While attention has been focused on the Government’s overblown plans for expanding windpower, something extraordinary has been happening to solar energy. The prices of solar photovoltaic (pv) panels have been plummeting, wrong-footing even proponents of renewable energy.
In just the last two years, says a new report by the blue-chip Ernst and Young the average one-off installation price of pv panels has plunged from about £1.25 per watt of generating capacity to less than 95p. And in another two, it predicts, it will have crashed again to little more than 60p, which would mean that costs had halved in just four years.
Another estimate, by HIS iSuppli Market Intelligence is even more bullish, reckoning that the halving will have taken place by the end of next year.
And the Silicon-Valley-based Applied Materials reckons that by the end of this year producing electricity from the sun will cost the same as buying it from the grid in 18 countries – including Italy, Spain and Brazil – as well as its home state of California. That critical take-off point could come as soon as 2016 in the UK, but is unlikely to be later than 2019. By 2020, Applied Materials adds, more than 98 per cent of the world’s population will “have access to solar power at the sane cost as current residential power”.
All of which makes the official Committee on Climate Change –which last month concluded that solar power was too expensive to warrant attention in the short term, and instead backed nuclear energy as the cheapest low carbon source – look distinctly behind the times.