Solar energy will reach fossil fuel parity in the next five years says GE

According to the global research director at General Electric breakthroughs in solar technology are likely to bring the cost of solar energy below that produced from fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within five years. Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg, Mark M Little predicted that the cost of solar energy will fall to $0.15 per kilowatt hour or lower.

“You’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to have solar at home,” he told the news agency.

GE plans to open a manufacturing plant for thin-film solar panels in 2013, bolstering its presence in a market where solar panel makers are helping to drive down prices through increased production volumes.

Meanwhile, technical breakthroughs are also making solar power more affordable. For example, scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology have recently unveiled flexible solar cells with 18.7 per cent efficiency, setting a new world record for the ability of solar panels to convert light into electricity.

It will be difficult to quantify the exact crossover point when solar becomes cheaper than fossil fuels, in part because of the volatility of fossil fuel pricing.

However, the Energy Information Administration predicted in its May Short-Term Energy Outlook that the average cost of electricity will increase slightly this year. In January 2011, the average retail price of electricity to residential customers in the US was just under $0.11 per kilowatt hour. Throughout this year, it is expected to average 11.84 cents per kilowatt hour.

A recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed a rapidly falling cost for solar energy, noting that in 2010, it stood at $0.14 per watt.

Although some may criticise comparisons of solar with fossil fuels because of subsidies for renewable energy, a report issued last year by the International Energy Agency identified that global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption grew to over $500bn in 2008 from $342bn in 2007.

“These subsidies distort energy markets, inhibiting growth in the renewable energy sector,” the Solar Energy Industry Association said at the time.

Wiles Greenworld supports the move to renewable sources of energy and welcomes GE’s investment in research making solar power financially viable to all.

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