The global research director for General Electric Co. (GE), Mark M. Little, has said he thinks solar power may become more affordable than power generated from both fossil fuels and nuclear within 3 to 5 years. He sees innovation as being the key driver of the increasing affordability of solar power.
This is actually nothing new. Some analysts have been saying this for a while now, and others involved in predicting the path of new technologies, such as Ray Kurzweil, have seen the fast takeover by solar power as inevitable for quite some time. However, others, such as famous short seller Jim Chanos, do not see it the same way at all.
Back in April GE announced that it had managed to raise the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to 12.8 percent. Efficiency in relation to solar panels, is the amount of light from the sun that is able to be converted to electricity. Increasing solar panel efficiency further in the future should serve to reduce costs more.
GE intends to manufacture thin-film solar panels in a big way at a new facility, which is set to be the biggest in the U.S. The company has made a serious $600 million investment in the manufacturing project. The facility will employ around 400 workers.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance has forecast that solar installations may increase by as much as 50% in 2011, with thin-film solar makers becoming not as dependent on government subsidies as solar companies have historically been.
According to Bloomberg, the cost of solar cells has dropped 21 percent this year so far, and the cost of solar power is already hitting parity in some parts of Italy, Turkey and sunny California.
Another innovation that may begin to reduce costs is concentrating solar thermal power, that utilizes molten salt to store and deliver energy at times when the sun isn’t shining.
Image credit: GE