A must-read assesment of trends in energy production: “Solar power has won the global argument”

An article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Vancouver Sun today paints a vivid picture of the future of solar energy:

Solar power has won the global argument.

Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.

About 29pc of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar power, rising to 100pc in Massachusetts. “More solar has been installed in the US in the last 18 months than in 30 years,” says the US Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar energy is booming, with or without subsidies:

California’s subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat.

The trend is solar is apparent even in countries with vast oil reserves:

The Saudis are themselves betting on solar, investing more than $100bn in 41GW of capacity, enough to cover 30pc of their power needs by 2030.

Researchers Michael Parker and Flora Chang at Sanford Bernstein concoude:

“Eventually solar will become so large that there will be consequences everywhere,” Parker and Chang said. This remarkable overthrow of everything we take for granted in world energy politics may occur within “the better part of a decade”.

Evans-Pritchard says part of the solar boom is the result of increased efficiency in solar design:

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory says scientists can now capture 31.1pc of the sun’s energy with a 111V Solar cell, the latest world record. This will find its way briskly into routine use.

The cost of solar is gaining on coal and natural gas:

A McKinsey study said the average cost of installed solar power in the US has dropped to $2.59 from $6 a watt in 2010. It expects this to fall to $2.30 next year and to $1.60 by 2020. This will put US solar within “striking distance” of coal and gas.

And other improvements to solar technology are coming into production:

The University of Buffalo has developed a nanoscale microchip able to capture a “rainbow” of wavelengths and absorb far more light. An Oxford team is pioneering use of perovskite, an abundant material that is cheaper than silicon and produces 40mc more voltage.

The next barrier to increasing use of solar power is battery storage, but there are promising results there, too:

Prof Michael Aziz at Harvard University is developing a flow-battery that promises to cut the cost of energy storage by two-thirds below the latest vanadium batteries. He said technology gives us a “fighting chance” to overcome the curse of intermittency from wind and solar power, which spike and die in bursts. “I foresee a future where we can vastly cut down on fossil fuel use.”

Even thermal solar is coming of age, driven for now by use of molten salts to store heat.

A major solar thermal farm has just come online in California:

California opened the world’s biggest solar thermal park in February in the Mojave desert – the Ivanpah project, co-owned by Google – able to produce power for 100,000 homes by reflecting sunlight from 170,000 mirrors on to boilers that generate electricity from steam.

In a number of markets, solar now equals or undercuts the price of other forms of generation:

Deutsche Bank says there are already 19 regional markets around the world that have achieved “grid parity”, meaning that photovoltaic solar panels can match or undercut local electricity prices without subsidy: California, Chile, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain and Greece for residential power; Mexico and China for industrial power.

Soon, home storage may be possible:

This will spread as battery storage costs keep dropping, a spin-off from electric car ventures. Sanford Bernstein’s report says it may not be long before home energy storage is cheap enough to lure households away from the grid en masse across the world, spelling “disaster” for some utilities.

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Opinion+Science+makes+solar+power+cheap+fossil+fuels/9729308/story.html



About Robert Singleton

By day, I work for a call center. In my spare time, I try to save my hometown (and planet) from a nearly constant onslaught of greedheads, lunatics and land developers. I live in a fictional town called Austin, Texas, where I go to way too many meetings.
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