Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Has solar energy already reached cost parity with fossil fuels?

Solar energy has enormous potential, and only a tiny fraction of totally available amount of solar energy would be enough to satisfy energy needs of entire world. The potential alone is however not enough for solar to rule the world, and prior to becoming dominant source of energy solar will have to achieve cost-parity with fossil fuels.

You don't have to be genius to realize that solar energy industry needs to develop cheap and efficient solar cells in order to dominate global energy market. New-generation solar cells include many different concepts and designs such as growing photovoltaic crystals, using carbon nanotubes, applying special coatings, and some scientific studies have looked very promising in taking us one step closer to the discovery of cheap and highly efficient solar cells.

In 2011, there was one very interesting study by the researchers from Michigan Technological University and Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The researchers that were involved in this study claim that solar energy is already very close to achieving cost-parity with fossil fuels. They have concluded that on global level solar energy has costs under $1 per watt for solar panels purchased in bulk and that in some parts of the world solar energy is already economically more viable option than staying with fossil fuels.

The first thing that researchers made in this study was an exhaustive review of the previous studies connected with costs of solar power technologies. By reviewing these studies they discovered that factors such as costs to install and maintain the solar system, finance charges, longevity, and total electricity generation weren't accurate and that many of these studies did not include economic impact of solar energy benefits such in form of reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emission levels.

It's also true that in the last three years there was a huge decline in solar panel prices, between 50-70%. Solar energy industry is also one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

However, the dominant opinion is that solar energy sector still needs to significantly improve its cost-competitiveness because it is still not able to survive without the incentives.

The things are obviously moving in the right direction, and solar energy could soon become a major player in global energy market.

The real clean energy revolution will start once solar cells will become able to extract much more energy from the Sun that they can today. From the current perspective, it's difficult to predict when exactly can we expect this breakthrough in solar power technologies, and whether by then it will be too late for solar power to halt climate change impact or not.

Science has demanding task in finding the cost-effective technologies to convert much of the Sun's energy into electricity. With so many ongoing researches focused in this direction solar energy will hopefully soon discover its holy grail in form of cheap and highly efficient solar panels.