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Energy Facts: Solar Energy's Massive Price Drop

Zachary Shahan's picture
Cleantechnica.com and PlanetSave.com
  • Member since 2018
  • 23 items added with 19,890 views
  • May 26, 2013
  • 948 views
This week we’re including this post from Zachary Shahan of CleanTechnica as part of our ongoing Energy Facts series.
 

Here’s another excellent cleantech snack. Thanks again to an active CleanTechnica reader and commenter for passing it along:

price of solar power drop graph

 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 26, 2013

This graph does not represent solar energy’s “massive price drop”. It represents the massive price drop of solar panels, only one facet of an energy source predicted to remain 30% more expensive than nuclear for at least the next five years. The graph is illustrative of the fact that this localized, variable source with high transmission, land use, and integration costs still occupies less than 1% of America’s power generation despite a dramatic drop in the cost of the basic hardware.

As Germany’s failed Energiewende experiment is quickly proving, solar is exacerbating climate change by requiring good old dependable coal to back it up when the sun doesn’t shine. It’s discouraging to see people so easily fooled by this sleight of hand – one that’s only pushing us closer to the climatological point of no return.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 27, 2013

The graph makes a pretty picture, but I don’t think we should use it for future extrapolation.  For one thing, the graph ignores the non-cell costs (e.g. installation, inverters, and balance of plant costs) which now constitute the majority of the cost of solar energy.  They have dropped also, but not nearly so dramatically.

It is also noteworthy that 1985 marked the launch of the first commercial utility scale solar power: SEGS I in the Mojave desert of Daggett California, with 13.8 MWatts.  And it was not PV (which at that time was used only for spacecraft and toys), but trough concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) with thermal energy storage.  

As described here, SEGS I made power for about $.24/kWh (1988 dollars).  By 1989, the final plants in the SEGS series were making power for $0.08/kWh 1988 dollars (or  $0.157/kWh in 2013 dollars per this CPI calculator).  I believe that these data include tax incentives.

CSP cost has not changed much over time, and PV has only dropped lower than CSP in the past couple of years, hence “utility scale solar cost” have not changed much.  

According to the US DOE, solar power today costs about $0.26/kWh from CSP and $0.14/kWh using PV.   If energy storage costs were added, CSP would still easily beat PV, since CSP costs about the same with or without storage (again storage does not matter if and only if most of the grid’s energy comes from fossil fuel).

I K's picture
I K on May 27, 2013

CSP could potentially be improved considerably if fibre optics were used to feed rock formations with sunlight. Or possibly just a really large lump of iron. 

When the sun is out feed the light into the centre of your mass. Use this as your energy store.  As and when you need power pump water through this hot rock formation or iron lump which is at say 1000 kelvin and use the resultant steam to power a generator at 40 percent efficiency

Not only can you store daily energy but potentially even seasonally by adding heat to the large mass during summer and taking  heat from it in winter.  You would of course need quite a large lump of iron or rock formation but both are fairly cheap per kg.

 

Not only wpuld this allow you to store weeks of energy but it would also allow load following solar power so even better than base load

Harry Bryant's picture
Harry Bryant on May 31, 2013

Storage is and has been the critical issue in wind/solar.  I don’t know how practial your suggestion is.  but I like the “passive” nature.  Regarding efficiency, how would this (40%) compare to hydrogen.  If/when we are able to store excess solar energy in H2 bonds if seems it would offer many advantages… clean, portable, flexible use (burn/fuelcell), residential use, to name a few.  Of course the obvious negative, safety.  I would love to see unbiased start to end efficiency calculatons on all the current sources of energy.  Sadly it seems that when you read about efficiency it appears the authors have some bias.  Like with coal the cost/kwh never includes all the externals.  We need some kind of benchmark comparison.

 

I K's picture
I K on May 31, 2013

I think the argument is that without the false hope/promises of solar & wind thw net importers loke much of Europe wpild have gone nuclear and or pushed more heavily on efficency and thus today we would be using less FF than we do

 

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