India’s solar panel price crash could spark revolution 1

New Scientist has an interesting article that talks about a change that will have a dramatic effect on life in India. Basically …

– Electricity from solar supplied to the grid has fallen to just 8.78 rupees per kilowatt-hour
– In contrast, it is almost double that, 17 rupees, for diesel.

Those connected to the grid experience frequent blackouts, so to cope they install diesel generators. But this comes at a cost. Not only does burning diesel produce carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change, the fumes produced have been linked to health problems from respiratory and heart disease to cancer. This price drop changes all that …

Now the generators could be on their way out. In India, electricity from solar supplied to the grid has fallen to just 8.78 rupees per kilowatt-hour compared with 17 rupees for diesel. The drop has little to do with improvements in thenotoriously poor efficiency of solar panels: industrial panels still only convert15 to 18 per cent of the energy they receive into electricity. But they are now much cheaper to produce, so inefficiency is no longer a major sticking point.

It is all largely down to economies of scale, says Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF. In 2011, enough solar panels were produced worldwide to generate 27 gigawatts, compared with 7.7 GW in 2009. Chase says solar power is now cheaper than diesel “anywhere as sunny as Spain”. That means vast areas of Latin America, Africa and Asia could start adopting solar power. “We have been selling to Asia and the Middle East,” says Björn Emde, European spokesman for Suntech, the world’s largest producer of silicon panels. Over the next few years he expects to add South Africa and Nigeria to that list.

Sorry, but it is not for us in the UK where that big yellow think only peeps out on odd occasions, and even then appears to be just for decoration.

The big challenge now for many is the initial setup cost, it is more expensive than buying a diesel generator.

So is that it then? Alas no, generating from coal is still twice as cheap, but with solar getting cheaper all the time, there will be a tipping point when that is no longer true. The current thinking is that will be in 2015. You will see more and more panels popping up now.

OK, now the skeptical bit

A few thoughts do occur to me.

  • The most blindingly obvious one is that solar only works during the day. To be viable at night you need batteries. I wonder if the article takes the cost of batteries into consideration?
  • How were the costs calculated, apart from storage, have they also factored in the cost of frames, inverters, and interconnection, is this just panel costs or a complete solution?

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