Skip to comments.Solar power costs dropping, nearing competition
Posted on 06/22/2007 6:06:55 AM PDT by Uncledave
Solar power costs dropping, nearing competition Thu Jun 21, 2007 3:35PM EDT
By Rebekah Kebede
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Solar energy is fast closing the price gap with conventional U.S. power sources and is likely to drop to near even in cost in many regions in the next few years, industry sources said this week.
Price declines for the clean energy have been driven by the ramp up in production of solar cells and panels and advances in technology that have increased the cells' efficiency.
Under current laws that expire in 2008, installation of solar power systems are subsidized by a 30 percent investment tax credit that helps narrow the gap between the cost of 20 to 40 cents per kwh and typical U.S. retail electricity costs of about 10.5 cents per kwh.
Congress is debating a possible extension and expansion of current solar subsidies as part of a broader energy legislation package.
But much of solar's viability hinges on whether the systems can feed power directly into the grid systems used by utilities, Michael Ahern, CEO of solar module manufacturer First Solar Inc., told Reuters Wednesday at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum.
Currently, utilities can buy power from low-cost coal-fired plants for around 4 cents per kilowatt, and sell the power to households and business at about 12 cents per kwh, although prices can be much higher during peak usage hours, said Ahearn.
However, in a supply-constrained market such as California, Ahearn said, power prices ranged from 12 to 23 cents per kwh, making solar nearly competitive.
First Solar hopes to offer retail energy buyers competitive power prices of 8 to 11 cents per kwh as early as 2010, Ahearn said.
"If we can hit 8 to 10 cents, I think we're going to open some markets," he said.
With power prices climbing and the cost of solar power falling, the outlook for solar energy is bright, said Alf Bjorseth, CEO of Swedish company Scatec.
In some markets, solar energy is already a cost effective source of power, Bjorseth said, and that trend is set to expand, especially in larger markets.
New technologies such as thin film solar modules and the use of nanotechnology will further boost solar energy affordability, according to company executives at the conference.
Tempering that optimism, however, were several challenges to the industry, including a shortage of the silicon that is used to make solar modules, which has hampered industry growth, said Bjorseth.
The regulatory environment may also prove to be an obstacle to solar power, according to Ahearn.
Investing in new solar installations also remained risky because no clear regulatory framework existed to compare how renewables would fare economically over the long-term against more conventional sources, even with federal subsidies, Ahearn said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Daily)
In Israel, solar hot water is just a 55 gal drum on a roof. I’ll bet it is a lot more elaborate here.
Same principle, but the systems use tubes of water vs. tanks. The tubes are heated and cycled to the hot water storage tank. There's some nifty ways the modern systems trap and concentrate the heat (glycol solutions, evacuated tubes, reflective parabolas, etc), but at their core they're simple systems. Not much to break, and quite efficient.
Although most applications are for domestic hot water use, you can supply a heating system as well which some folks do, such as with radiant floor heating. It might not be enough during the winter to heat the water fully to heat the whole house, but it can boost the water temp from 50 degrees to something higher than that, which saves energy.
Typing too fast. I meant the WATER in the tubes is heated...
How much power would that store?
“# More concentrated ‘solar power plants’ will be built in the Southwest, providing clean electricity for millions of homes and businesses around the region. According to Sandia National Labs, costs are predicted to fall to about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020, a price competitive with new coal- or gas-fired power plants.”
Cover the whole state of Nevada to power Las Vegas ? Not quite.
You get basically 10 watts per square foot from a PV, and you can count on 5 hours per day as an average in Nevada. So 5wh per square foot, or 140Mwh per square mile per day. That’s enough for 5,000 homes. If you covered a square 100 miles on a side, you’d have power for 50 million homes. 200 miles on a side and you’d have enough power for all the homes in America. 300 miles on a side and you’d have enough electric power for all homes and businesses in America. And have plenty of Nevada dessert left over.
Cost is the issue — finding space for enough solar panels is not.
Such systems seemed very popular in Hawaii. Plenty of sunny days, relatively warm air temperature all the time, and sky-high electricity costs. I saw many homes with tanks on the roof.
You've calculated instantaneous power output under optimum conditions. That will drop when the conditions are non-optimum, such as at night. Unless you have some kind of humongous, super-efficient storage system, which will add significantly to costs.
Also, I doubt if such a system will have much in the way of dispatchability. Something spread out over that much territory, even in the desert, is bound to have some measure of variability. And variability is something you don't want if you are sitting in the hot seat of the regional power dispatching center.
The variability of power on a solar cell is why you take the “peak watt” value but only consider 5 hours per day of sunlight. Obviously there are many more hours than that of sunlight, but the 5 hour figure is a way to average the efficiency over the whole day of weak-strong-weak insolation.
Yes, you would have environmentalist opposition. But that wasn’t the original statement. The original statement was that if the entire state of Nevada was covered with PV, it would barely power Las Vegas. That was an exageration. There are over 109,000 square miles of land in Nevada, and using only 10% of it would more than power Las Vegas — it would power all of Nevada and several other states.
Its variability means solar PV can never be alone, but storage doesn’t have to be in electrical form. Imagine you had unlimited cheap solar PV electricity. You could combine that with hydropower by using the solar PV to pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir while solar was available and let the water run through the hydro system at night. Or you could set huge flywheels spinning and let them drive generators when solar was unavailable. It doesn’t matter how inefficient any of those cycles would be, only that the total average cost works out.
This is actually a pet peeve of mine. People write articles about how this or that needs to be more efficient, when efficiency is irrelevent. What matters is the cost. Having solar PV cells that are 30% efficient but cost twice as much as others that are 15% efficient is not really progress, because the 15% cells are already more “efficient” than necessary in terms of area available vs. area needed. We’d be better off with 15% cells that cost half as much, or even 10% efficient cells if they cost only a third as much.
Thanks for the ping.
3KW. Wow. Just wow. I have a 6KW generator (8KW surge) for when the power goes out—a common occurance in NH during wintertime. Cost me about $700, with another $300 for the male-male cord and disconnect switch at the breaker panel.
Pray tell, how well would that solar system work here in January during a snowstorm?
I've had a bunch of Solarex MSX60 PV panels up on my roof for 13 years now. All I've ever done is hose the dust off two or three times when it went too long between rains to clean them naturally. Other than that, not a single maintenance issue in 13 years. And that's here in Texas where we regularly get lightning, high winds, and hail.
I wish. I've been hearing the same promises for 30 years, since I first started following solar issues. I have my own home PV system, and I'm always looking to expand it, so I follow the industry pretty closely. Always promises of a breakthrough just around the corner.
Those who talk about solar being "almost" competitive with other forms of electric generation are always talking about high subsidies. Well, if the gov't totally subsidized solar, it would be, like, free. Wouldn't that be great? [/s]
You can do it right now today if you really want to. The technology is here. It just costs a LOT of money.
It is a minor detail. Living down here in Central Texas we have our share of hailstorms and I know exactly what they do to my PV panels. Nothing. They are designed to withstand large hail.
We've had hail that broke both mirrors on my Dodge truck and cracked the windshield, but did not damage the PV panels about 20 feet away from the driveway. They've been on the roof for 13 years with no damage.
Not if my wife says, "Ewwwwwww, what are those ugly things on the roof? And get those dirty, stinky, dangerous battery thingies out of here!" :-)
What you really do is capture solar generated electricity in 12 volt deep cycle marine batteries. Currently $66 at Wal Mart. Get 10 of them. Run your TV and radio on 12 volts is easy. Lighting is easy because 12 volt is standard for RVs and boats. You go a marine supply store. Power tools will need an inverter unless you hook up a gasoline engine to an air compressor and use air tools I won't deny that other items also will need inverters and that you have to scale back your electricity consumption to go 12volt DC. I have visited homes where this is put into practice
Refrigerator - you run on propane same as your stove
12 volt DC power supply for computers or better yet get a laptop that runs on 12 volts DC
Chances are that it wouldn't work very well for anything that does not receive a lot of sunshine. Solar probably would do great in Colorado which gets 300+ days of sunshine per year.
How would it do running my central A/C?