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Solar Panels Reach $1 a Watt

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the seeking-parity dept.

Power 381

ZosX writes "An article over at Popular Mechanics announces that, for the first time, solar cells have been manufactured for the much sought-after figure of $1/Watt. They also talk about a new study of the cost of the particular raw materials used in different manufacturing processes. The conclusion is that the company that just achieved the $1/W milestone, using cadmium telluride technology, may not prove to be the long-term winner capable of meeting demand when it rises into the terawatt range."

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thats nice (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27031957)

get back to me when a individual can buy them for $1/watt.

Re:thats nice (5, Informative)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032483)

Well as long as they're using rare earth metals, they will never become available. Their supply is much too limited.

Cadmium may not be that expensive, and not that super-rare (though calling the supply abundant would be a stretch), there is barely any tellurium supply.

From the wikipedia page :

Tellurium is extremely rare, one of the nine rarest metallic elements on Earth. It is in the same chemical family as oxygen, sulfur, selenium, and polonium (the chalcogens).

And the reality is ... of all the atoms in the universe (and "more or less" on earth) you have the following relation, for every ton of gold in existence (on earth), there's about 100 grams of Tellurium available.

It's not expensive, because no-one's using it. But if you start mass-producing anything with tellurium in it that cheapness will disappear sooner than you can say "exhausted supply".

It would probably be a very good investment to buy (right now) a ton or so of tellurium and put in your basement. Perhaps a bit unorthodox an investment, but before 20 years pass it will be many times more valuable than gold or platinum. Right now it costs between $70 and $100 per pound. You can reasonably expect that to become at least several thousand within the next ten years.

Wow (4, Interesting)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032009)

I'm not sure what my peak load is at home, but at $1/Watt I imagine I could generate all my own electricity for less than $10,000. Assuming my roof has sufficient room for it, that's really awesome. My current electric bill is around $65/mo. which means that in 153 months this would be paying for itself, or about 12 years. Of course, figuring in things like maintenance, repairs, and so forth makes this harder to gauge, but that's pretty good. Now the consumer electronics industry just needs to convert everything over to run on DC and I'm all set. How soon can I put in an order?

Re:Wow (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032143)

I think you forgot to buy batteries.

Re:Wow (1)

Delwin (599872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032153)

Grid-tied and you don't have to.

Re:Wow (1)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032487)

But grid-tie won't help at all when the grid goes down.

Re:Wow (4, Insightful)

Delwin (599872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032589)

The point of these installations isn't to keep going without the grid - it's to generate your power either greener or cheaper depending on what angle you're coming from.

Re:Wow (4, Insightful)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032697)

But grid-tie won't help at all when the grid goes down.

It also won't help if your phone is disconnected or your house catches fire - what's your point?

The question was whether it makes economic sense, not if it's better than the power grid.

Re:Wow (1)

drunkennewfiemidget (712572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032241)

You're also forgetting, that like most other batteries/electronic generator type hardware, they degrade over time, and in 10 years, they won't be providing you with that $10,000 of electricity anymore.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032437)

You also forgot to read the rest of his post which includes: "maintenance, repairs, and so forth".

Re:Wow (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032663)

Ok, so you spend $12K instead of $10K to deal with the derating that will occur over the life of the panels. Plus your utility will pay you for the power you generate with those extra panels. Still coming out ahead, it just takes a couple of years. Not all investments are short term.

Re:Wow (2, Interesting)

frieko (855745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032249)

Most (but surely not all) modern electronics work just fine on 170 VDC, including computers and CFL lamps. (120VAC = 170Vp-p)

Re:Wow (1)

ATMD (986401) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032567)

[CITATION NEEDED]

Re:Wow (1)

iksbob (947407) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032685)

Yeah, no joke.
I haven't taken apart a computer power supply recently, but most wall-wart power adapters use a good old-fashioned transformer to step the voltage down before rectifying, filtering and regulating it. If you feed DC into a transformer, you'll get a static magnetic field and heat, but no voltage on the output leads.
And then there's your major appliances, which often use AC motors. Similar to transformers, AC motors depend on the alternating magnetic field produced by running AC power though the windings of an electromagnet. So, similarly, if you run DC through an AC motor, you'll get heat and a static magnetic field.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032631)

Most (but surely not all) modern electronics work just fine on 170 VDC, including computers and CFL lamps. (120VAC = 170Vp-p)

Not for any circuit that uses a step-down transformer. Many wall warts wouldn't work, and if you try applying 170V to a 5V input on a typical CD player you will likely being say goodbye to your CD player.

You will need a step down switching power supply for a 170V DC input for most electronics.

Re:Wow (1)

bwalling (195998) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032537)

If I could get one installed for $10,000, it would be a no brainer. My electric bill averages around $300/month. It's lower in the winter ($275) and peaks around $350 in the summer.

Re:Wow (5, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032629)

I'm not sure what my peak load is at home, but at $1/Watt I imagine I could generate all my own electricity for less than $10,000.

It doesn't matter what your peak load is. If you're in an area that's on the grid, then you want a grid-tied system, and therefore any power you can't generate on your own will come from the grid. At other times, when you have extra (e.g., a hot sunny day when you're out hiking), the power company buys it from you. There is typically a very strong economic incentive to buy a system that matches your yearly consumption, not your peak load. If it's providing less than your yearly consumption, then you aren't getting the best deal, because you still had to pay for a day's labor by the crew with the crane, etc., and you still had to pay for an inverter. The converse is also true: you probably don't want an oversized system. I have photovoltaics on my roof, and in my area, if I produce more than I use over a 12-month period, the electric company won't pay me for the excess. They'll just say, "Gosh, thanks for all that surplus power."

It's typically very, very difficult to make a realistic calculation of how long it will take a residential PV system to pay for itself. People always ask me how long mine will take to pay for itself, and I always tell them honestly that I have absolutely no idea. The problem is that energy prices are extremely volatile -- that's why they exclude them from the CPI. Remember just recently when gas was $4 a gallon? Historically, the price of electric power has always tended to go up, but we don't know how much it will go up over the 25-year design lifetime of our system.

What you can do is to consider all your local factors: latitude, amount of sunny weather, whether you have a south-facing roof, whether there is any shade on your roof, and current local prices for electricity. Every time this topic comes up on slashdot, people will make blanked statements about whether PV is economically viable. That's just nonsense. It depends on all those factors. If it was an utter economic no-go, the industry wouldn't exist. If it was 100% clear that it was economically favorable for everyone in, say, LA, then you'd see PV systems on the roof of every house in LA whose owners had sufficient capital to pay for the system. The fact that the industry exists, but is still fairly small, tells you that there's a lot of uncertainty about it. You're welcome to invest your money in the stock market instead, but it won't help with global warming.

Now the consumer electronics industry just needs to convert everything over to run on DC and I'm all set.

Ain't gonna happen. Network effects are one reason. Another reason is that different devices naturally want to work from different voltages, but you can't step voltage up or down if it's DC.

Re:Wow (1)

evilad (87480) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032643)

Your peak load is irrelevant, unless you're planning to try to do this without a battery system. You really just need to meet your average load, and have enough storage capacity to last the rest of the day.

TCO (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032025)

Here's something for you, that I didn't realize: apparently it costs MORE to install and set up a set of solar panels on your home than it does to manufacture them. It made me think, "wow, I'm going to install those myself for half the price!" but attaching stuff like that to the power grid is probably not a DIY project. And it isn't just a day labor job either. It's going to take a trained electrician, at $30-$60 an hour putting that stuff in.

So, their goal is to get the cost of manufacturing down to about 60-70 cents a watt, and the cost of installation down to $1 a watt. I didn't realize the hidden cost of installation was so high.

Re:TCO (1)

deep_creek (1001191) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032107)

My future plan is to avoid the power grid and use solar to power items around the house that don't need the grid. Say an AC window unit that could run during the day on solar to supplement my central AC unit, etc... Stuff like this can be achieved as a DIY project.

Re:TCO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032115)

even at $1/W for the panels, you still have the inverter cost, mounting hardware, and grid tie.

This is a good thing, but we are still far away from $1/W installed.

Re:TCO (5, Informative)

stabiesoft (733417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032117)

It does not take that long to put in the "grid" part. My system was wired (the part requiring an electrician) in a couple of hours. The large cost component besides the panels is the inverter for a DIY. The magical box converts the DC from the panels to a sync'ed grid AC. The DC from the panels is extracted in such a way as to maximize the power, by constantly adjusting the voltage of the panel output. Its a cool little box with all sorts of protection to make sure the power company and your line doesn't crackle.

Re:TCO (1)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032351)

It is ironic and wasteful that we are building megawatts of DC generating solar, just to convert it to AC to power all those wall worts that convert it back to DC to power our electronics.

Re:TCO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032433)

Wort is the unfermented malt for beer. Perhaps you meant wart, as in a protuberance?

Re:TCO (1)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032513)

That's because DC doesn't travel very well along long wires.

Re:TCO (3, Informative)

shermo (1284310) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032579)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC#Advantages_of_HVDC_over_AC_transmission [wikipedia.org]

Advantages and disadvantages of DC vs AC current.

That's because DC doesn't travel very well along long wires.

For transporting large amounts of electricity point to point over large distances ("along long wires") DC is the better option.

Re:TCO (1)

key.aaron (1422339) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032525)

You may want to look up the inherent difficulties in transporting DC on a large scale.

Re:TCO (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032575)

Damn straight. do you know how heavy all those politicians in DC are? Do you know how hard it is to get them to do anything, let alone transporting them. Heck some even require their own planes.

  Oh wrong kind of DC.

I still agree with you though.

Re:TCO (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032127)

I'm preparing to install solar on my roof. It isn't that hard. I've completed almost all of the paperwork for the CSI grant and local permits. Mounting the panels to the roof is simple as is figuring out which way to point them. The wiring is brain dead simple. I have a local electrician lined up to come out and hook it into the actual panel for me. Total cost for his time is about $300. I'm saving $10k by doing this myself! Total out the door cost is about $23,500 for 4.6 Kw.

Re:TCO (2, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032267)

Crime Scene Investigators involved even before you start work?

Re:TCO (2, Interesting)

pngai (561529) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032701)

So your cost is about $5.10 per watt.

Re:TCO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032147)

just because you didn't consider the cost doesn't mean that it's a hidden cost.

Re:TCO (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032223)

Well it is getting to be a DIY field, with controllers and isolators being available off the shelf as well as hundreds of how-to sites springing up all over the web concerning wind, micro-hydro and solar augmentation.

But its no surprise that installation costs more than the pieces, that's sort of true about just about anything other than plug-it-in-turn-it-on appliances.

Still there is no reason to assume that the basic modules coming out of FirstSolar's plant are anywhere near ready for Joe Sixpack, and TFA is pretty vague.

The real problem is one of durability and upgrade-ability. The payout period for materials and installation of off the shelf kits to date exceeds the life expectancy of the parts, making this sort of thing only suitable for areas where there are no grid alternatives.

Re:TCO (5, Informative)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032263)

That may be true, but for TCO, we're talking set up costs vs. money saved over the expected life span of the panels. We put some up at work, enough to cover about 50 - 70% of our energy needs depending on the time of year. (we ran out of roof space to cover 100% of our energy needs) Now we viewed that as a sunk cost on the part of the business. Last year we all couldn't take anymore money home without getting bumped up into higher tax brackets. So we decided to reinvest the profits to help improve cash flow. Which it has. It freed up enough to hire a jr. developer.

Total time to ROI is about 7 - 9 years by the absolute numbers in terms of savings on our utility bills. But the extra developer allowed us to put a product on the market this quarter instead of late Q2 or even Q3 of this year. Already it is earning enough to cover 40% of his salary and should be profitable by the end of the year. The product could make enough by this time next year to pay for the solar panels. If not next year, certainly within 24 months. If the solar panels last us 15 years, we're looking at recovering a good long term ROI even figuring in the replacement of certain parts at least once during that period.

I would like to see more people putting these on their homes where it makes sense. Obviously places like Seattle aren't ideal candidates, but if you could turn every house and flat roof into a power producer instead of consumer. I'm sure the power companies don't want that. And I'm not sure if the current government would like that since it would empower people to take individual action to meet their energy needs instead of relying on the government. Even if every home/business just produced 20% of the power they used, it would reduce the load on the power grid by that much. And it would make life easier for places that are already having brown outs etc.. (California)

Re:TCO (0, Offtopic)

afabbro (33948) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032341)

World peace will happen. http://p5y.org/ [p5y.org] [p5y.org] It's simple.

That has to be the silliest thing I've ever read. It makes the Communist Party look like hard-nosed pragmatists.

Re:TCO (0)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032573)

Did you read the book? If you didn't, or you don't have any counter-arguments, then you are just a troll.

But if you do have counter-arguments, I can answer them. Every single one. Because world peace IS possible.

Re:TCO (1)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032605)

I haven't read it, but I'm curious - how do you plan to solve the problem that some people are simply not good at heart and will commit violence simply to serve their own ends?

Re:TCO (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032391)

IAAE (I am an electrician) and I can tell you that the major cost consideration of a on-grid PV system (after the panels themselves) is the grid tie inverter. They are SERIOUSLY expensive. The off grid equivalent would be a battery bank which is just as expensive and a potential environmental disaster in the making.

If you want to save money, energy and the environment then I would suggest a vacuum solar hot water system any day of the week. Much cheaper, much more efficient and still does some dam useful work.

Re:TCO (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032613)

If you were going to write out "I am an electrician" anyway, why would you writing something as stupid as "IAAE" before it?

Costs and usage (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032449)

This goes with the assumption that the main benefit of use would go to users installing them as sources of power for a whole household.

While that might eventually be the case, I'd imagine that the first step might be more in the integration of solar energy. Imagine if all A/C units came without a plug and instead had integrated solar panel(s). After market-penetration reached a high-enough level, there could be a huge reduction on grid-usage during the summer (after all, if it's sunny enough to be hot, it's sunny enough to provide power).

Re:TCO including disposing of toxic cadmium (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032465)

Those panels aren't going to last forever, and unlike silicon panels which may involve some toxics during manufacturing but aren't bad once they're finished, cadmium's a nasty toxic material, so cadmium-telluride panels aren't going to be something you can send to the dump for free; I don't think anybody knows what the disposal costs will be.

Re:TCO (1)

S-100 (1295224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032699)

The other figure often neglected is the amount of power (in kWH) generated based on your locale. Obviously, solar panels generate nothing at night, but depending upon your longitude and other factors, the average power generated is substantially less than 1/2 the rated output. For me, the figure is 2.5 full sun hours, which means that the daily average output is the rated output of the panel for 2.5 hours. So, a 10 kW array, which would generate 10 kW under full sun conditions will only generate 25 kWH on the average day vs. the intuitive thinking that you'd get 12 hours of full power output per day (240 kWH). That's almost a 10:1 discrepancy.

Chilling effects. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032029)

What happens when we line the world's deserts with endless fields of solar panels and tip past the breaking point of global cooling? Where's your God now?

Re:Chilling effects. (2, Insightful)

Teun (17872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032067)

You have to be an Anonymous Coward to propose a system for Energy Destruction on /.

Re:Chilling effects. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032077)

What happens when we line the world's deserts with endless fields of solar panels and tip past the breaking point of global cooling? Where's your God now?

then we could control the temperature by covering some of them..

Re:Chilling effects. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032217)

Burn oil? Just an idea.

Re:Chilling effects. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032309)

What happens when we line the world's deserts with endless fields of solar panels and tip past the breaking point of global cooling? Where's your God now?

With apologies, I've been fiddling with the Dialectizer, so here's Anonymous Coward, translated into Redneck-speak:

Whut in tarnation happens when we line th' wo'ld's deserts wif indless fields of solar panels an' tip past th' bustin' point of global right finein'? Whar's yer God now?

Re:Chilling effects. (1)

SGDarkKnight (253157) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032325)

What happens when we line the world's deserts with endless fields of solar panels

Well, the first thing you would need to do is figure out a cost effecitve way for the sand in desert not to chip away at the solar panals rendering the useless after the first couple of strong winds / sand storms blow by. This has always been one of the major disadvantages of building a solar power generating station in a desert. In fact before this $1/Watt was made possible, the cost to build and maintain one of these solar generating stations was mute compared to the power savings the grid would save if they were to take that money and use it to install solar panels the individuals homes for who that plant would primarly serve.

Re:Chilling effects. (1)

Macrat (638047) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032467)

one of these solar generating stations was mute

Mute? I didn't know power stations could talk..

Re:Chilling effects. (3, Informative)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032439)

What happens when we line the world's deserts with endless fields of solar panels and tip past the breaking point of global cooling?

What are the desert sands but another form of solar collector?

Re:Chilling effects. (2, Informative)

UCSCTek (806902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032543)

For those who might take the parent seriously:

Global cooling would only follow if we just stored all of the energy collected by the panels. Assuming we used it, or otherwise released it, which we would probably have to, this would create an amount of thermal energy equal to the initial loss. In the end, only the local energy density on Earth has changed.

Generally, global warming/cooling effects will need to involve changing the rate at which energy enters or exits the Earth. For example, carbon dioxide emissions increase the energy retention, while increased cloud cover can decrease energy entry.

Re:Chilling effects. (1)

Delwin (599872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032617)

This is why I've always been a little leery of the thought of solar panel satellites beaming power to Earth - that is adding energy to the system.

Re:Chilling effects. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032673)

"Where's your God now?"

In R'lyeh, sleeping. Why do you ask?

Cost is a bad measurement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032041)

1) The cost can go down if they found a cheaper source to get the material. It is not always advances in science that cause cost to go down.

2) The cost of a watt could have been $1.01 for the past few years. Reaching a nice round number (maybe even due to inflation) is meaningless. It's big jumps that are important.

That said, I did not RTFA.

Some comments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032051)

Even if we make the materials cheap, I question how long they'll last before needing replaced. But, even so, solar power has advantages other forms of generating electricity don't have.

Imagine if new houses were required, by law, to be built with at least 5 kilowatts worth of solar panels (or pay a fee to the state government). If enough houses get solar panels, then they'd be generating some electricity. Even if they don't bring down their power bill significantly, they'd still be contributing to the available power, especially in summer, when air conditioners are on, and especially in winter, when some people need more electricity-based heat. What I'm saying is that hopefully this will eliminate rolling blackouts in some areas.

Re:Some comments... (2, Informative)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032207)

better insulation seriously reduces the need for airco or heating. investments in insulation are said to have a pyback time of 1 to 2 years. (this means 50% to 100% return of investment per year)

Re:Some comments... (1)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032337)

Yes because solar panels work especially well in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky and it tends to be cloudy/raining/snowing?

Re:Some comments... (1)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032455)

We just put in solar panels last october. Our building and roof is angled to the south. Our electric bill has been cut by more than half except when it gets into the single digits and we have to crank the heat up. (Ceramic tile floors get most of that morning sun and helps keep the place fairly warm through out the day.)

But solar is not the ideal for all climates. Even in the winter time we still get about 10 hours of day light on the shortest days. If we were much further north or in a place like Seattle, then you have a point.

The solution to the energy question is going to be what works best in your area. There is not going to be one magic bullet for this.

Re:Some comments... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032367)

The article says the price per watt went to 98 cents. But it didn't mention anything about the watt density.

Without knowing this, you really can't assume you can get 5KW on a typical house roof.

Don't get me wrong, I think its a good idea, along as rack systems and electronics were as standardized as everything else that goes into house construction. That has not yet really happened and many systems the DIY crowd is bolting onto their roofs are systems for which parts will not be available in 3 to 5 years.

Most systems today are not designed to feed back into the Electrical grid. Most are designed for simple isolation.
Feeding back into the grid means that the utilities should pay the home owner, but don't expect the power companies to pay going rates for this if this becomes common. They will want to charge you 10 cents and pay you 4 cents.

Re:Some comments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032611)

Ah, but various power companies have already figured out the "pay the home owner" scam with solar power. Check out the multi-tiered, peak vs. off-peak, summer vs. winter rate schedule from PG&E.

Tellurium (3, Interesting)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032055)

Volume production will outstrip the world Tellurium supply in the near future so this isn't going to be a cost effective technology for long.

Re:Tellurium (5, Insightful)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032129)

This is something we are told about just about any mineral resource, and usually once it gets short, we manage to find a new resource, obviously this cant happen forever, but running out mightnt be an issue for a while. Also it means this technology isnt going to be cost effective for long using the current materials.

Re:Tellurium (4, Insightful)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032343)

Mod parent up - the mining industry typically just isn't wandering around prospecting for new ore veins unless they a) don't have enough reserves to meet projected demand or b) the price is high enough to justify opening new mines. When the price gets high enough or the reserves get low enough, they go looking and they usually find something. Most of these alarmist "we're out of element X" projections are based on proved reserve numbers, which are just what the mining companies know about *right now* and can extract.

It won't last forever, but there's a lot of ground out there to be dug up yet. I can't promise it'll be as economical to extract as current reserves and prices may fluctuate accordingly, but there *IS MORE OUT THERE*.

Re:Tellurium (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032131)

You apparently understimate the rising costs of energy [what-is-what.com] of _all_ types. It is a feedback market, as one type of energy chages price, the others change along with it to keep within a natural price ratio. That ratio changes in the short term, but in the long term non-renewables become more expensive and renewables become cheaper. Are you arguing that solar energy is a non-renewable energy resource because of the tellurium supply? You do realize that there are tellurium supplies that are not currently being mined, because of cost? As volume and demand increase, those resources will be mined.

Cadmium toxicity's a real problem too (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032401)

Cadmium's a really nasty material - even if it's available in significant enough quantities to transform the electric industry, it's not the kind of stuff you want to have getting into the water system.

Re:Cadmium toxicity's a real problem too (1)

Big Bob the Finder (714285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032695)

Well, so is tellurium. Individuals exposed to tellurium even at very low concentrations develop "tellurium breath," a foul garlic-like odor. As an undergrad in chemistry in college, I was informed only half-jokingly by a professor that was an occupational hazard that had restricted our knowledge of the element.

However, from a production standpoint its scarcity is troubling; Wikipedia states its presence is lower in the crust than that of platinum, making it the rarest stable element by concentration. 500 tons of copper ore- apparently a decent source of the stuff- leads to the production of about one pound of tellurium. Perhaps that's one reason why First Solar settled here in copper country- Arizona.

I can't seem to find how much Te is used to dope Cd to produce CdTe; even if it's not a lot (part-per-million concentrations), they will run into problems quickly, so I'd be interested in finding out how they plan on working around that.

Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about toxicity, so long as the stuff is confined within panels. It's insoluble (can't seem to find at what level- surely some minute amount dissolves in water), but it seems to be safe enough once confined within panels. Presumably the designers worry enough about hail damage that the panels are reasonably well-constructed to prevent release of material.

So tell me where i can buy it. (0, Troll)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032061)

Unless you can give me a link/phone number where i could immediately, as in NOW, purchase solar power at $1/W, this is a useless announcement. Additionally, the areticle says manufacturing costs are past $1/W, which is not the same as the cost to the end user.

Re:So tell me where i can buy it. (2, Insightful)

Nicolay77 (258497) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032211)

This site is news for nerds, no 'news for consumers'.

$1 per Watt or per kW? (0, Offtopic)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032103)

I'm sightly confused.

In germany 1 kW (note the lower case letter "k") solar power costs about 20 cent (Euro cent) ... that is the consumer price, not production cost.

So I don't really get what this article is about.

angel'o'sphere

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032155)

In germany 1 kW (note the lower case letter "k") solar power costs about 20 cent (Euro cent) ... that is the consumer price, not production cost.

So I don't really get what this article is about

Units. You mean "per kW hour," right? The article means "per W," as in you can buy a panel that delivers a max of 100 W for $100.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (3, Informative)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032159)

20cents per kWh, one kilowatt used for one hour, whereas this is $1 per watt of capacity, i.e $1 will allow you to generate 1watt, which will generate 1kWh in 1000hrs.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032167)

For electricity from the grid to compare to Solar, you need to multiply in time. the $1/watt figure is the cost of the item, not the cost to produce electricity. They you have to factor in the day night cycle, cloudy vs clear days, and the summer/winter cycle to find out how much electricity it can produce in a year, then take into account the life expectancy.

Your 20 cents per 1kW multiplied out over the same amount of time can be used to comparison.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

Heather D (1279828) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032187)

They're referring to the cost of the panels not the cost of the electricity generated by them.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

Delwin (599872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032189)

Are you sure you don't mean kW/h?

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

Ixlr8 (63315) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032293)

Are you sure you want to suggest another wrong unit?

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032371)

Definitely not kW/h, a really very meaningless unit. (It'd be joules / (1000*(second^2)) - what exactly are you going to measure with that?) kWh would make a lot more sense, but not in this context, as the OP was confused and not realizing this is about panels, not power.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

ATMD (986401) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032601)

> what exactly are you going to measure with that?

You could measure the panel's degradation over time, assuming it's linear. Although kW/year might be more useful for that...

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

djmurdoch (306849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032195)

I think you mean that 1 kWh costs 0.20 euros. Consumers pay for energy, not power.

1 kW can produce 1 kWh in an hour. So if a 1 kW panel costs $1000 (around 800 euros), it will generate enough energy to pay for itself in 4000 hours, i.e. about half a year.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032357)

I keep looking at your figures, and they don't really make sense to me.

Ah - now I see. 800E, a 1kW panel producing a full 1kwh each hour. 4000 * .2 = 800

But you're forgetting about nighttime. In which case, that panel is going to take at least twice as long to produce enough power to pay itself off - on the order of a year, assuming you ultimately obtain a 50% capacity factor. 30-40% for a noticeably more sunny location than Germany.

And that doesn't include install, wiring, or inverter.

Note to developers: Work on getting the inverter cheaper!

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032361)

Better call it a whole year unless your solar installation migrates around the globe fast enough to keep up with the sun. :-)
(And realistically, It's probably more like 3 years).

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032409)

So if a 1 kW panel costs $1000 (around 800 euros), it will generate enough energy to pay for itself in 4000 hours, i.e. about half a year.

Those must be metric days in Euro-land... On average you only get about 4320 hours of daytime per year, minus some storms and clouds, so its more like it'll pay for itself in one full year. Even if it's pitch black cloudy half the time, thats still only two years to payoff.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

ricree (969643) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032209)

I'm guessing that you're thinking of the price of a kiloWatt hour, the measure of energy used by power companies to bill customers.

In this case, they're talking about the cost to manufacture a solar cell of a given instantaneous power output.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032237)

I believe what they're covering is the cost of manufacturing the cells, which isn't the same as the cost of the power, as the latter would apply over a period of time, such as a kWH.

So let's say you had a 60-watt bulb, 60 dollars worth of cells would pay for it to be powered, at least as long as the sun is up.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032257)

I think you are confusing the cost to produce solar panels with the amortized cost of producing power using solar panels. The article is about the cost of manufacturing the solar panels. The .20 Euro you're seeing, I believe is the cost to the customer per kilowatt hour. Those two costs are often used to calculate how long it will take for a solar panel to "pay for itself."

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032323)

I'm sightly confused.

In germany 1 liter of beer costs around 4 euros ... that is the consumer price, not production cost.

So I don't really get what this article is about.

Oh, wait, I think I get it! You're mixing unrelated units with each other!

BlackPignouf

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032651)

I wouldn't say they are unrelated: one is a thousand hours of the other.

Re:$1 per Watt or per kW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032533)

This 20 euro cents you have is the consumer price you have to consuming the solar generated energy. The price here is the price that will take to make enough solar panels to generate 1 watt of electric power.
This is the biggest fight in the Solar Panels industry now, which company will reach the $1 dollar mark first. Look to NASDAQ and ESLR for example, and their competitors.
Solar power is not a geek's play anymore. Now the big corps are stepping on the fight and they going to crush all pathetic dreams and make it a money-making machine as they did with oil. Just look to solar panel industries on the NASDAQ, and you will see what I am saying. But, as Warren Buffet said we, geeks, are the responsible for the World Economic crisis: "Beware of geeks bearing formulas." he said.

Cadmium Telluride? How green (2, Insightful)

yogibaer (757010) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032137)

Not only is Tellurium extremely rare, Cadmium Telluride is toxic and I wouldn't want to work in a factory that handles the stuff. (although rendered harmless when build into solar cells). There is nothing to celebrate here. As long as we are not able to create energy (or most other high tech) without using up the rarest of earth's elements at an alarming pace, this is a dead end.

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (5, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032169)

This sounds like the classic solar is not a renewable energy source [what-is-what.com] tale because of the non-renewable materials in solar cells. You do realize that once the cells are built, that they continue to work until damaged or otherwise decommissioned, and that the nonrenewables are not consumed in the process? Also, there are alternative materials to use, and alternative places to mine what there is.

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032233)

and, once they are damaged or destroyed, the materials can be reused ...

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032429)

Nonsense. All the edges have been rubbed off the atoms, they'll never work as well again.

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032505)

and, once they are damaged or destroyed, the materials can be reused ...

Tellurium is extremely rare... the best "ore" source for it would likely be .... used solar panels. Instead of meth addicts stealing the copper power lines, they'll start stealing panels for tellurium recycling. Weird but true. Wait till all the meth heads figure out automotive catalytic converters contain precious metals, and not just the high functioning ones know.

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (1)

mrphoton (1349555) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032383)

In optoelectronics most semiconductors are toxic or have toxic elements. e.g. GaAs (Gallium Arsenide) is used a wide range of laser diodes and photoelectrons. Come to think of it I can not thing of a single laser which does not have arsenic in it.

Re:Cadmium Telluride? How green (3, Insightful)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032441)

I hate to break it to you, but nearly everything is toxic at some level. The ugly truth is that we're not going to get to a green utopia without some exotic materials that'll probably kill you if you look at them funny. Coal and oil are very safe, non-toxic materials - as is any reasonable concentration of CO2 - but the reality is that they're not green overall. The "green-ness" of a material is in its overall impact, not in its intrinsic properties. We can engineer around the fact that handling them is toxic - it's just a process and plant design question.

We aren't going to build a completely renewable energy infrastucture out of rainbows and ponies. It's going to take some very strange stuff, much of it not good for you. We just have to manage it well.

Relative to other power sources... (1)

andytrevino (943397) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032387)

How does this compare? My gut reaction is that, government subsidies aside, per kilowatt-hour, I'm sure just about ANYTHING is cheaper than solar at this point.

When will we finally start building cheap, efficient, and above all clean nuclear plants again instead of wasting our time with this solar and wind crap?

Re:Relative to other power sources... (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032499)

cheap

HAHAHAHAH ! nuclear is NOT cheap. It is being subsidized MORE than wind or solar.

The fatal flaw with Grid Tied PV systems (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032431)

The power companies aren't stupid.

As more and more systems are installed, the first thing which will happen is the implemetation of time of use metering on residential customers.

Once time of use metering is implemented, two things will happen: Either you will be forced to sell your PV produced power at a wholesale rate
(a fraction of retail), or the power companies will move peak rates to nighttime, or both.

Your investment in a grid tied system will then be rendered practically worthless.

Don't forget it's peak power (1)

kill-1 (36256) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032551)

One shouldn't forget that the watts in all these price per watt numbers are peak power. From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

A common rule of thumb is that average power is equal to 20% of peak power, so that each peak kilowatt of solar array output power corresponds to energy production of 4.8 kWh per day (24 hours x 1kWh x 20% = 4.8 kWh)

In many parts of the world it's even less.

Why $1 per watt is important (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#27032607)

The reason why $1 per watt is important, which isn't mentioned in the summary, is not just that it's a nice round number, but the capital cost of electricity for most major industrialized nations averages about a buck a watt. Some more, some less, depends on the cost of land and the economic conditions when the plants were built, technology level, pollution controls, etc, but your local electrical power company happily pays about a buck a watt to build a traditional non-solar plant.

Solar only works half the day, but probably much lower maintenance, slower depreciation, and no fuel costs at all.

So, it now costs "about the same" to build a 1 GW coal, a 1 GW natgas, a 1 GW nuke, OR A 1 GW SOLAR ... Which brings solar into the corporate boardroom.

1W/$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27032633)

What, did solar just rise in cost, or should the article have said "Solar Panels reach 1W a $"?

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