Opinion: Ultra cheap (solar) electricity

POSTED: 06/18/14 11:03 PM

Utilities company G.E.B.E. better hurry up with its view on future energy resources for St. Maarten. Technological developments threaten to make the current power plan obsolete within the next fifteen years – that is, if we accept what Vincent Dekker writes in his green weblog in Trouw. The technology of solar panels will have improved so much fifteen years from now, that a kiloWatthour (kWh) of solar electricity will only cost 2 to 3 euro cents (2.7 to 4 pennies) in favorable regions. There is little doubt that St. Maarten qualifies as a favorable region for solar energy.

Dekker quotes a group of prominent PV (Photovoltaic)-experts that talked about the potential of solar energy technology in Brussels. The Dutch expert Wim Sinke tempered the enthusiasm among over-enthusiast fellow-countrymen. In the Netherlands, the price will not go lower than between 4 and 5 eurocent per kWh

Never mind, Dekker notes, at that price solar energy is cost-effective everywhere.

The most important improvement in solar panel technology is the efficiency, Sinke said in Brussels. Currently standard panels turn 15 percent of sunlight into electricity. That number will double to 30 percent and more. This way, consumers will be able to use smaller panels for the same result. That means less installation material, a shorter installation time and therefore lower costs. The production of solar panels will also become cheaper.

Miro Zeman confirms in an article in the journal Delft Integraal of the Technical University Delft that the efficiency of solar panels will increase fast – even faster than Sinke predicts. Zeman reported the development of a new type of thin-film solar cell with four layers that established an efficiency record. The most advanced solar cells will reach an efficiency of 50 percent within the next couple of years, Zeman predicts. “In 2030, 40 percent efficiency for all solar panels is standard and in 2030 solar electricity will be the cheapest energy source of all.”

En route to those 4 to 5 cents (and 2 to 3 eurocents in places like Spain, the Sahara, Texas and St. Maarten) in 2030, the price per kWh will come down to around 7.5 eurocent by 2020, Wim Sinke expects. Not bad at all.

With a price like that, you do not need an arrangement whereby you sell energy back to the grid of a utility company, Sinke says. If you use the generated solar energy for yourself, you will save 20 to 25 eurocent per kWh; if you sell energy back to the grid, you may receive the 4 or 5 cent the utility companies have to pay for electricity from gas or coal-powers plants.

In the Netherlands, the government is already busy to cut down on the regulation for selling energy back to the grid. That is fine for those who are buying solar panels now or in the near future, but unfair towards those who kick-started the market during the past couple of years by buying relatively expensive solar panels.

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