Five myths about so­lar power – and the real facts

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - ELECTRICAL -

So­lar energy and the so­lar in­dus­try has ex­ploded in the last decade, and is to­day an es­tab­lished and com­pet­i­tive re­new­able energy source. De­spite this (or maybe be­cause of this), so­lar energy has been sur­rounded by myths, ru­mours and false facts that has dimmed the sunny (!) pic­ture. Here are the five most com­mon so­lar energy myths – and the real facts.

More energy is needed to man­u­fac­ture a so­lar cell than it will gen­er­ate un­der its life cy­cle (al­ter­na­tively, more CO2 is pro­duced to man­u­fac­ture a so­lar cell than it will save un­der its life­time). Fact: Not at all true. To­day, the energy pay­back for sil­i­con so­lar cells is less than two years. For thin film so­lar cells the energy pay­back is less than one year! Af­ter that pe­riod, energy (and CO2) is saved and ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing the re­main­ing life span of the so­lar cell (of­ten 25 years). Which makes so­lar cells ex­tremely en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.

So­lar energy is not fi­nan­cially vi­able with­out sub­si­dies. Fact: Sub­si­dies are be­ing rapidly phased out and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments con­tinue to make so­lar cells more ef­fi­cient. So­lar energy is now cheaper than pur­chased elec­tric­ity (mar­ket prices) al­most ev­ery­where in the world where the sun shines. There has been a rapid de­cline in so­lar energy costs over the last 12 months to the point that it com­petes favourably with even the cheap­est of fos­sil fu­els. A util­ity owned by US ty­coon War­ren Buf­fet re­cently agreed upon a pur­chase price of 3.87 cents per kWh from First So­lar’s Ne­vada plant – prob­a­bly the cheap­est elec­tric­ity price in the US and most of the world.

Once the global warm­ing “scam” is un­cov­ered, no one will be in­ter­ested in so­lar energy. Fact: Whether you be­lieve in global warm­ing or not, and most peo­ple do, pho­to­voltaic so­lar energy is a very at­trac­tive way of gen­er­at­ing your own elec­tric­ity at a low fore­see­able cost. It is prob­a­bly the cheap­est way to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity in sunny re­gions and brings energy in­de­pen­dence to in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions and coun­tries alike. It is also a po­ten­tial job cre­ator. So global warm­ing, be­lieve it or not, re­ally has noth­ing to do with the ben­e­fits of so­lar energy.

All so­lar cell man­u­fac­tur­ers lose money. Fact: some do, but not all. Many man­u­fac­tur­ers of sil­i­con so­lar cells com­pete in the same seg­ment us­ing the same tech­nol­ogy. They are hav­ing a tough time. Other seg­ments are more prof­itable, such as thin, light­weight and f lex­i­ble so­lar pan­els. The so­lar energy in­dus­try is im­ma­ture, with con­stant changes of lead­er­ship po­si­tions and mar­kets. What we are wit­ness­ing is in re­al­ity a tra­di­tional con­sol­i­da­tion phase in a new and f ledg­ing in­dus­try, with win­ners and losers, and with the sur­viv­ing play­ers fac­ing a bright and prof­itable fu­ture. Among fu­ture win­ners, we must in­clude roof and con­struc­tion com­pa­nies with the in­sight to see build­ing in­te­grated pho­to­voltaics as the ’next big thing’. So­lar cells will be­come bet­ter in­te­grated with both roofs and fa­cades, and cur­rent man­u­fac­tur­ers of con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als have a great op­por­tu­nity to gain mar­ket shares in this area.

So­lar energy will be­come at­trac­tive only when Tesla or any other bat­tery man­u­fac­turer com­mences se­rial pro­duc­tion of cheap and ef­fi­cient bat­ter­ies for the stor­age of elec­tric­ity. Fact: See myth 2. So­lar energy is al­ready a very cost com­pet­i­tive source of energy. Cheap and ef­fi­cient bat­ter­ies will of course strengthen its at­trac­tive­ness, but the fact that so­lar energy is pro­duced when it is de­manded the most (i.e. in the mid­dle of the day) makes so­lar energy less de­pen­dent on stor­age so­lu­tions than many other energy sources. Sven Lind­ström is co-founder, Chair­man and CEO of Midsummer, a lead­ing global sup­plier of pro­duc­tion lines for cost ef­fec­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing of flex­i­ble thin film CIGS so­lar cells. Mr. Lind­ström has over 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence from in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and de­vel­op­ment of high tech pro­duc­tion equip­ment and vac­uum de­po­si­tion sys­tems. He has over ten years of ex­pe­ri­ence from the de­vel­op­ment and man­age­ment of so­lar cell pro­duc­tion equip­ment and is a firm sup­porter of dis­trib­uted elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion.

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