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Solar power races to cost equity with grid

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solar farmPhoton Consulting, based in Germany, is projecting that electricity from leading (mostly silicon) photovoltaic (PV) crystalline cells will cost around 10¢/kWh - almost equal to the average residential grid price of 9.8¢/kWh. Many sunny states already exceed the 9.8¢ average: California - 14.48 ¢/kWh, Florida- 11.21 ¢/kWh, Texas- 11.54 ¢/kWh and Nevada - 11.22 ¢/kWh.

Only problem? Cheap solar energy will continue to be a victim of its own success The report predicts that demand will continue to greatly outstrip supply. Prices will remain high until production can ramp up to global demand. Photo Consulting should know - demand for PV cells in Germany is a large component of the global silicon shortage which has seen silicon rise from $9/kg early this decade to $60/kg this year.

Good news - technologies in the pipeline will help solar power simultaneously increase production, reduce material costs and increase efficiency.

Wayne Campbell with synthetic chlorophyll dye

Researchers at Massey University in New Zealand figured "if it ain't broke don't fix it". If you want to harvest solar energy, use chlorophyll! Nano-engineers unveiled a titanium dioxide solar cell dyed with synthetic chlorophyll that can produce electricity at 1/10th the cost of current silicon based PVs (once commercialized).

Savings arise from cheaper production costs (the cells can be easily mass produced and titanium dioxide is plentiful) and higher efficiencies under low-light conditions. The dyes can even be used in tinted windows.

Boeing researchers are succeeding in improving efficiencies at the other end of the spectrum - concentrated light conditions equivalent to 240 suns. These cells double the efficiency of standard PVs (22% to 40%) by combining multiple layers of semiconductors with light concentrators. Their cost goal once commercialized?
8 - 10¢/kWh.

Hat tip to The Sietch blog for info on the synthetic chlorophyll solar cells.