revised version published in the Annual Review of Resource Economics, 5(1): 397-426, 2013) | WP-240R | Blog Post

The benefits and costs of increasing solar electricity generation depend on the scale of the increase and on the timeframe over which it occurs. Short-run analyses focus on the cost-effectiveness of incremental increases in solar capacity, holding the rest of the power system fixed. Solar’s variability adds value if its power occurs at high-demand times and displaces relatively carbon-intensive generation. Medium-run analyses con- sider the implications of non-incremental changes in solar capacity. The cost of each installation may fall through experience effects, but the cost of grid integration increases when solar requires ancillary services and fails to displace investment in other types of generation. Long-run analyses consider the role of solar in reaching twenty- first century carbon targets. Solar’s contribution depends on the representation of grid integration costs, on the availability of other low-carbon technologies, and on the potential for technological advances. By surveying analyses for dfferent time horizons, this paper begins to connect and integrate a fairly disjointed literature on the economics of solar energy.