For the past few years, it has been assumed that natural gas is the enemy of coal, at least in the United States, where low natural gas prices have eroded marketshare from thermal coal producers.
Now, a new adversary is emerging for coal. It comes from silicon wafers, the material used to make solar panels.
According to a post in Saturday’s Quartz, a digital news outlet, a small research facility in Bedford, Massachusetts is helping to perfect a new technique for making silicon wafers, and if successful, it could reduce the cost of solar by 20 percent in the next few years.
“This humble wafer will allow solar to be as cheap as coal and will drastically change the way we consume energy,” Quartz quoted Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 Technologies, the company behind the new method of wafer fabrication.
The dramatic reduction in cost came from a wide number of incremental gains, says Mark Barineau, a solar analyst with Lux Research. Factors include a new, low-cost process for making polycrystalline silicon; thinner silicon wafers; thinner wires on the front of the module that block less sunlight and use less silver; less-expensive plastics instead of glass; and greater automation in manufacturing.
The site notes that in Saudi Arabia, a 200-megawatt solar plant will produce electricity for 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to electricity from natural gas and coal plants which cost an estimated 6.4 cents and 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, respectively, according to the US Energy Information Agency.
So is solar power set to replace coal? Not so fast, says Christopher Helman, a Forbes columnist who researched the topic last year.
According to Helman, even though solar has grown rapidly in the U.S. over the past decade, it is still a relatively small part of the country’s overall energy mix. He writes:
In fact, solar merely equals the amount of electricity that the nation generates by burning natural gas captured from landfills. And it’s only slightly more meaningful than the 7.3 million Mwh we get from burning human waste strained out of municipal sewer systems.
Indeed, when you factor in all the sources of energy consumed in this country, captured solar power amounts to well less than 1 quadrillion Btu out of an annual total of 96.5 quadrillion.
Still, if the cost of solar energy continues to drop, coal will certainly struggle to remain relevant and competitive, especially in developing countries like the U.S. where politicians are imposing increasingly stringent regulations on coal-fired power plants that are sure to squeeze margins even further. Even in less developed countries and economic powerhouses like India and China, which have driven the demand for coal, there is a movement afoot to limit use of the fossil fuel. As the Guardian reported recently, “China’s coal imports fell by nearly half in the first three months of the year as the slowing economy and tougher rules on pollution took their toll,” with imports from the world’s biggest coal consumer falling 42 percent from the same period a year ago.
China has said it will ban coal use in smog-cloaked Beijing by 2020. Last month, the city closed a 400-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the downtown area, replacing it with a gas-fired plant to cut pollution, China Daily said. Another 93-year-old coal power plant was shuttered the day earlier.
Just wait until the installation of new lower cost, Hyper X 2 double sided solar panel technology with its up to 22.2% efficiency rating becomes more widespread in the U.S.. Then the coal companies will really be screaming for mercy. These new much higher performance Gen 2 solar panels are only 1/4 inch thin and are made with a stronger, see through, glass on glass, frameless, construction that allows sunlight to pass through and reflect off the roof’s surface, thus illuminating the backside of the double sided solar cells, producing additional power.
The new 300 Watt, 60 cell solar panels that are used in Hyper X 2 solar systems offers a better PTC to STC ratio “Real World” performance according to the California Energy Commission’s performance rating listings than over 119 of SunPower’s solar panel models.
And they offer a very high 94.3% PTC to STC performance ratio. They also offers a heat resistant -0.28%/degree C temperature coefficient for better performance in warm/hot climates. And a minus 60 degree C extreme cold temperature rating. And when it comes to your home’s curb appeal, nothing even comes close to the aesthetics of Hyper X 2’s panel’s glass on glass, see through, frameless construction.
The Hyper X 2 panels, glass on glass are said to be only 1/4 inch thin.How would they fare in a hail storm with golf ball sizes hail stones, not by any means unknown, at least in Australia.?
All the technical mumbo jumbo sounds very impressive. In actuality solar is a total bust. It’s extremely expensive technology. The outlay of capital for installation takes an average 15 years in order just to break even. Then take into consideration that most installations wouldn’t be in optimum climate conditions. There wouldn’t be enough sunny weather to generate enough electricity up to the full potential of even the best solar panels. Then what happens at night when the storage batteries are drained down to support all your electrical requirements. Like any other battery, as they are drained, they lose effectiveness. No different than your conventional flashlight battery. If your weather is similar to Los Angeles or New York City where you have numerous overcast, rainy or snowy days. How do those panels produce enough electricity to run a household never the less charge your storage cells to maintain operating performance. And lets not forget, those panels only produce miliamps of electricity just about enough to operate a computer. You need 100 watts just to power a conventional household light bulb. That would be P=Volts x Amps. Do the math and see how many amps you need when in most cases the standardized format is 120 volts. How many panels would you need on a roof to meet that demand? 40, 50, 60 panels. What an additional weight load on your roof. Not to mention that if you live in a hurricane or tornado prone area it presents an additional problem for wind shear. Solar is great for all those utopian minded greenies out there but if they were paying attention during their science class in high school. They would have a better grip on reality and would realize it doesn’t work and it isn’t feasible. It sounds good though!
Funny that you came here to say all that without reading the article haha.
Just read a little bit more sir and update all of your data, like the break even point. And pay more attention in science class yourself. Solar has technical challenges, as any other technology. But it works and it is feasible. And you have better and better examples each year.
And not only “utopian greenies” are going for it, China is a good counter example.
Been reading about nano technology that will allow for 4 sided solar collectors which will gather day and night. But I think the whole solar thing will prove to be folly in the longer term when cold fusion replaces every other kind of electrical generator in the world. Lockheed Martin claims they’re 5 years from a working model and 10 from a full production model…..there’s your final game changer for ultra cheap and non-radioactive power. Although remote areas with off-gridders will always look for something like solar, so I suppose there will always be some minor demand for it.
Robert S. Stewart
The only thing that will drive coal out of the market will be the lowest installation, capex and operating costs offering more power. Silicon mining and petroleum will get a boost of market share, while old king coal will finally join the gooney bird and hydrogen airships.
Come to think of it, helium airships carrying 500 tons of cargo will replace every fixed wing cargo aircraft as they don’t even need airports or any other infrastructure (billion dollar roads, trucks, railways, trains, ships, ports, or airports) to move cargo point-to-point anywhere in the world at a fraction of the cost of conventional technology and infrastructure.
Their minimal cost of construction/operation, low noise, and invisible environmental footprint proves they may beat the solar panel to market. Thank Lockheed Martin once again for this brilliant invention, some even Leonardo da Vinci couldn’t produce 500 years ago after dreaming up man’s desire to fly by designing the first helicopter.
One has been built, tested and proven to work. They will dramatically improve the costs of building, operating mines, energy and infrastructure while transporting the resources from remote extraction projects worldwide to markets overnight – not ten changes of transport modes. This changes the face of remote extraction and opens up 3/4 of the remaining untapped world at a fraction of the cost to bottom lines and the environment.
Change is the only impediment to progress. And as human history has proven, changing our ways of doing things is the slowest method of improving our lives. Proof always comes fastest when all the costs line up and everyone lurches in a new direction.
Our helium supply might be a significant bottleneck on this plan. I’m hopeful that it won’t be, because it’s such important stuff, but it could be a problem. http://www.livescience.com/38990-looming-helium-shortage.html
SOLAR energy is in the same category as Wind Energy – sounds like it could provide energy BUT at what cost? Here in Ontario, we have had a Government-driven Wind Energy program with units supplied by SAMSUNG. The only people making money from it is SAMSUNG – Ontarians pay “through the nose” for this energy.
In a land where winter SNOW’s are 3-4 feet deep, SOLAR Energy is NOT for Canada – works in the South West USA maybe.
I only wish that “greenies” would wake up and understand that there is NO UNIVERSAL energy source, except the SUN. Now, if some bright scientist could find a way to float a station in Space over the Earth to collect that source of energy and beam it down to Earth as, e.g. Microwaves, to be reconverted back into electricity on Earth – THAT would be worth considering. BUT not in our lifetime!!!!!!!!!!!!
We in Ontario have a better Solar Generation per kW than let’s say Germany. Yet Germany is going the solar way. It is true that in Winter the production in Canada is lower, but that’s not a strong enough argument to remove solar from a energy mix.
Government subsidies were/are given to the renewable energy sector to ramp up the industry, but have you notices how quick it has come down in solar within the last 5 years?
Ontario started with FIT 1.0 and a ground-mount price of $0.443 per kWh. The Tariff of FIT 3.0 for the same size (up to 500kW) was now at $0.275. That’s a reduction of 38% in just 4 years. Imagine another 10 years going down that road.
The small residential systems had even a steeper price reduction within the same time-frame. It was reduced from $0.802 to 0.382, a reduction of 52.4%.
The policies used to implement renewables in Ontario can be discussed and could have been done better, but the results on a long run will speak for the government’s decision to implement renewable energy.
The fact that renewables will and have to be a solution in future is not worth discussing, but rather when and how.
The answer is NO – Solar will NOT kill coal-fired generators YET.
Solar power is the way to go, the more effecient they make the panels the better they will be the more power they can generate . They should be kept off roofs for obvious reasons and put on the side of houses instead or on adjustable arrays in the yard.The key is making the panels produce more power,sunshine or not.
Eventually down the road you might be proven correct. The major problem with the solar industry, is merchandising a product that not all the bugs have been worked out. Essentially they are getting the public to pay for something that isn’t totally viable yet. History tells me that when Edison invented the light bulb and marketed it. The thing worked right out of the box and whatever advancements made to it was done so at the manufacturers expense. The public wasn’t sucked into some scheme to pay for a product that doesn’t live up to expectations.
Coal is being killed by Natural Gas. Solar is also adding to it. No need for it quite soon. Solar is quite well spread over the world, and does away with the transport costs. For energy storage, you just need to make it a hybrid of Natural Gas (Combined Cycle) and Solar (photovoltaics that is).
Solar costs, Craig, Co. .10 per KW new set of panels. Something not right here as to cost in article.
it is too early to say that Solar power will replace energy from coal.
It will be ideal scenario for the overall global geo-environment but attaining this replacement will take a very long time because the two of the most populated countries & yet economic power houses, viz India & China are still dependent on fossil fuel for meeting the energy needs.I think an energy mix of electricity from solar,wind power,urban bio-waste & farm waste, geothermal and ultimately fossil fuel will be the option of the future. Let us not forget that power is also is drawn from hydel sources and power is possible from tidal power also.
Osman don’t even think of referring to the Ontario government and its energy program in this forum . I must say ,it seems the government will stoop to any level to boast about a program of renewable energy that has ..& is decimating the province! ( ” the cost of labour & energy make Ontario unfriendly to manufacturing”)… Says Warren Buffett on shuttering the Hienz Ketchup plant in the province. Our electricity costs amongst the highest in the world! It may make you feel like your taking the higher road to boast about solar..wind ..tidal to make you feel even superior to the vast peons out there but you fallow that road paved in pink slips!!
I’m with Ravi. There is no way that Solar will replace Coal!
” especially in developing countries like the U.S. where politicians are imposing increasingly stringent regulations on coal-fired power plants that are sure to squeeze margins even further”
If part of your strategy is to have regulators and politicians make your competitors product more expensive, you probably don’t have a viable product at a price people can afford. That explains the growing energy poverty from expensive “alternatives”. Of course the “alternatives” have to be mandated.
Thorium nuclear reactors are the way to go for cheap and clean energy. Which will be needed for desalinization.
Classic Liberal crap accept no responsibility just TRY and sound intelligent , maybey you won’t be asked tough questions, that’s a play right out of the idiot handling the file Bob Cherelli, moron extrodinare .Ontario built some say, a wonder of the world in a massive 14 meter high water delivery tunnel through solid rock at niagra falls for a huge hydro project….but when the wind blows…shut it down & buy the most expensive wind power on earth from Samsung. !!Yeah great wast of 1.3billion dollars in hydro power taxpayers money!
I think solar won’t be the bullet, because of its poor time life, but wind power probably yes. In Spain wind power was the most used in 2014.