Look on the bright side of solar energy

The Future of Solar PV (Photovoltaic) Energy is now.

1. The Problem

2. The Solution

3. The Results

4. The Benefits

5. An Investment in the Future

Solar energy

1. The Problem:

Traditional sources of electrical power generation are running out as production will peak in the next decade but demand will continue to rise. Energy prices will continue to rise at a higher rate as well as the number of outages during peak hours. There is the obvious problem of the pollution we are causing to our environment.

From my perspective, the world’s energy needs vary greatly; there is no clear single solution to the problem of supplying the world’s energy.

All forms of energy production have issues associated with them, i. e. –

1. Coal – Pollution/Strip Mining

2. Natural Gas – Cost and Lack of Infrastructure

3. Hydro – Limited Availability/Environmental Concerns

4. Wind – Limited Site and Resource Availability

5. Solar PV – Higher Cost

6. Nuclear – Waste disposal

2. The Solution:

Solar PV (Photovoltaic) systems effectively deliver three to five hours of peak power per day at roughly 10 Watts per square foot. Not one square inch of new land would be required to site PV. Theoretically, there are adequate residential, commercial, Government rooftops, and parking structures in California to power a substantial percentage of our State’s electrical needs from solar.

In Southern California, solar produces a net energy gain in approximately three years. This means that within three years, PV systems begin producing more energy than the energy spent in producing the system and its raw materials. Best of all, the energy produced cost zero emissions.

At today’s prices, a typical solar system costs approximately $8.00/watt, installed and has an operating life in excess of 25 years. For all intents and purposes, maintenance and operating costs are minimal. Now there are systems available for rent. Companies such as Citizenre at www.jointhesolution.com/rethink-solar allow you to create solar power of a unit that is installed, maintained and monitored by them. You merely pay the monthly rental fee for you clean electricity which is the same price as you pay the electric company for you electricity. Also they allow you to lock in a rate now for up to 25 years so you are paying the same price throughout the entire contract.

3. The Results:

Solar energy increases the diversity of power and adds stability to a fossil fuel favored energy structure, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

4. The Benefits:

— Solar can be quickly deployed at the point of use, reducing the need for additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, and cost thereof.

— Solar operates most efficiently at mid day, when grid demand is at its peak. By decreasing the strain during peak hours, the longevity of existing power plants and infrastructure is extended, lowering further the cost of energy production.

— By deploying solar over time the cumulative effect of the installed base is impressive. Given its 25-year life, within 10 to 20 years, a respectable portion of California’s energy could be supplied by solar.

— Once installed, the cost is fixed. In comparison to traditional sources of energy, the fuel cost is nonexistent, and operational costs are limited. A solar system’s cost is amortized over its life, there are no rate hikes due to fuel or operating cost increases.

5. An Investment in the Future:

There are some negatives. Presently, solar costs more than traditional energy generation. Its efficient use is limited to daylight hours unless storage is employed. Admittedly, the solar industry today is not large enough to address all of our needs. The solar industry does not have the financial influence to compete with existing utilities, which typically oppose PV, within political circles. (Industry revenues globally represent only 3.0B/year). Globally, the industry has experienced an annual growth rate in excess of 18% in over a decade. This rate of growth is equivalent to that of semiconductor, telecommunications and computer industries.

Clearly, there is no easy solution to California’s energy problem. No doubt, a variety of technologies and tools are needed to ensure California’s energy independence and security.

The Solar Industry Needs Your Support

For those interested in promoting a clean, safe and environmentally friendly source of energy, I urge you to write your representatives in the State and Federal Government. Make it clear you vote for representatives who support current legislation aimed at advancing the deployment of solar energy, such as the net metering law which allows the solar producer to feed surplus power onto the grid, causing the meter to spin backward, lowering the electric bill. Tax credits and deployment subsidies provide the revenues necessary to support research and development of more efficient solar systems.

Remember, in the 1970’s the State of California enacted emission standards that surpassed the rest of the nation. The argument against these standards was the cost of such improvements. Almost 30 years later, the impact is in the air and reflected in the increased fuel economy of the vehicles we drive.

Solar energy is part of the solution and is a key to America’s long-term energy supply. After all, fossil fuels have a long history of issues with respect to stability of supply and cost.

The Outlook of Solar Power is Bright!

1. Solar will sustain its torrid growth, as costs continue to fall. The solar market has grown at ~40% per annum in recent years, and there are many reasons to think that it will sustain, if not exceed, that clip in 2008. Solar panel prices have followed a predictable experience curve since the 1970’s, with prices dropping by 20% with each doubling of manufacturing capacity. As the silicon-dominated industry moves to thinner and higher-efficiency wafers, increases manufacturing scale, improves wafer and cell processing technologies, sees polysilicon prices return to rational levels, and migrates production to lower-cost countries — costs will continue to drive towards parity with grid rates, and solar will become increasingly more attractive. Companies have developed creative PPA (power-purchase agreement) financing models to reduce or eliminate upfront installation costs, which will make solar more accessible for a wider range of corporate and residential customers. The election year should also see more state subsidy support for solar and a renewal of the federal tax credit, which will further bolster growth.

2. Emerging startups that benefit from the polysilicon supply shortage will face increased pressure, as the poly-Si crunch begins to ease. Solar veterans can debate the timing endlessly, but many expect additional poly-Si supply to come online by late 2008. Startups that tout silicon-independent solar solutions, like concentrators and thin film (CIGS, a-Si, CdTe, etc.), will face pressure to come to market more quickly, as their cost/supply advantages erode with greater availability of poly-Si and a retreat from spot-pricing. E.g., none of the CIGS thin-film startups, which have collectively received hundreds of millions in investment in recent years, managed to reach mass commercialization this past year as many had projected. They will continue to be under pressure to reach market before the window of opportunity closes.

3. Entrepreneurs will increasingly look beyond cell and module production. As the technology-heavy areas of cell and module production get crowded, more and more entrepreneurs look to startup opportunities in the downstream balance-of-systems part of the value chain. This area has seen less attention to date, yet makes up ~50% of the total installed cost. Novel packaging techniques, distributed inverter / MPP tracking / power management technologies, systems monitoring solutions, streamlining of the installation process, and creative solar financing models.

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