Wholesale Solar Energy Costs Rivalling Coal

Bloomberg reports that wholesale solar energy costs are falling 8% a year and may already rival coal in sunny climes like the Middle East and Japan. They’re expected to be halved in the next decade.

Bloomberg writes, “Installation of solar PV systems will almost double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6 gigawatts last year, New Energy Finance estimates.”

The Fukushima Nuclear Plant produced 4.7 gigawatts. However, it produced them at an extremely high cost if you factor in what it has done to the Japanese economy this year. India just stopped imports of Japanese fish, which is an extreme reaction but likely to be all too typical.

Japan has already made important advances in solar research and likely there will be new government and private sector funding for solar R & D in that country– which will help us all.

8 Responses

  1. Solar energy arrives surface of the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation (photons), and can either be absorbed, in which case it will raise the energy of the surface, or be reflected back to space.

    It can raise by surface energy either by raising the temperature, which is storage as thermal energy, or by pumping electrons to a higher energy level, which is storage of electromagnetic energy that can be tapped as electric current. The latter case is where photovoltaic cells come into play.

    If the incoming radiation is stored as heat, it can used directly as heat energy in hot water heaters. Once upon a time, I asked an assistant/sub/undersecretary in the DOE about the energy usage profile in the US. He didn’t know a lot (which makes me think he was a Bush era appointee), but he did know that hot water heating was a major component of residential energy usage (a rare example of an educated Bush era appointee).

    Folks, it’s low tech (which means recent high school graduates could do it) and it could land a serious dent our energy appetite. Solar hot water in every home by 2012!!!

  2. When did Japan get a particularly sunny climate? It’s pretty much the same as the US east coast.

  3. Germany is in the process of lowering their solar PV feed-in tariffs. However, as they are still more than €0.2/kWhr, I don’t expect PV to come close to coal anytime soon.

    Comparisons that shows cost parity does not make apples to apples comparisons, unfortunately. The feed-in tariffs necessary to get stuff built shows the real deal. (However, it would be much better to tax carbon than to subsidize alternatives. Subsidies make for exaggerated total use.)

  4. Pie in the sky, almost literally. The problem is that energy isn’t used only in sunny climes, nor during the day. Base load systems – like the Fukushima reactor – are needed no matter what. A quick trip through Germany and other countries that have heavily subsidized solar and wind power quickly shows the tremendous difficulty of deploying these devices. I find it very fun to see all these rooftops being fitted with solar panels (and occasionally compact wind-based generators), but it’s not something that is economically viable without government support, and it doesn’t put a dent in household consumption, unless you invest in large energy storage facilities as well (and take the hit in efficiency).

    You get some 100 to 200 Watt per square meter out of solar, in optimum conditions. At higher latitudes, not so much. Each German dwelling uses on average 1.5 ton oil equivalent per year in energy, about 18 MWh. Ignoring temporal mismatch between production and consumption, this would require each house in Germany to have 90 square meters of solar panes. (on average there are about 2000 “sun hours” per year and you can expect 50-100 Watt per square meter in Germany, I’m assuming 100). This is just not realistic, especially for apartment buildings (which are energetically more efficient, but have very little roof space). In the US, residential energy use per household is easily double that of Germany.

    That’s not to say it’s a bad thing to install solar panes – especially if it makes you start looking more closely at your consumption patterns. It’s like raising your own chickens and growing your own veg – it’s a good idea for a hobby but it’s not economically sound and it won’t change the world.

    • Portugal has found ways to deal with intermittency. Iowa is up to 15% of it’s electricity from wind, going to 20%, and it is competitive. These objections you raise look very fusty and dated. It is a combination of wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and (for a while) natural gas that could get us through. Solar panels will get more efficient. Even just heating water with them would make a difference. As for where to put the panels, the Sahara is nearby!

  5. And meanwhile you see a country like China, a pioneer in solar energy, reducing its financial support for research and development in the solar energy sector.
    I read somewhere that Japan and South Korea supported around 1.6 billion dollar in reserach and development since the year 2000, while China supported only 5 projects for an amount of 4.5 million in that same period.
    I think that prices could go lower even faster if China would support R&D in the solar sector like their neighbour countries.

  6. Denmark stopped at 20% wind, and it seems Spain and Portugal, who are closing in on 20% are slowing down considerably. The next few years will be very interesting, as more and more countries are approaching 20% and we’ll see whether they’ll be able to push past that level.

    Unfortunately, high average wind penetrations of 15% and above, means the spot price of electricity takes a big hit on windy days, when the amount of electricity from wind may exceed 50%. This makes wind producers’ average revenues per kWhr much less than that of other producers.

    I fear that the very idea that wind and solar, together with biomass and hydro, can replace coal, nuclear and natural gas, may constitute the largest single risk that we won’t be able to handle climate change in time. Like George Monbiot and Patrick Moore, I believe nuclear may be our only hope. If I’m right, I fear we may not realize this in time, and instead, for too long, keep burning coal and gas with wind and solar as alibis.

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