Thursday, July 7, 2016

Beyond Grid Parity for Solar Power

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where William ("Bill") Tumas from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory is speaking on "Solar Energy R&D and Materials by Design". Dr. Tumas argued that further advances in photo-voltaic (solar) energy were possible to go beyond grid parity, that is not just make solar power as cheap as coal generated electricity, but make it much cheaper. He used the analogy of the development of the automobile: early cars were used as replacement for horse drawn carriages, but the performance of cars did not end with "horse parity".

Dr. Tumas also pointed out that much of the cost of PV power is now not the cost of the PV material, but mounting and installation of the panels. The PV modules cost less than half of the total cost, with the Balance of system (BOS) cost being about 60%. It seems to me that much of the cost is not in manufacturing or installing the panels, but in selling them. If homeowners could simply tick a box when building a house, or buying a unit off the plan and have PV installed, that would considerably reduce the cost. A pre-fabricated PV array could then be delivered to the building site already configured as a roofing panel, positioned on the building and plugged into a pre-installed socket. As well as reducing the cost of surveying the roof for suitability of panel installation, this would eliminate the cost of a separate roofing panel.

There are proprietary panels for installation in roofs, such as the Solatile roof integrated solar panel. However, these still require installation in a roof installed frame. An alternative would be to have standard glass panels installed in a framework in the factory in units small enough for truck transport.

This could be made easier for retrofitting if the necessary wiring was installed in all houses during construction, just as Canberra houses are required to be built with plumbing needed for rainwater reuse.

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