Energy

Coming Soon: Affordable Solar Power

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published January 12, 2007

Spectrolab, a division of Boeing, has developed a solar cell that converts 41 percent of the sunlight that strikes it into energy.

This solar cell can potentially bring the cost of electricity down to $3.00 USD per kilowatt-hour over the life of the panel. Currently, Hamilton's hydro utility (Horizon) charges $0.055 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost difference is huge but the efficiency is increasing. As recent as 1995, the record for a solar cell to convert sunlight to electricity was at 24 percent.

Let's assume that with all the additional charges on your hydro bill, that your costs are double - $0.11 per kilowatt-hour. If solar cell efficiencies continue to increase and the cost per kilowatt-hour drops to $1.00 - at $1 per watt, a solar panel rated at 1000 watts would cost $1000. It would take 9000 hours of use to break even.

Assuming an average of four hours of sunlight per day, that would take six years. At $3.00 per watt the break-even is 18 years and at $8 per watt (which is the average commercial panel sold today) is 48 years, which is longer than the expected life of the panel.

We are burning or converting carbon from fossil fuels that has been trapped as a solid or liquid for eons and releasing it into the atmosphere as a gas at a rate of 1,000 barrels of oil per second (equal to the volume of five large tanker trucks).

Since 1859 we've burned 1.5 trillion barrels. We are at the halfway point - Peak Oil - which means there are about 1.5 trillion barrels left of extractable oil in the earth.

However, with our current rate of burning plus skyrocketing demand, the forecasted rate of consumption shows we will burn the remaining oil in only 20 years.

The good news is that the sun radiates about a kilowatt of energy per square meter on the surface of earth every second.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".

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By Daniel (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 11:05:58

The cost is not $3.00 per kwh, but $3.00 per watt of installed capacity. At $3.00 per watt, the panels would need to be in use for 30,000 hours to bring the cost down to $0.10 per kwh, which is in the ballpark of conventional power generation.

If you assume 8 hours per day of sunlight you get 29,200 hours of operation over 10 years. This is why $3.00 per watt is a good price--roughly 10 years payoff with no subsidies.

For anyone interested in the economics of solar and why it is ALREADY economical in many situations, please please PLEASE check out Solar Revolution by Travis Bradford.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 12:52:30

In winter, where do you find cats? Lying in the sun. Cats are smart.

As sexy as PV solar is, the real benefits of solar are reaped by simple technologies like windows.

If you check out the "exergetic efficiency" of solar space and hot water heating, nothing else comes close.

There is way more to be gained by conservation and efficient building practices (i.e. not simply wasting energy as is the status quo) than by pushing expensive PV panels.

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By Daniel (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2007 at 09:40:35

The cost is not $3.00 per kwh, but $3.00 per watt of installed capacity. At $3.00 per watt, the panels would need to be in use for 30,000 hours to bring the cost down to $0.10 per kwh, which is in the ballpark of conventional power generation.

If you assume 8 hours per day of sunlight you get 29,200 hours of operation over 10 years. This is why $3.00 per watt is a good price--roughly 10 years payoff with no subsidies.

For anyone interested in the economics of solar and why it is ALREADY economical in many situations, please please PLEASE check out Solar Revolution by Travis Bradford.

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By Solar Gregory (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2007 at 12:31:45

The interesting thing is that end customers are more interested in costper kwh than cost per watt. The first speaks to what it does for them and so remains much more important.

The current cost per kwh for a system in Toronto is $0.32 over 35 years. The grid feed costs $0.11 per kwh delivered, and the fact is that the greed feed is subsidized all over the place and those costs are not charged to end users (ask your utility why commercial ops pay less than residential consumers). All in or full cost models actually show electricity costs $1.50/kwh from macro-generation to end user.(germany) In the greater expanse of North America this is likely higher. Can anyone tell me the life expectancy of high voltage transmission lines? They cost about $3mn/km to build. If you assume a 40 year life, just moving electricity from a hydro station to a city that's 150 km's away costs $4.73 per kwh without any line loss costs added. O.k fine, you can assume that the wires last 100 years...that's still $1.89/kwh without line loss and without operation and maintenance.

If you want to chnage the world simply demand the whole truth...common sense will do the rest for you.

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By Bob (registered) | Posted January 15, 2007 at 12:39:55

Solar electric, solar thermal and energy efficieny are going to play an important role in securing our energy future. I am tired of people claiming that the technology they are selling is the only one that makes sense! Why does the energy effiency guy need to refer to Photovoltaic systems as "Pushing expensive PV" when in fact the PV sector is growing rapidly and showing incredible results! Does this person wish to halt the progress that so many are working so hard to achieve? Why does this attitude make sense? It sounds to me like someone is pushing a personal agenda. Wake up and realize you are all on the same team!

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By solar wannabee (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2007 at 15:51:53

But what is the environmental cost of PRODUCING photovoltaic panels? Let's figure that in too!

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By Bob (registered) | Posted January 17, 2007 at 09:00:38

The process of manufacturing photovoltaic cells through "String Ribbon" technology has greatly reduced the waste and therefore the energy required to manufacture PV. This means that the modules produced in this manner will easily generate more power than is used to produce them. The environmental cost of NOT integrating PV is far greater.

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By ohm (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2007 at 09:38:13

Daniel is right. I could have answered that one when I was 16 on my GCSE Physics exam. A kilowatt hour is a kilowatt produced for... one hour. The only way to pay for it per hour would be to rent it!

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By frank_paolozza (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2010 at 13:27:01

wow you guys are twisted.

totally twisted.

OBVIUOSLY solar is far better then any other source of power.
End of story.

Germany 2GW a year market. EAT THAT CANADA.

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By ian_poleman (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2010 at 13:28:31

spam comment deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-01-18 12:30:27

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