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Power Science Hardware

Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth 402

mdsolar writes "USA Today is running a pretty good article on solar power that gives an overview of the current state of the industry. Highlight include production costs of $1.19/Watt for First Solar, 40% annual cost reductions over the last five years, revenues expected to triple in three years, and a prediction for 2014 as the year when solar photovoltaic power plants become cheaper than other forms of generation. From the piece: 'Like wind power, solar energy is spotty, working at full capacity an average 20% to 30% of the time. Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks. And it can be located at homes and businesses, reducing the need to build pollution-belching power plants and unsightly transmission lines. In states such as California, with high electricity prices and government incentives, solar is already a bargain for some customers. Wal-Mart recently said it's putting solar panels on more than 20 of its stores in California and Hawaii. Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes.'"
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Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth

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  • Understatement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:38PM (#20376675) Homepage Journal

    Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

    Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less.

    Combined with ultracaps, hopefully to be seen as practical power storage come this fall (via EEStor [google.com]), the power supply landscape may change significantly in the next decade or so.

  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:47PM (#20376763) Homepage
    Many people tout solar as the solution to the world's energy problems - yet most neglect the issue of its low energy density ... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc.

    Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

    And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

    With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

  • Re:independence ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:51PM (#20376807) Homepage Journal

    Trojan 105's are a pretty favorite battery. Or, if your pocketbooks were enormous, you could go with submarine batteries. Single-cell, so 2.3V each, at 5000 or so amp-hours, and they're made to be maintained and kept going forever. Hook 24 of those up in series to your 48V inverter...
    Actually unless they have changed Submarine batteries are not meant to keep going forever. The Guppy and Sargo cells had a service life of around two years. They where made for high performance not really super long life.
    Running light duty cycles they should last for a pretty long time.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Sketch ( 111112 ) <mister.sketchNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:53PM (#20376851)

    I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future.
    Yes, but we don't need a whole lot of solar plants placed everywhere. This map has just a handful of locations marked that if they had solar panels it would provide enough energy for the whole world:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Solar_land_area .png [wikipedia.org]

    Granted, those locations are huge, but consider all the empty spaces in the deserts of the world that get tons of sunlight but are otherwise useless. I have seen updated maps with smaller locations that assume a higher efficiency solar cell, since this map only assumes 8% efficiency, and normal panels have about 15% with research being done in the 30-40% efficient range.
  • Re:Not on my roof (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:02PM (#20376947)
    In areas with the highest electricity costs and the highest rebates/incentives, ROI can happen in 5 years.

    In tiered markets, where the higher usage of electricity costs you much more than the base usage, a properly-sized solar outfit can do it in 3 years.

    As for taking a loan on your solar outfit, look at it this way: Pay money to some electric corp every month, or spend the same amount of money on your solar cells. In the first case, you'll pay forever. In the second, you'll pay for a while, then get to enjoy the benefits. It's like leasing vs. buying a car.
  • Re:$/Watt (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:07PM (#20376995)
    Quite unappropriate factor as a cost of energy measure (as the article suggests). When time goes to inf., the cost of energy goes to 0 ;).

    Let's say we buy 1kW panels (paying 1190$ for them). The cost of 1KWh is about 15cents per kWh (here in Europe). So the reimbursement period is about (1190$ / 0.15$) ~= 8000h (less than a year).

    After 10years of use the cost of kWh drops to =~1.5 cent per kWh. Why nobody buys them? :) Of course I made an assumption of constant 1kW use&production what might not be always true.
  • by plawsy ( 174981 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:10PM (#20377039) Homepage

    Sure, PV modules don't convert all they see to useful electricity. Where they really shine (sorry) is that they generate that power AT THE POINT OF USE.

    Look at the chart on p 8 (of 41) of this pdf from Lawrence Livermore National Labs [llnl.gov].

    Note that of the 38.2 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of electrical energy produced in the USA in 2002, fully 26.3 quads never get used! That's where the real power (sorry again) of solar is found.

  • Here's your call. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:17PM (#20377097)
    10 years? I'm looking at a 5-7 year ROI in Southern California.
    (Less if you figure the asset value in the house.)

    As for betting on future (grid) energy prices, I'm going to bet that it's not going to get cheaper over the next 10 years. You are free to bet on the utilities lowering prices, alternate fuels being cheaper, overproduction of solar energy, and Unicorns.
  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:30PM (#20377263)
    I did a napkin calculation a year or so ago and at that time, you could give 100k houses free 1.5mw solar power (with inverters, trackers, and batteries) each year for the cost of the Iraq war.

    Sounds like a lot- but it's really not.

    However... the price is dropping. At some point very soon- you could give 1 million houses free solar power each year. And then they question is why are we wasting blood and treasure in a foreign land.

    OTH- I think that solar will not get much cheaper than oil for a long time.

    If solar is cheaper, the producers, or the government will be more likely to take extra profits or taxes. So if oil power is $2 bucks a unit, then solar power is going to be roughly $2 bucks per unit.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:42PM (#20377429) Homepage Journal
    "Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less."

    Excellent points, but it's advantage is also it's disadvantage. Imagine trying to run a steel foundry on solar power. Now, imagine running a third world steel foundry on solar power. That's the gripe many developing nations have with Kyoto - how are they supposed to enter the 20th century if they can use coal fired power?
  • Crap on... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <<robert.merkel> <at> <benambra.org>> on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:47PM (#20377489) Homepage
    The reason why the big-central-plant generation model is still favoured by most over distributed generation is that distributed generation is way more expensive, particularly if the grid is already built.

    Have you gone off-grid yourself? How much did it cost, and have you micromanaged your energy consumption to make it work? If you haven't, might I suggest you investigate the costs and then get back to us?
  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:53PM (#20377559) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, while we waste ten times in dollars as the Iraqi oil we're trying to steal on a civil war that we have no reason to be involved in, the EU is on track to achieve 25 percent of their total energy supply from alternative energy.

    If we were serious you'd be seeing increases of 1000 to 5000 percent every year.
  • Re:independence ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:05PM (#20377699)
    Believe it or not, back in high school I built a fairly large battery bank out of (wait for it) kegs. We used salt water as the medium. Does it scale? Probably with some research, but we were able to drive a fairly big CO2 laser with it for 20 minutes.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:24PM (#20377913) Homepage
    It's not simply rainfall that determines how lush an area is. Example: northern Australia gets tons of rain, but has very little plantlife. The soil is just too depleted. Rainy areas require a carefully balanced ecosystem (like you get in, say, the Amazon) to rapidly return nutrients from dead plants into the system, or the rainfall will wash them away.

    Rainfall is certainly a major factor, but not the only one.

    In the desert case, a lack of rainfall is one problem, but a parching sun is another. By putting up shade, you're eliminating the major factor that's drying out the soil from what rain does fall. You're reducing available light for photosynthesis, too, but the lack of moisure is a much greater limiting factor in a desert.

    Overall, it'd be a pretty dramatic change. Of course, there's absolutely no reason to "panel the desert", so to speak. With a proper regulatory environment, you can "panel the cities". Perhaps the new slogan could be, "A plug-in hybrid in every garage and a photovoltaic system on every roof."
  • by tbischel ( 862773 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:34PM (#20378035)
    Are you assuming stagnation in all other energy domains? I know oil, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric grow at a much slower pace than 45% a year, but it seems like it could significantly impact the amount of time it would take to become primarily a solar society.
  • by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @08:04PM (#20378353)
    Everyone likes to think that solar is getting cheaper every year just like computers and disk drives, but it's not true. Look at this chart:

    http://www.solarbuzz.com/ [solarbuzz.com]

    You will see that solar panel prices bottomed out back in 2003 and have been rising ever since. Demand is exceeding supply thanks to ever more generous subsidies, especially in Germany, which have driven up worldwide price. The truth is that solar costs more today than it has for several years, and costs are still rising slowly. It is a myth that solar prices are constantly coming down.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @08:48PM (#20378781)
    yes, you caught me, it was a troll.

    because the desert is useless and if destroying the local ecology can reduce greenhouse gasses, then dammit its the right thing to do!
    btw, remember that the north slope in alaska has oil in it, so that area is bad to develop.

    posting AC because pointing out hypocrisy on slashdot is only for people and groups that the majority of slashdot agrees they dont care for.
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @09:24PM (#20379071) Homepage
    I work in a wafer fab, specifically in Etch. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT clean industry, but rather extremely dirty and toxic. Some of the chemicals used in my specific fab for etching alone (both wet and dry etch) include:

    The question is, what happens to these nasty materials once they are used? Do they become part of the product and get shipped out the door? Do they get hosed off and recycled for the next batch? Perhaps they get neutralized somehow? Or are they just dumped into the local river?

    How exactly are the toxic materials handled? And what is their final effect on the environment, especially compared to the effects of mining and burning an equivalent amount of coal?

  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @02:09AM (#20380899) Homepage Journal
    I think the variations you are seeing at the Watson house are seasonal: http://256.com/solar/graphs/kwh_prod_mon.gif [256.com]. Solar panels degrade over long periods mostly owing to cosmic ray induced defects. They can be recycled though. I expect panels built today to be in service 30 years from now and on slate or tile roofs much longer. When people reshingle though, I think there will be a good chance that they will put on new panels, just for peace of mind, and it will be a toss up if the old panels end up producing somewhere else or end up getting refurbished first. I was really just winking at the joke about exponential growth. We will surely see $0.50/Watt silicon at least with refurbished stock because the energy costs will be so much lower compared to fabricating it from scratch and there is still much room for improvement of the efficiency of thin films so they may get to $0.25/Watt. That is a tenth of the cost of nuclear plant construction. As solar pushes prices for energy down, its own fabrication cost goes down so there is a bit of a virtuous circle as well.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.