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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Solar PV To Drop To $0.36 Per Watt in 4 Years

Climate Progress has the good news:

The cost of photovoltaic solar panels is expected to drop to 36 cents per watt by 2017, according to new research by cleantech market research firm GTM Research.

While this drop in solar panel prices will help to make solar affordable to more people, which will increase the size of the solar market, this ongoing cost reduction means much more than that.

Currently, solar panels are backed up by natural gas and various other types of power plants on the electricity grid. However, solar panel costs of $0.36 per watt make it more feasible to install additional solar panels to back each other up instead of using any other type of power plant (for off-grid setups), reducing the need for batteries.

For example: If you need 1,000 watts of power, and your 1,000 watt solar panel generates only generates 50 percent of its capacity (500 watts) due to cloudy weather, that can be compensated for by using two of those 1,000 watt panels instead of one, so you could still draw 1,000 watts from that 2,000 watt (nameplate capacity) array.

As long as the solar panel array is generating more current than is being drawn from it, there is no power disruption or power fluctuation (provided that voltage regulation is used).

Each 1,000 watt panel would cost $360 without factoring in installation costs, but they would last about 6 times longer than batteries.

Assuming the batteries required are charged at their recommended rate, they would end up costing $1,980 and they would have to be replaced more frequently than the extra solar panel — plus, there is an installation fee for the batteries as well, except for DIY people.

Suddenly, that $360 sounds good. Even after factoring in the fees required to install that extra panel, it is likely still much cheaper than expensive batteries.

Anyway, we can't be certain about anything yet. We will have to wait and see. And these are simply market projections. "Yesterday's PV cost reduction roadmaps are no longer relevant today," said Shyam Mehta, Senior Analyst at GTM Research and the report's author. "Three or four years ago, the industry was targeting one dollar per watt costs in 2013; today we are at 50 cents per watt, and there is currently little consensus on what is a realistic goal for the module supply chain to set for itself over the next three to five years. This is not only important for these manufacturers and their investors, but for installers and project developers across the globe."

Of course, there are some aspects of the above description which are simply wrong. First of all, with the leaps in battery technology taking place, claiming that a battery storage system would cost almost $2000 is simply ludicrously high. And, claiming they would wear out six time faster than the solar panels themselves is just unrealistic. Even with hundred-year-old battery technology, some batteries have lasted more than ninety years (Edison's NiFe technology). And, new technology could potentially be much cheaper and last longer. In any case, cheapness counts more because by the time the batteries need to be replaced, even cheaper and longer-lasting batteries may be available.