GE Sees Solar Cheaper Than Fossil Power in Five Years
By Brian Wingfield - May 26, 2011 1:58 AM PT
Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels
and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of
innovations, said Mark M. Little, the global research director for
General Electric Co. (GE)
ï¿½If we can get solar at 15 cents a kilowatt-hour or lower, which Iï¿½m
hopeful that we will do, youï¿½re going to have a lot of people that are
going to want to have solar at home,ï¿½ Little said yesterday in an
interview in Bloombergï¿½s Washington office. The 2009 average U.S.
retail rate per kilowatt-hour for electricity ranges from 6.1 cents in
Wyoming to 18.1 cents in Connecticut, according to Energy Information
Administration data released in April.
GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, announced in April that it had
boosted the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to a record 12.8
percent. Improving efficiency, or the amount of sunlight converted to
electricity, would help reduce the costs without relying on subsidies.
The thin-film panels will be manufactured at a plant that GE intends
to open in 2013. The company said in April that the factory will have
about 400 employees and make enough panels each year to power about
Solar-panel makers from Arizona to Shanghai are expanding factories to
add more cost savings that analysts say will sustain the industryï¿½s
expansion. Installations may increase by as much as 50 percent in
2011, worth about $140 billion, as cheaper panels and thin film make
developers less dependent on government subsidies, Bloomberg New
Energy Finance forecast.
Solar Costs Dive
The cost of solar cells, the main component in standard panels, has
fallen 21 percent so far this year, and the cost of solar power is now
about the same as the rate utilities charge for conventional power in
the sunniest parts of California, Italy and Turkey, the London-based
research company said.
Most solar panels use silicon-based photovoltaic cells to transform
sunlight into electricity. The thin-film versions, made of glass or
other material coated with cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium
selenide alloys, account for about 15 percent of the $28 billion in
worldwide solar-panel sales.
First Solar Inc. (FSLR), based in Tempe, Arizona, is the worldï¿½s
largest producer of thin-film panels, with $2.6 billion in yearly
Little also said the U.S. transition to a full smart grid will take
ï¿½many, many yearsï¿½ to develop.
A complete smart grid would consist of millions of next- generation
meters installed in businesses and homes, appliances that adjust their
energy use when prices change, and advanced software to help utilities
control electricity flows, he said.
ï¿½I think itï¿½s going to be a long time before we can realize the full
potential of the smart grid,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½But it is coming.ï¿½
GE this year plans to introduce the ï¿½Nucleus,ï¿½ a device that will let
consumers track their household electricity use with personal
computers and smart phones. The company also is investing in its
appliance and lighting unit, including $432 million for U.S.
refrigeration and design centers announced in October.
Utilities need to have incentives to put in place devices that save
energy, and Congress needs to provide greater certainty on tax policy
surrounding renewable energy, Little said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington
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