All about Solar Power and its Cost

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

Solar power technology has been present around the world for thousands of years now in various forms. In fact most of the modern solar systems today have been around for decades. However, solar power has not really fulfilled any of the promises that most people have hoped from then due its cost and efficiency.

Out of the thousand watts per square meter of solar power that falls onto the earth, only a very small part of it can actually be turned into usable electricity. This is due to internal losses that tend to happen. Only some of the photons that hit solar panels are capable of knocking electrons loose. And of those photons, only several will travel into the module and into the device before it is captured again.

This effect is also known as carrier lifetime. The longer the time that electrons are loose, the higher the likelihood that they come out of the module and into wires of an outlet. The majority of these modules are only up to 15% efficient. However, some companies have been able to raise their device’s efficiency to up to 20% in carrier lifetime.

On the other hand, solar heating devices use salt water solar panels that are heated by sunlight in order to generate steam that becomes electricity with an efficiency of up to 30%. These solar heating devices come at a high cost and a high risk, though. The high pressure and temperature of the water can be very harmful in the event where it escapes.

Aside from this low efficiency, the cost of solar power is also still quite high.

The majority of solar panels are quite costly. 30-watt modules, for instance, could cost up to as much as $250, while 195-watt solar panels could cost around a thousand. To be able to install solar panel systems in regular homes, solar panels could cost up to $16,000. Plus, there will be need for a solar battery along with other components and this could double or triple the price easily.

Thankfully, due to the rise in natural gas and oil prices, manufacturers have decided to take action. The market is now maturing to accept solar power technology and money is being spent on research to find new ways of making solar power more efficient and less expensive. Even despite the high price in solar panels, the cost is now much lower than back in the day, due to inflation.

Even the price of photovoltaic solar panels has fallen by 15% per year for a decade now. And since they can last for around two decades, you will be able to get back the initial investment cost while getting clean solar power.

To this day, improvements are continuing. ST Microelectronics in Europe, for example, has now come up with prototype solar cells that are achieving to be much cheaper than existing solar panels today.

Organic compound solar panels are also being used in particular applications, such as computer monitors and keyboards. With their flexible plastics, computers can now be rolled or folded up like magazines. Although they are still quite costly, the prices are starting to go down as technology improves. One French-Italian company hopes to make organic solar cells that can generate electricity at around 20 cents per watt, a significant difference to the $8 per watt of solar power today.

Solar water heaters with solar power have different prices now, as well.

Back in the 1920s, municipalities would use big storage tanks for solar heat and to keep hot water to supply homes. As prices of oil and electricity that were used for solar water heaters decreased, they no longer proved to be cost-effective.

As time has gone by, progress has achieved and old ideas are becoming innovative ones yet again. Such methods are starting to prove to become competitive yet again, if today’s research comes into fruition. With the increase of electricity and oil prices in the past decade from coal and gas-fired plants, we now only need a little bit of improvement to turn applications more economic.