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Will 2012 Belong To Power Or Solar Power?
Ithink wind technology is headed upwards. The industry has improved the performance of both turbines and blades, and this technology will continue to improve, yielding better economics for customers.
A lot of manufacturers in the solar value chain based their strategies on the high price of silicon that existed in 2008 and 2009. But when the prices of polycrystalline silicon fell, all those projects became unviable. Almost 80 percent of global solar panels are based on some kind of metallic silicon technology. The remainder uses thin film technology. Most thin film companies had come up to provide a substitute to the expensive polysilicon and had based their plans on the price of silicon remaining at $100, $200 or even $400 a kg. When the price of polysilicon crashed, they lost their reason for existence.
So, there was reduced demand because of lower government subsidies, massive overcapacity among the silicon-based manufacturers, and a surfeit of new, thin film manufacturers. A perfect storm.
Where wind power is concerned, it is employed as a centralised generating system. Wind tends to be very efficient if there are very large turbines that are concentrated. After hydroelectric power, wind is the cheapest renewable energy source. Unfortunately, wind power peaks twice a day, and these peaks don’t match the demand curve. Solar energy, although more expensive, has two advantages: First, it produces power when demand is maximum and, second, it is very scalable (a 50 panel installation can have almost the same cost per watt as a 500 panel one). It is great technology for ‘point of use’. So, if you have large government building with a flat roof, put solar panels on top.
I have never been an advocate of large solar farms that have to distribute power over the main grid. Solar electricity is perhaps the most expensive in terms of dollars per watt. Solar power itself can cost between 12 and 16 cents a kilowatt-hour. This is comparable to what an individual in California pays for the grid power at about 20 cents a kilowatt-hour. But this is the cost of solar power at the point of manufacture. When you create a solar farm and try to distribute it over hundreds of miles, it just becomes too expensive. Without heavy subsidies, a solar farm that mimics a centralised generating system is absolutely uneconomical. Some subsidy is okay, but basing an industry on long-term continuing subsidy is not a good idea.
Don’t get me wrong. Solar can be a perfect solution for a village that hasn’t been touched by electricity. Put up a small solar farm and create a local grid to supply power. But don’t try and run the power over the main grid.
An efficient coal plant may cost 2.5 cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh); a nuclear plant is 4-6 cents a kWh; wind power can be 5-7 cents per kWh, and solar at least double that. And, of course, wind and solar output are both governed by nature. The flip-side is that both are zero-carbon, renewable power sources that don’t depend on imported energy sources. Most countries will want to use both in some measure.
Harry Shimp is founder of Charon Industries and has over 30 years of experience in the management of high technology manufacturing companies. He has four US patents and seven more pending.
(As told to Shishir Prasad)
by Harry Shimp
posted on Jan 7, 2012
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