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When Will Solar Get Cheap Enough for Everyone to Use?
Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg and Kyle Thetford / Mother Jones / August 20, 2013
It’s taken 60 years, but solar energy is tantalizingly close to beating fossil fuels on price.
The prices of solar cells are falling rapidly, and will keep doing so for the next few years. The big questions revolve around the rate of the price declines. And the panels themselves aren’t the only place where cost reductions will be found. America has very high “soft costs”—installation, permitting, marketing etc. Whittling down these expenses will help, too.
Solar is taking off at a breakneck pace (admittedly from a tiny base). Stephen Lacey at Greentech Media provides the striking figures illustrating the exponential growth of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the past few years:
It took nearly four decades to install 50 gigawatts of PV capacity worldwide. But in the last 2 ½ years, the industry jumped from 50 gigawatts of PV capacity to just over 100 gigawatts. At the same time, global module prices have fallen 62 percent since January 2011. Even more amazingly, the solar industry is on track to install another 100 gigawatts worldwide by 2015—nearly doubling solar capacity in the next 2 1/2 years.
Even though prices of modules—the solar panel itself—have plummeted in the last few years, a report from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reveals that other costs haven’t been so easy to bring down:
Non-module costs—such as inverters, mounting hardware, and the various non-hardware or “soft” costs—have also fallen over the long-term but have remained relatively flat in recent years. As a result, they now represent a sizable fraction of the total installed price of PV systems.