Finally, "The price of the solar equipment has been dropping, so you'd think that the older papers would have higher cost estimates," Pearce said. "That's not necessarily the case." Equipment costs are determined based on dollars per watt of electricity produced. Very recent studies set the amount between $2 and $10. The true cost in 2011, says Pearce, is under $1 per watt for solar panels on the global market, though system and installation costs vary widely. In some parts of the world, solar is already economically superior, and the study concludes that solar will become an increasingly economical source of electricity over expanding geographical regions.
In regions with a burgeoning solar industry, thanks to government programs that pay a premium for renewable energy, there are lots of solar panel installers, which heats up the market. "Elsewhere, installation costs have been high because contractors will do just one job a month," says Pearce. "Increasing demand and competition would drop installation costs considerably."
Furthermore, economic studies like Pearce's don't generally taken into account solar energy's intangible benefits, reduced pollution and carbon emissions. And while silicon-based solar panels do rely on a nonrenewable resourcesandthey are no threat to the world's beaches. It only takes about a sandwich baggie of sand to make a roof's worth of thin-film photovoltaic cells, Pearce said.
Based on the study, and on the fact that the cost of conventional power continues to creep upward, Pearce believes that solar energy will soon be a major player in the energy game. "It's just a matter of time before market economics catches up with it," he says.
|Contact: Joshua Pearce|
Michigan Technological University