Thursday, June 30, 2011

Solar Energy Progress in Spite of Political Clout of Fossil Fuel Industry

Despite the backward policies in the U.S. that continue to subsidize and promote fossil fuels from the 19th century at the expense of human health and the environment, solar power continues to become more competitive.

According to the global research director for General Electric, solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of innovations.  GE recently announced that it had boosted the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to a record 12.8%.  Improvements in efficiency, or the amount of sunlight converted to electricity, reduce costs.  GE plans to open a plant in 2013 to manufacture thin-film solar panels. 

Cheaper solar panels and thin film make solar power increasingly viable without subsidies.  The cost of solar cells has fallen 21% so far this year, and the cost of solar power is comparable to the rate utilities charge for conventional power in the sunniest parts of California, Italy, and Turkey, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

According to the Energy Information Agency, in 2009 the average U.S.  retail rate per kilowatt-hour for electricity ranges from 6.1 cents in Wyoming to 18.1 cents in Connecticut.

Solar-panel sales now total $28 billion worldwide.  Most solar panels use silicon-based photovoltaic cells to transform sunlight into electricity, according to Bloomberg News.  The thin-film versions are made of glass or other materials coated with cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium selenide alloys.

Steve Lehman

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