Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Making Solar Cheaper Without Using Better Cells

Costs could drop by as much as 30 percent with other improvements.

  • February 5, 2010

The cost of solar power could be cut 30 percent without improving the performance of individual solar cells, says Daniel Alcombright, vice president for North America at Solon Corporation, based in Berlin.

At the ReTech 2010 conference in Washington, DC, last week, Alcombright laid out his company’s plans for cutting costs and increasing power output, which will result in lower costs per kilowatt hour over the lifetime of solar panels, making it more competitive with conventional sources of electricity.

About half of the cost of solar power comes from the cost of the solar panel itself. The rest comes from installation costs, the costs of electronics for converting DC to AC for the grid, and other things like the cost of land and maintenance.

When Alcombright was first hired at Solon a few months ago, the company sent him to a solar installation project, to give him an idea of how things went. He saw plenty of ways things could be improved. For example, highly-paid electricians spend hours constructing assemblies for conduits, when such things could be built for less in a factory. Solon is working on fixing this, and making other changes: Larger solar modules with quick mount frames could also reduce overall construction costs. So could standardized plans for solar farms, so that each new project doesn’t have to be engineered anew. Finally, low cost tracking systems and software for optimizing their performance in different locations and from season to season could increase power output from the same solar panels.

These sorts of inefficiencies are evidence of an industry that’s still in its infancy–but they also suggest there’s a lot that can be done to make solar cheaper, even without major advances in solar cell efficiency.

Couldn't make it to EmTech Next to meet experts in AI, Robotics and the Economy?

Go behind the scenes and check out our video
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.