Solar PV & Renewable Energy prices

Innovations That Will Keep Bringing the Price of Solar Down

For the solar industry to ever be compatible with electricity derived from fossil fuels it must achieve grid parity. Steps in this direction are being taken across the globe and there is a clear trend in decreasing costs for PV panels and installation, which means more and more consumers can afford to choose solar power for their homes and businesses. One of the key factors that will contribute to solar energy being able to profitably compete with fossil fuel generated power without government incentives or subsidies is technological innovation. Major technological advancements in solar energy generation will help make solar power not only cheaper but also profitable. In the last few years there have been three major developments in the field of solar technology that will continue to propel the solar industry forward.

Thin-Film Solar Cells

image of Thin Film Solar Panel

If you ask a typical person to describe solar panels, most likely they will talk about big black cells with metal frames that resemble over-sized windows. This is an accurate description of crystalline panels and these have been used in the solar industry for decades. The main problem with these panels is that they are expensive to produce, requiring large facilities, machinery, huge expansions of energy, high shipping costs because of the heavy weight of the panels, etc. In fact, the cost is so high that the profit margin for many manufacturers is too negligible to make business profitable.

By comparison, the emerging thin-film solar technology is a completely different take on solar cells. The cells themselves often come in a roll and the manufacturing process is much simpler, cheaper and more efficient than the traditional manufacturing process, bearing great similarity to a printing process. As a result, thin-film solar technology dramatically reduces the cost of solar power systems. Panels that use traditional crystalline technology still cost in the $2/watt range. Thin film cells cost closer to $1/watt and that price is quickly continuing to fall.

Currently, it is difficult for consumers to gain access and take advantage of thin-film cells, and they are mostly being consumed by large utility scale projects. This trend is slowly changing, as realizing the potential for profit, nearly every major solar manufacturer now has a thin-film model coming out. This will make it easier for the average homeowner to have this exciting new technology at a price compatible with grid electricity.

2. Micro-Inverters

image of Solar Micro-Inverter - Enphase 215

An inverter is an essential piece of a solar power system, taking the power that comes from the panels, which is direct current (DC), and converting it into alternating current (AC). AC is what we have in our outlets and it is what most appliances need to operate on. Before, inverters used to be costly, large size, and generated a lot of waste heat. The cheapest inverters cost around $3000, which automatically significantly increased the price even of a cheapest solar power system by many thousands of dollars.

With the advent of microinverters, the old equation has dramatically changed. Currently, for less than $200, it is possible to have an inverter on each solar panel, and have a system that consists of as little as one solar panel. This means that the entry point for installing a solar power system is now significantly lower, and it is possible to start with just one or two panels, and continue adding them on each year.

Another great advantage of microinverters is that they increase efficiency and decrease installation time for solar power systems. It is likely that in the future, microinverters will be integrated into the actual construction of solar panels themselves. This will allow you to simply plug your solar panel right into the wall, or even your car!

3. Energy Storage

image of Solar-Thermal power plant

There are major developments in the field of energy storage and their impact cannot be underestimated for the future of solar industry. Around the globe, many corporations from such industries as electronics, chemicals, and automobiles are investing billions of dollars in research and factories in an effort to claim their stake in what is about to become a multi-billion-dollar market. Currently, innovations in solar energy storage are all aimed primarily at providing the electric car with the power it needs to take the transportation arena by storm in the coming years.

At the same time, these innovations will translate into falling prices for energy storage solutions that consumers and municipal utilities will be able to take advantage of. The first products that can already be seen on the market are “smart houses” that are gaining wide-spread appeal and publicity in Japan.

Levchik (Leo) is a renewable energy activist from Boston, MA, and has been involved with alternative energy and green construction since 2004.

In 2009, Leo and his green roofing company ( sponsored Boston’s Solar Decathlon Team, providing materials and installation labor to install a cool white roof on the top of Curio home (Joint effort by Tufts University and Boston Architecture College) – more info about the project here.

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Written by Levchik B

Posted on July 2nd, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Solar Prices

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