From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]borderstan.com
Most installed solar panels (also known as solar modules) in North America and Europe have an 11% efficiency-rating. That is, of the sunlight falling on them approximately 11% of that sunlight is converted into direct current electricity.
These are the panels with which we are most familiar and for the countries mentioned, they provide a tiny percentage of total electrical production there.
For example, Germany has over one-million solar panels installed with more installed every day. Even so, all of Germany’s solar panels combined supply less than 3% of German electricity needs.
When the Sun is shining, every kilowatt of solar energy is spoken-for as it is by far the lowest-priced electricity available to utility companies during the daylight hours. In Germany, electrical rates drop by 15 to 40% during the daytime — due to the lower Merit Order price of solar power.
Solar provides lower cost electricity than the electricity produced by feeding a coal-fired burner with expensive coal ($70 – $155 per ton, plus transportation) with the required small army of personnel to unload coal from rail cars, oversee safety in the power plant, load the coal and otherwise maintain a billion dollar coal-fired power plant for example.
What is new under the Sun, is that many of those old 11% efficiency solar panels are soon to be replaced with 22% to 24% efficiency solar panels. That’s right, technology marches along and not just in regards to video games! The latest production solar panels are a ‘drop in’ replacement for the older panels.
Yes, a 100 megawatt solar power plant can become a 200 megawatt power plant — just by replacing the panels with more efficient ones.
And, unlike doubling the capacity of a coal-fired, natural gas or nuclear power plant, this won’t cost another billion dollars, nor entail yet another lengthy political fight to obtain approval. No, the old, low-efficiency panels will simply be unbolted from their brackets and the new higher-efficiency ones will be bolted into place. All of which should take a few weeks while the rest of the solar power plant continues to operate normally.
It turns out that due to mass production and a competitive marketplace, the per panel price of the new efficient panels is lower than the originally-installed panels.
To oversimplify this equation, Germany will jump from 3% solar electrical power production to 6% — just by replacing their panels with more efficient ones.
Where will it end you ask? Earlier this year, a new solar panel was announced which surpasses the 24% panel by a significant margin.
In only ten years, we have come from panels with an 11% efficiency-rating typically costing around $100. per panel, to 24% efficiency-rating panels costing $20. per panel at utility-scale volumes. Within 24-months, Amonix 33% efficiency (CPV) solar panels will go into full production. At this rate, I can’t wait for 2030!