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28 July 2010

Solar power is cheaper than nuclear?

According to a new study by two researchers at Duke University solar power may have already reached that point, at least when compared to nuclear power.

It’s no secret that the cost of producing photovoltaic cells (PV) has been dropping for years. A PV system today costs just 50 percent of what it did in 1998. Breakthroughs in technology and manufacturing combined with an increase in demand and production have caused the price of solar power to decline steadily. At the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned.

The result of these trends: “In the past year, the lines have crossed in North Carolina,” say study authors John Blackburn and Sam Cunningham. “Electricity from new solar installations is now cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear plants.”

If the data analysis is correct, the pricing would represent the “Historic Crossover” claimed in the study’s title.

Two factors not stressed in the study bolster the case for solar even more:

1) North Carolina is not a “sun-rich” state. The savings found in North Carolina are likely to be even greater for states with more sunshine –Arizona, southern California, Colorado, New Mexico, west Texas, Nevada and Utah.

2) The data include only PV-generated electricity, without factoring in what is likely the most encouraging development in solar technology: concentrating solar power (CSP). CSP promises utility scale production and solar thermal storage, making electrical generation practical for at least six hours after sunset.

Power costs are generally measured in cents per kilowatt hour – the cost of the electricity needed to illuminate a 1,000 watt light bulb (for example) for one hour. When the cost of a kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar power fell to 16 cents earlier this year, it “crossed over” the trend-line associated with nuclear power.

The authors point out that some commercial scale solar developers are now offering electricity at 14 cents a kWh in North Carolina, a price which is expected to continue to drop.

While the study includes subsidies for both solar and nuclear power, it estimates that if subsidies were removed from solar power, the crossover point would be delayed by a maximum of nine years.

The report is significant not only because it shows solar to be a cheaper source of energy than nuclear. The results are also important because, despite the Senate’s failure to pass a climate and energy bill this year, taxpayers now bear the burden of putting carbon into the atmosphere through a variety of hidden charges – or externalities, as economists call them. Fossil fuels currently account for 70 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. annually. (Nuclear generates 20 percent.)

Having dropped below nuclear power, solar power is now one of the least expensive energy sources in America. In the study is not considered anyway the cost of disposal of nuclear power.

13 July 2010

Experts predict dazzling solar future for UK

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Solar PV experts predict the UK will follow in Europe's footsteps and experience significant market growth following the introduction of the new feed-in tariffs (FITs).

According to a report published in May 2010 by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, Germany continues to dominate the European PV market with 68 market share, followed by Italy and the Czech Republic. Belgium and France both showed steady growth throughout 2009 whilst Spain's market appeared to slow because of the recession. And trailing at the bottom of the league table is the UK with installations totalling just 22 MW in 2009.

However, in April, the UK Government introduced the new FITs to encourage households and businesses to install renewable energy systems such as solar PV. With this solid foundation, the UK solar PV market looks set for substantial growth.

07 July 2010

German PV market could double, despite feed-in tariff cuts

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Despite rumors of a slow-down, the German PV market could have another banner year in 2010, setting yet another record for the world's largest solar market. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst at iSuppli, a leading technology market research firm, predicts up to 7 Gigawatts will be installed in Germany in 2010. "The experiences from Spain in 2008 and Germany in the second half of 2009 indicate that the German market in 2010 can grow by 100 percent," Wicht said. Despite the looming cuts in Germany's feed-in tariffs, solar continues to represent attractive investment conditions, said Wicht, a headlining speaker at next week's global solar conference, "The Solar Future," in Munich. "Also, after the feed-in tariff cuts in 2010, we will still see attractive investment rates for all roof-top installations and self-consumption," Wicht said. "Everyday, we are anxiously awaiting new data on the monthly installation report published by the Bundesnetzagentur (German Grid Agency). But the exciting time is now." Wicht is one of a dozen industry experts slated to speak at SolarPlaza's 12th executive conference June 8 in Munich. The conference offers a single-day event, packed with information and insight from an all-star panel of industry experts like Wicht.

"With so much activity in the world solar market now, industry players need to be up to the minute on the latest news and trends," said Edwin Koot, CEO of conference organizer Solarplaza. "Solar has proven again that it will defy conventional wisdom." Italy may overtake Germany as the leading market, with the US, France, Japan and China soon to follow, Wicht said. "We expect numerous countries offering solar incentives which are not yet visible today. Indeed we expect markets to shift, however, Europe will still attract approximately 60 percent of all installations," according to Wicht.

06 July 2010

Italy Solar Tariff Cuts

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Italy is proposing a cumulative feed-in tariff decline of 18 in 2011, but the FIT decline will be spread out across four-month periods, with 6 FIT declines in each one. Italy has been expected to implement a feed-in tariff decline at the beginning of 2011, and so, the fact that it's now moving ahead is no surprise to solar. The reduction in solar module pricing has dictated a cut in Italy's FIT scheme. There is little doubt that all the solar companies are racing to make Italy a huge market once Germany's FITs decline. Italy is already the second largest market in Europe.

The initial reaction to the Street about the Italian proposal was that even though the 18 decline in solar FITs was significant, it was less than the 25 decline that some expected Italy would propose. Italy has among the most favorable feed-in tariffs and much more sunlight than a market like Germany, and at the same time has been under the cloud of European sovereign debt pressure.

Earlier this year, in a conference call hosted by Credit Suisse, Italian solar company Kerself indicated that it expected FIT cuts of 15 to 28.

Of course, it's important to remember that at this stage the Italian government is merely proposing the plan for an 18 feed-in tariff cut spread throughout the year. It's a long road to implementing the policy. Take Germany, where FIT reductions that have been debated throughout 2010 are supposed to go into effect in a week, and yet, the German upper and lower houses of parliament still have not come to agreement on the plan.

06 July 2010

Solar PV roofs could generate 40 of EU electricity demand

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ore than 1.5 TWp of solar photovoltaics (PV) could be installed on European roofs producing 1400 TWh, or 40 of EU’s electricity demand by 2020, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

With a total ground floor area over 22,000 km2, 40 of all building roofs and 15 of all facades in EU 27 are suited for solar PV applications, EPIA says

The integration of solar PV energy in buildings provides an enormous development potential for the PV industry as well as for the construction sector.

Solar PV applications, apart from contributing to the generation of electricity and improving the passive energy behaviour of buildings, can replace conventional building components and also provide different functions such as, water tightening, weather protection, heat insulation, light modifications, etc, EPIA says.

BIPV potential in Europe

“Spain has a unique opportunity to develop the BIPV market, which in addition to leveraging the decentralised nature of PV generation - energy generated by the citizen for the citizen -, would enable the stimulation of tens of thousands of jobs firmly anchored in the local economy, many of which in the construction industry”, says Virgilio Navarro, EPIA’s Vice-president and CEO of ATERSA.

Currently in some European countries the BIPV market is driven by specific support schemes, designed in such a way that BIPV systems are rewarded with a higher tariff per kWh generated than for building adapted PV (BAPV), where the solar PV modules are installed on top of the existing building structure and do not provide any additional function.

In France and Italy BIPV already represents over one third of the annual market. In other countries such as Germany and Spain, where support schemes are not differentiated between both types of systems, BIPV only represents a very marginal share of the market (<1) representing mainly niche applications where cost is not an issue.

“It is essential to put in place favourable conditions across Europe that will support a wide deployment of BIPV applications, which will have a major impact in the future development of buildings in Europe. From 2012 onwards all Member States will need to adopt the recently approved Energy Performance of Building directive (EPBD) establishing that by 2020, all new building will need to be Nearly Zero Energy Buildings. 

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