The news is carrying two stories in the last two weeks pitching solar as potentially cheaper than current electrical rates in the next 3-5 years.
First, in an interview with Bloomberg, GE’s global research director Mark M. Little said that their thin film solar PV (now at 12.8% efficiency) could be cheaper than fossil fuel and nuclear electricity in 3-5 years.
Then, yesterday, First Solar said that they believed they’d be selling solar power to CA utilities at 10-12 cents per kilowatt hour in 2014.
Both of those are well ahead of the Moore’s-Law-like exponential price decrease of solar that I’ve blogged about previously.
Could they be for real? Possibly. If they can keep installation costs and operating costs low enough, solar cells that are in pre-production are already at the $1 / watt manufacturing price threshold that would allow cheaper-than-fossil-fuel solar energy.
When solar is truly cheaper than fossil-fuel derived electricity, we’ll hit a new tipping point in energy. We’ll still need some coal, natural gas, or nuclear power for night time and cloudy days, but those power usage levels are lower than the peaks on sunny afternoons in summertime. With cheap solar PV, most of the new capacity built will make more sense as solar than anything else.
And eventually, cheap solar electricity will allow us to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into liquid fuels for storage and for transportation. (More on that another day.)