Solar power less expensive than you think

Posing with a thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module, Queen’s University’s Joshua Pearce sees a bright future for solar power, given improving cost efficiency and performance. Photo courtesy Queen’s University.

New Canadian research suggests solar photovoltaic (PV) energy is cheaper to produce than generally believed.

A professor from Queen’s University (Kingston, Ont.) said PV assemblies have neared the ‘tipping point,’ meaning they can now produce energy for the same price as traditional sources.

“Many analysts project a higher cost for solar photovoltaic energy because they don’t consider recent technological advancements and price reductions,” explained Joshua Pearce of the school’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Older models for determining solar photovoltaic energy costs are too conservative.”

To determine the cost of solar PV systems for consumers, studies traditionally examine variables ranging from installation and maintenance costs to finance charges, life expectancy, and electricity generation. However, Pearce said many of these analyses fail to take into account the cost of PV panels has dropped by 70 per cent since 2009. Further, he argued productivity has also been improved. For example, a 2010 study estimated equipment cost at $7.61, while the actual cost in 2011 can be under $1 per Watt for solar panels purchased in bulk on the global market.

To raise awareness about the situation, Pearce created a calculator program online that can be used to determine the true costs of solar energy. As the price continues to drop, Pearce forecasts an increase in building-integrated PVs.

“In the short term, most people will simply install racks over top of existing roof structures; this works, but is not the most esthetically pleasing situation,” he told Construction Canada Online. “As time goes on, we will transition so most new construction (and certainly all re-roofing) involves a significant amount of solar modules taking the place of existing roofing materials and building claddings. Today, your roof keeps the rain and snow out of your living room. Tomorrow, your roof will also provide the electricity you need to run your home.”

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