Without a doubt, solar energy has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past thirty years, as technology has improved and fabrication costs have decreased. In 1980, the price per Watt of a solar module was roughly $22. Now the price per Watt hovers around $3 and shows signs of continuing downward well into the future.
Such progress has led futurist Ray Kurzweil to project that solar technology will compete with fossil fuels, and will be able to provide 100% of the world’s solar energy by 2030. The basis of his projection is the continual doubling of solar power every two years for the past 20 years.
IT professionals might recall the concept of “Moore’s Law” in reference to computer chips.
According to Moore’s Law, the number of components that can be put on a computer chip doubles every 18 months. Evidence of this can be seen in the continual improvements in computer technology over the past 15 years or the perpetual evolution of cell phones. The main contributors to this evolution are increases in production volume and advances in performance capabilities which drive lower manufacturing costs.
Some experts are calling for Moore’s Law to be applied to solar technology, due to the exponential improvements in solar over the past several decades. Solar manufacturers are constantly learning how to reduce the costs of solar cell fabrication and continually finding new ways to capture more of the sun’s energy. The trend since 1980 has roughly been a 7% decline in solar costs per year.
If this trend continues (which experts say it could), the cost for solar will be 50 cents per watt, thus putting solar on track to beat coal. But in fact, with the increasing costs of fossil fuel powered electricity currently, we could see solar becoming competitive way before then. And attaching a price on carbon emissions, as has been proposed through California’s new carbon markets, could accelerate this competition even further.
In the end, there is much reason to be optimistic about the potential for solar power in the future. With new advances being made nearly every year (such as the Gemasolar 24/7 baseload solar power plant in Spain), we could be seeing a clean energy future much earlier than anticipated.
Image CC licensed by Walmart Stores: Thin Film Solar rooftop.