High Costs of Solar Electric Power
solar power generation is booming. After analyzing a few of these
announcements one is left with quite a few questions. Why are solar
farms built when financial data clearly show that solar power is still
the most expensive electricity generation technology available?
power plant developers and marketers obviously know that they
lower costs. Cost reduction is, however, expensive and takes time. Many
new enterprises have been formed and want to become profitable when the
big construction boom in solar power plants will hit the road. In the
meantime they must pay bills, advance their technologies, and stay
Of Solar Electric Power
are two major technologies for solar
One approach is based on the conversion of sunlight into heat and using
the heat for the generation of steam. This concept has progressed to a
relatively high readiness level. Electricity production with steam is a
very mature technology. Remaining technical risks, therefore, relate
exclusively to the design of the thermal concentrators or parabolic
mirrors that optically transfer thermal radiation to a heat transfer
medium and to the design of the heat receiving transfer and steam
other technology is the direct, photovoltaic
conversion of sunlight into electricity. This technology
most likely become the dominant solar electric powergenerating
technology - eventually. The big question for investors and for
marketers is the uncertain duration of "eventually". Converting
sunlight directly into electricity is much more elegant and will almost
certainly become less expensive than thermal conversion - eventually.
proposed a third concept, a kind of a hybrid approach. In this concept,
the sunlight is concentrated onto a solar panel. This approach reduces
panel area and saves lots of expensive silicon. But it generates
another problem. The concentrated sunshine creates very high surface
temperatures on the solar panel. To save solar panel area and make the
solar panel price competitive, one must cool the surface of the solar
panel very efficiently to prevent it from melting and destruction.
effective cooling loops and providing a low temperature cooling medium
presents a new set of technical challenges and costs. We will have to
wait and see how IBM will solve these issues.
costs for generating electricity with solar panels are hovering around
$0.50 per kWh. This compares with an average US retail price for
electric power of $0.095/kWh. Right now, solar power does not yet make
share this distinction. None of the available technologies using
renewable energy can compete with the cost of electricity generation
is also one
of numerous examples where free markets perform poorly. The
technologies for generating electricity with solar power, wind power,
marine power, and geothermal power are very well understood. What is
missing is the industrial hardening of these processes and related
hardware. This process of moving a technology from the demonstration
plant stage to a more dependable and less costly mature system status
is the most critical, costly, and dangerous step when developing
industrial systems, which must operate uninterrupted 24/7 for thousands
of hours on end.
reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and cannot achieve energy
independence without employing renewable energies for electric power
generation and for the critical production of liquid transportation
respectable number of windmill farms and solar panel farms are being
installed. Forward thinking industrial and public entities take the
liberty to impose hidden taxes on the consumers of electric power in
industry, in commercial enterprises, and in homes.
not make economical sense, yet. However, by providing an income
guarantee for investors, the crucial hardening and cost reduction phase
of full size solar farms will be shortened tremendously.
inherent danger in this approach. The consumers of electricity pay for
this most crucial development phase while other participating parties
make out handily. Effective controls for avoiding unproductive
duplication of certain types of solar farms are sorely missing.
Create Your Solar
experience is much less valuable than gaining broad experience from
competing technologies and installations. Well engineered solar power
farms can indicate their readiness for more widespread applications
after a couple of uninterrupted, full capacity, generation campaigns.
At completion, qualified technology leaders can begin to compete and
can drive down total system installation costs by a variety of cost
are we now?
A random sampling of recent announcements of solar farm installations
reveals that system installation costs are in the $3000 to $7500 per kW
installed capacity. These plant costs loosely translate into a cost of
producing electric power at $0.30 to $0.60 per kWh. This very
unfavorably compares to the cost
of electricity generation by any other
not yet contain the costs of energy storage. As long as solar power
constitutes only a very small fraction of overall electric power
generation, the additional costs of storing intermittently produced
electric power are not yet of concern. If the US is going to depend
significantly on the intermittent production of electricity from solar
power and wind power, it must begin to develop storage technologies for
huge amounts of electric energy. Frequent brownouts due to lack of wind
and sunshine are unacceptable in advanced economies. Intermittent,
renewable energies and electric energy storage are inseparable. This is
a technology field where inventors, entrepreneurs, and venture
capitalists still can shine.
(ArticlesBase SC #543013)
published the book: CLIMATE CHANGE - GOLD RUSH OR DISASTER? For 50
years he has worked as scientist, process engineer, Corporate Vice
President of R&D, Company President, CEO, and Inventor. He
more than 60 US Patents. He is working on a new book: "THE SOLUTION FOR
ENDING GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE".