A new report from the Chinese government notes that the cost of solar power in that country could drop below 0.80 yuan (12.5 cents) per kilowatt-hour by 2015. At that price, solar matches up favorably with the current go-to source for cheap energy, coal. How? Well, China already expects to double its solar-electric capacity by the end of the year and is providing incentives for further growth.

This follows a report issued last April in which Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected that solar power could be price competitive with coal around the world by 2020. Both large-scale installations and rooftop solar have seen a steady decrease in cost that is expected to continue for several years. According to Bloomberg's numbers, the true cost of retail electricity from solar may already rival that of coal.

Over the next two years, the rate of solar panel installation is expected to surge as prices continue a steady decline while performance and availability improve. For decades, coal has been cheap to use, but the high initial cost of constructing coal plants, the current low cost for natural gas, and plunging prices for renewables have made building new coal plants a risky proposition. As a result, many proposed coal plants in the United States have been canceled. China has constructed hundreds of new coal plants to feed that nation's rapidly increasing demand for electricity, but the result has been high levels of pollution (and high numbers of mining deaths). With the parity in prices, China may now move its power demand toward solar.

Earlier this month, the United States DOE authorized a new 290 megawatt photovoltaic system in Yuma County, Arizona. Worldwide manufacturing capacity for photovoltaics has jumped to 27.5 gigawatts, a nearly 400 percent increase in three years.

When you put all these items together, the future looks pretty bright for the sun's energy (pun intended). Market forces, which have long supported increased use of fossil fuels, may have already shifted to the side of solar, and that's a good thing for everyone, but especially for those with plug-in vehicles.


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  • 26 Comments
      Dave D
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wish people would publish their assumptions when they put out statements like this. Did they assume that no fossil fueled solution or storage was needed to provide power at night? Did they assume gov't subsidies to make these prices? Are they assuming some kind of carbon tax to make this balance out? I'd love for this to be true, but somehow, I don't believe it based on the low price of coal...sans any type of penalty for the polution it causes. I guess if you told people all the facts, then you couldn't slant every story the way you wanted. Sigh.
      fairfireman21
      • 3 Years Ago
      But the pure size and price just to build it is astrinomicle. The efficiency of solar is still way low, the most efficiant has been 18%, wind is by far better.
      Nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      As good as it sounds, the world, and China in particular, has burned more fossil fuels in the past year than at any point in the past. The road is long and steep. A giant amount of work remains to be done.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thank God for the rise of China! Only Chinese development of alternative energy sources can save America! The fossils of Texas will NEVER allow a serious domestic alternative energy industry arise in the US if they can help it!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Awesome news, keep those photovoltaics coming. Calculators, building-integrated, smartphones, vehicle-integrated, it'll all work. Combined with energy efficiency of better buildings and electric motors on vehicles will ensure ever more sustainable future. Perhaps some of those 100+ MW concentrated solar towers as well for desert climates around green wall of china?
      diffrunt
      • 3 Years Ago
      I won,t be here, but in 25 years, solar power will be shutting down centralized power plants, IF we eliminate battery rooms..
        fairfireman21
        • 3 Years Ago
        @diffrunt
        You would have to have state sized solar farms to do that. Spain has the largest solar farm at 432 MW, but the area it has to cover to do so is 135.9 acres. When solar is used the ground can not be used for anything else, wind would produce more power using less room and the area around the wind turbines can still be farmed, or used for livestock, very little room is used per tower. Plus the most efficient solar cell is 18% while wind is 25%.
          Gumby
          • 3 Years Ago
          @fairfireman21
          Solar thermal is way higher .. why we are not making more of it, I dont know why???? maybe aluminium is not exactly what we have in mind now.. We are avoiding aluminium for the worst reasons... We are not trying to make patio furniture, mind you.. We are trying to build solar thermal equiopment to proudce BTUs, get it? Why we still dont get it... ???????????????????????
      Levine Levine
      • 3 Years Ago
      When every house in the world has a solar panel the cost of mass producing that panel drops substantially. The energy saving and environmental preservation would be huge.
      • 3 Years Ago
      God Bless China, and thankfully China has no ingrained fossil fuel billionaires, such as we have in Texas, over whose dead bodies will there ever be an alternative fuel industry that could dare threaten their wealth and power! But again, thankfully, America no longer rules the roost anymore, however those dirty old fossils will have to be dragged to their graves clutching that last lump of coal if they can't extract the last penny of profits out of it! THey won't leave one lump of coal nor one teaspoonful of petroleum behind! Our only hope in America is if China and others grab hold of the alternative fuel industries, as our domestic fossils will do everything possible to kill or at least stall progress for as long as they have a single breath of life left in their coal-stained lungs!
      Neil Blanchard
      • 3 Years Ago
      The sun will be shining for about another *billion* years. How long will coal, and oil, and natural gas last? Neil
      Dave
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Solar energy could match coal's price by 2015 in China" "A new report from the Chinese government notes that the cost of solar power in that country could drop below 0.80 yuan (12.5 cents) per kilowatt-hour by 2015" Wow. The wholesale price of coal power in the USA is about 3 cents.
        Ryan
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dave
        And if you add in the environmental damage and CO2 pollution, how much does it really cost?
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ryan
          @Patriot. Much of what you say is very valid. The PRC has a long history of replacing reality with propaganda . In recent years, the Western media has be come eager not to report PRC activity unfavourably. In turn PRC propaganda has become increasingly sophisticated. However, it's true that economies of scale for Solar power production will increase the economic growth of the solar industry. Government incentives such as Carbon Taxes and subsidies will also help to artificially boost the value of solar energy production. The advocates of Solar Energy are very determined, (even fanatical) and the concept of Solar Energy has definitely captured the public imagination as a morally 'good' concept. The belief in the moral benefit of the industry will continue to propel distorted analysis, with self-fulfilling prophesies.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ryan
          Don't you guys think that if solar energy was that efficient or has potential to be cheaper than coal, that every company would be racing towards solar technology to cut costs ? Or do you seriously believe that businesses will intentionally use the more costly fossil fuels just so that they could pollute the earth and laugh at environmentalists ? No sources quoted have seen the report, only Solar energy manufacturers in China are making these claims. Chinese have no intentions of moving to solar energy as a nation but I am sure there is a group of propagandists sitting in Beijing smirking on how many naive armchair environmentalists they will fool in the west with this week's propaganda. No wonder when this miracle will not pan out, environmentalists will blame the "oil Companies", the "Republicans", "Capitalists" etc etc. Feakin d0u5he$!!
        Roy_H
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dave
        Yes, that does not seem reasonable at all. I would be willing to bet that coal power costs less in China than in the US. I wonder if it was a miss-print 0.30 yuan would be 5 cents.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Roy_H
          Dirque. Almost all water heaters in China (by which I take it you mean the PRC) are NOT Solar Powered! Urban citizens of the PRC seldom live in type suburban houses prevalent in the suburbs of western cities. Instead they live in vast multi-story blocks of apartments. The heating for these would be impossible to solar heat during the long and bitter, Beijing, Shanghai etc winters. Take the example of Chongqing, a city in central PRC of 32 million people. Chongqing is "Fog City" due to the monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate. Over 170 days of fog ! Winters are short and overcast. The city's location in the Sichuan Basin causes it to have one of the lowest annual sunshine total. (less than 1015 hours). Massive Pollution hasn't helped, but the Fog is largely natural, and has always been a feature of the City. Energy needs are supplied, not by solar but an additional new 10-million-ton-capacity refinery operated by CNPC (parent company of PetroChina) to process imported crude oil from the Sino-Burma pipelines. In addition the giant (and controversial) Three Gorges Dam is nearing completion and will supply Chongqing with power. 28, mega-sized new Coal fired power stations are being built for Chongqing, with 5 more being completed this year. The Three Gorges Dam will allow access for ocean going colliers from Australia, to disembark Coal directly into the heart of the PRC. Even the corrupt, violent and brutally repressive Chongqing Communist Party administration, admits that Solar installations are infinitesimal and ineffective. This is just one City in the PRC! "All most all water is heated", ? Fantasy! Now if your are speaking of the ROC (Taiwan) you would be more accurate. Taipei has a significant investment in Solar and is also developing Geo-thermal power.
          Edge
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Roy_H
          Marco Polo, you indicated "Take the example of Chongqing, a city in central PRC of 32 million people.". Chongqing covers an area of 32,000 square miles. The urban population of Chongqing is much lower at 5.1 million. The rest are farmers.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Roy_H
          it's assuming that 1 dollar = 6 yuan which is a reasonable exchange. The thing is that the Chinese really are embracing solar much more than we are. Almost all water heaters are solar powered in China for instance. While infrastructure spending is much higher in China than here, because they are playing catch up, decentralized power production is a win- vs. wiring and putting in gas pipelines everywhere. Especially when you factor in the cost of copper now vs. when they installed copper wiring in the states. Point of origin power generation is a huge third world equalizer. A similar comparison being wireless phones vs. land lines.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Roy_H
          @Edge . My apologies, the line should have read "a city in central PRC of 5.8 million. The rest of the population of the of 'Greater Chongqing' are not all farmers. The PLA has more than 1,000,000 troops stationed in the 13th military district. Factories, Dam building,Pipeline, Construction, Service industries, and other activities, occupy another 2/3 rds of the population. The city has always been very resentful of Beijing, and suffered badly during the 'Cultural Revolution'.
        Mark Sumner
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dave
        The price in the report is retail price to the consumer. The cost of the sunshine is about 0 cents.
          Arun Murali
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Mark Sumner
          If you are ready to own the stock of the company installing the solar system in front of your house for 40 years, then it might cost you 0 cents. I donno how many years they took into count for the 12 cents/KWh. We certainly need a solar energy breakthrough, but this is certainly not it.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      more
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Congratulation Mark, nothing is more valuable than unbiased, well authenticated, facts checked, analytical reporting! Unfortunately, your article displays none of these qualities! Instead you have elected to publish an article preaching to the already converted Solar Energy fan base. There is nothing wrong with being an advocate or supporter of the Solar Industry. (Everyone, loves the idea of capturing clean energy from the Sun!). However, like all industries, Solar Energy suffers from certain practical and economic challenges. Solar advocates and activists, can be forgiven their passion for biased, distorted and downright incredulous claims. Likewise, PRC propaganda is just that, propaganda! Anyone expecting veracity from PRC reports, is either stupendously naive or dishonest. The Bloomberg report is no more than unsubstantiated information from a subscription news service. Bloomberg's analysis is no more valid than your own. Solar Power advocacy is invariably morally and ideologically based. It relies upon the delusional premise that if a house can benefit from solar power in an individual lifestyle circumstance, that example can be extrapolated to prove Solar Power can replace conventional power for an industrialised nation! Economic information from the PRC, is of little value. Only a few moths ago ABG published a press release from Nissan featuring the installation of Solar facilities at a small UK car plant. . Analysis of the information supplied by British Gas, (The Solar Facilities builder and operator) verifies that a Solar Energy facility large enough to meet all the needs of the plant,( including the resale of sufficient surplus to BG (at parity) to offset night operation,and low productive days), would cost in excess of GBP155,000,000 (approx $US2500,000,000). Or $US 10 million per year over the lifetime of the solar installation. A further capital cost of at least $US 25 m. p.a. would raise the annual operating cost to $35 million. (without land tax, maintenance, etc) . Deducting the current cost of power of approx $4-6 million p.a. (not including future power rate increases), leaves a $30 million annual deficit. (The size of the Solar Facility would be over 1000 acres!) BG/Nissan argues that this $30 million deficit should be compensated by government (Taxpayer), tax allowances, incentives, subsidies etc. If the taxpayer is willing to subsidise the cost of alternate energy on moral or ideological or even climate change rationale, then a Solar Energy model could be viable. The ability of any Western nation (except the oil rich Arab states) to achieve such a level of economic investment and sacrifice, is dubious. To envisage the Politburo of the PRC initiating such a policy, is absurd.
        Woody Becker
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        Marco Polo, for once I agree with you.
        brotherkenny4
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        It's possible that it may be worth 30 million for the improved health of the local communities. Not to mention the other environmental benefits such as reduced mining.
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