How low could the cost of going solar become? Well, in its recently released Solar Energy Perspectives report, the International Energy Agency has suggested the cost of installing solar on buildings could go so low that it could “almost vanish”.
Let me explain. Double-glazing has become a standard energy efficiency feature of new buildings in many countries. In a similar way, a thin layer of building-integrated photovoltaic material could become a standard feature of new buildings, and presumably of many renovations and retrofits. According to the IEA, this could eventually make the cost of solar almost vanish in the market sector where it the most expensive at the moment.
Solar power-generating material could be integrated into many building components, such as solar roof tiles, building facades, walls, and even windows.
According to Climate Spectator, the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia has already embraced the concept, maintaining that adding a 1.5 kilowatt rooftop solar system to a house could reduce the amount and term of a home mortgage. The cost would vanish into the overall value of the home.
The cost of solar panels has dropped so much in the past 2 years that the payback on investment in now 10-12 years, and only 4-7 years if (reduced) government incentives are taken into account. The idea is that if the cost of the solar system is added to a mortgage, and the substantial energy saving it creates could be applied to mortgage repayments over time, the mortgage term could be reduced by years. Investing in a more powerful solar system, although more expensive, could produce an even greater reduction in the mortgage term, if all the energy savings are applied to mortgage repayments.
Given that the efficiency of solar could increase and the cost should drop much more dramatically than most people realize over the coming years, it seems likely to me that the costs of solar will indeed vanish into overall building value.
Taking the concept further, when inexpensive and powerful solar really starts to kick in, when on-site energy storage is developed, and when energy grids are upgraded to act more like the internet, we could see most buildings turning into mini renewable power plants. Buildings could end up producing more power than is required to run them, so homeowners could sell and share power across the network at will, like we do with information today.
That’s the future I’d like to see.