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.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

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 Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

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