Monday, February 19, 2007

Cheap Solar Power Soon

One obstacle to the widespread adoption of solar power has been the capital cost difference between typical carbon-based energy sources and solar power. In the 1970's, solar power cost around $100 per watt. Today, it varies between $3 and $4 per watt. According to Anil Sethi of the Swiss firm Flisom, as reported in this article published in the Telegraph in Britain, the cost of solar power will be around $.80 a watt within 5 years. This will bring the cost below the comparable carbon-based fuel costs, which currently stand near $1 per watt.

The key is a a semiconductor compound (CuInGaSe2) embedded in a thin, lightweight polymer substrate that can be manufactured in rolls, unlike today's glass-based solar panels. Quoted in the article, Sethi said:

"It'll even work on a cold, grey, cloudy day in England, which still produces 25pc to 30pc of the optimal light level. That is enough, if you cover half the roof," he said.

"We don't need subsidies, we just need governments to get out of the way and do no harm. They've spent $170bn subsidising nuclear power over the last thirty years," he said.

His ultra-light technology, based on a copper indium compound, can power mobile phones and laptop computers with a sliver of foil.

A number of other solar technologies using other materials are also showing promise of breaking the $1 per watt barrier within a decade and, in a couple of cases, within two or three years. The solar power industry is poised to obviate our long-term reliance on centralized fossil-based power plants and expensive, dangerous nuclear power.