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Only a matter of time?

November 8, 2011 - Jim Anderson
Solar power is steadily getting cheaper.

But how low will it go?

Or how long will it take to reach the point where electricity from solar panels is cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal?

In a New York Times column this week, economist Paul Krugman suggests that we’re already there — if you take into account the health costs and other environmental impacts of coal.

Regardless, the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is aimed at making solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade — even without accounting for pollution’s external costs.

“Reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent will drive widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable energy technology and restore U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race,” the DOE Website states.

At a recent Washington conference, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu offered this: “It is only a matter of time until solar hits parity. The only question is whether it is this decade or a decade and a half in this country.”

In recent weeks, the bankruptcy of government-assisted solar panel manufacturer Solyndra has attracted plenty of media attention — and scorn from critics of solar energy.

Krugman claims that Solyndra’s failure was actually caused by technological success: “The price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn’t keep up with the competition.”

In Scientific American, Ramez Naam offers the possibility that, in 20 years, solar power will be half the price of coal for electricity.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

But the bankruptcy of Solyndra was not the bankruptcy of clean energy.

 
 

 

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