Solar Energy Now a Viable Large Scale Energy Source?

When I read “Solar Power is Cheaper than Nuclear Power” I seriously thought someone was trying to pull a quick one by talking about 20 years into the future as if it was happening in the present. Then I read the article on The Green Energy Collective Website in detail and was thrilled by the realization that 2 researchers at Duke University have come to the conclusion that Solar Energy may have reached grid parity!

It’s no secret that the cost of photovoltaic cells (PV) have 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. Nuclear Power plants are being pushed as the only viable alternative economically right now. But now the Duke researchers are saying that Solar power has attained price parity in regards to Nuclear power.

The Study authors John Blackburn and Sam Cunningham say “Electricity from new solar installations is now cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear plants.” They have their study based in North Carolina.

According to Osha Davidson of Energy Collective, 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 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).

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.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Currently US energy supply depends 70% on Fossil Fuels (including Coal) and 20% on Nuclear Energy. The researchers say that mass produced Solar energy is being offered to customers at 14cents per kilo Watt Hour, which would make Solar energy one of the least expensive energy sources in America.

As I looked it up for more details I came across articles in NYTimes and a discussion on Slashdot both make some very interesting reading.

If what the researchers say hold true, we should have greener energy powering our day to day activities within a decades time. Sounds good will have to wait and see how it pans out. Live Green!

Some interesting facts:

  • From 1943 to 1999 the U.S. government paid nearly $151 billion, in 1999 dollars, in subsidies for wind, solar and nuclear power, Marshall Goldberg of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a research organization in Washington, wrote in a July 2000 report. Of this total, 96.3 percent went to nuclear power, the report said.
  • According to credit rating agency Moody’s Nuclear installations invariably lower the credit rating of the company. “Of the 19 applications at the N.R.C.(US Nuclear Regulatory Commission) , 90 percent have had some type of delay or cancellation, run into a design problem, suffered cost increases and/or had the utility bond rating downgraded by Wall Street.”
  • Nuclear subsidies in the Senate proposal include five-year accelerated depreciation; tax credits for investments and production and eligibility for the advanced energy tax credit; an increase in government insurance against regulatory delays; access to private activity bonds; and a $36 billion increase in loan guarantees, bringing the total to $56 billion. (The Nuclear Energy Institutes Goal was a $100 Billion!)

Source of the article here

Another article here

Duke University Website

The Study Published by the researchers in full can be read here

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