2011 AT 09:56 PM PDT
Solar Cell Costs Fell 21% this Year, and May be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels and Nuclear in 3-5 Years
Brian Wingfield, of Bloomberg News reports that General Electric says the cost of solar cells has fallen 21% so far this year, and predicts the cost of Solar electrical generation may be cheaper than fossil fuels or nuclear reactors in three to five years.
Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of innovations, said Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric Co. (GE)
“If we can get solar at 15 cents a kilowatt-hour or lower, which I’m hopeful that we will do, you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to have solar at home,” Little said yesterday in an interview in Bloomberg’s Washington office. The 2009 average U.S. retail rate per kilowatt-hour for electricity ranges from 6.1 cents in Wyoming to 18.1 cents in Connecticut, according to Energy Information Administration data released in April.
Because GE, is talking about the free market price for the installer, or owner-operators, rather than for full life-cycle, whole systems cost to society, these cost comparisions exclude the external costs, of managing radioactive wastes, liability caps, environmental costs, such as CO2 production, and global warming, and the hidden "risk-premium" to society of a Fukushima like accident. So, I suspect means solar is probably already cheaper than nuclear, and coal from our total economic and social system viewpoint.
The combination of increased efficiency and lower cost, combined with environmental, and safety concerns about fossil fuel, and nuclear reactor electrical production is causing a growing boom in purchases of thin-film solar panels, throughout the world.
GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, announced in April that it had boosted the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to a record 12.8 percent. Improving efficiency, or the amount of sunlight converted to electricity, would help reduce the costs without relying on subsidies.
The thin-film panels will be manufactured at a plant that GE intends to open in 2013. The company said in April that the factory will have about 400 employees and make enough panels each year to power about 80,000 homes.
Installations may increase by as much as 50 percent in 2011, worth about $140 billion, as cheaper panels and thin film make developers less dependent on government subsidies, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast.
Solar costs are falling rapidly due to innovation and economies of scale. An extraordinary 21% so far this year, and we are not even to June yet.
The cost of solar cells, the main component in standard panels, has fallen 21 percent so far this year, and the cost of solar power is now about the same as the rate utilities charge for conventional power in the sunniest parts of California, Italy and Turkey, the London-based research company said.
Most solar panels use silicon-based photovoltaic cells to transform sunlight into electricity. The thin-film versions, made of glass or other material coated with cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium selenide alloys, account for about 15 percent of the $28 billion in worldwide solar-panel sales.