Is Solar Power an Economical Alternative to Conventional Energy?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the US Department of Energy stated the following in their Sep. 2014 report "Tracking the Sun VII," authored by Galen Barbose, Samantha Weaver, and Naïm Darghouth, available at emp.lbl.gov:

"The number of PV [photovoltaic, a type of solar energy technology] systems installed in the United States has grown at a rapid pace in recent years, driven in large measure by government incentives. Given the relatively high historical cost of PV, a key goal of these policies has been to encourage cost reductions over time through increased deployment. Key research and development efforts to drive cost reductions have also been led by the U.S. DOE's SunShot Initiative, which aims to reduce the cost of PV-generated electricity by about 75% between 2010 and 2020.

Available evidence confirms that the installed price of PV systems (i.e., the up-front cost borne by the PV system owner, prior to any incentives) has declined substantially since 1998, though both the pace and source of those cost reductions have varied over time. Following a period of relatively steady and sizeable declines, installed price reductions began to stall around 2005, as the supply chain and delivery infrastructure struggled to keep pace with rapidly expanding global demand. Beginning in 2008, however, global module prices began a steep downward trajectory, which has been the driving force behind the roughly 50% reduction in the installed price of PV from 2008 through 2013."

Sep. 2014 - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 



PRO (yes)

Deutsche Bank stated the following in its Feb. 27, 2015 solar industry investment report "Crossing the Chasm," authored by Vishal Shah and Jerimiah Booream-Phelps, available at db.com:

"Despite the recent drop in oil price, we expect solar electricity to become competitive with retail electricity in an increasing number of markets globally due to declining solar panel costs as well as improving financing and customer acquisition costs. Unsubsidized rooftop solar electricity costs between $0.08-$0.13/kWh, 30-40% below retail price of electricity in many markets globally. In markets heavily dependent on coal for electricity generation, the ratio of coal based wholesale electricity to solar electricity cost was 7:1 four years ago. This ratio is now less than 2:1 and could likely approach 1:1 over the next 12-18 months...

The economics of solar have improved significantly due to the reduction in solar panel costs, financing costs and balance of system costs. Overall solar system costs have declined at ~15% CAGR [compound annual growth rate] over the past 8 years and we expect another 40% cost reduction over the next 4-5 years."

Feb. 27, 2015 - Deutsche Bank 



The International Energy Agency stated the following in its Sep. 2014 publication "Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy," available at iea.org:

"Solar PV power is a commercially available and reliable technology with a significant potential for long-term growth in nearly all world regions. This roadmap estimates that by 2050, PV will provide around 11% of global electricity production and avoid 2.3 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emissions per year...

PV will achieve grid parity – i.e. competitiveness with electricity grid retail prices – by 2020 in many regions...

The primary PV economic goal is to reduce turnkey system prices and electricity generation costs by more than two-thirds by 2030. Turn-key system prices are expected to drop by 70% from current USD 4,000 to USD 6,000 per kW down to USD 1,200 to USD 1,800 per kW by 2030, with a major price reduction (over 50%) already achieved by 2020...

PV has already achieved competitiveness for a number of off-grid stand-alone products, services and applications."

Sep. 2014 - International Energy Agency (IEA) 



Tom Randall, MIA, MS, Deputy Sustainability Editor at Bloomberg News, stated the following in his Oct. 29, 2014 article "While You Were Getting Worked Up Over Oil Prices, This Just Happened to Solar," available at the Bloomberg News website:

"After years of struggling against cheap natural gas prices and variable subsidies, solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states -- in 2016...

Even if the tax credit drops to 10 percent, solar will soon reach price parity with conventional electricity in well over half the nation: 36 states. Gone are the days when solar panels were an exotic plaything of Earth-loving rich people. Solar is becoming mainstream, and prices will continue to drop as the technology improves and financing becomes more affordable, according to the report...

The reason solar-power generation will increasingly dominate: it's a technology, not a fuel. As such, efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on. The price of Earth's limited fossil fuels tends to go the other direction."

Oct. 29, 2014 - Tom Randall, MIA, MS 



John Farrell, MPP, Director of Democratic Energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, stated the following in his Sep. 19, 2014 article "Solar and the New (Democratic) Energy Economy," available at ilsr.org:

"Solar power is the catalyst for the new energy economy because customers can for the first time cost-effectively supply electricity from their own home or business. Solar provides more utility than energy efficiency, which is limited to reducing energy consumption (even if it is the lowest cost resource). Solar provides more opportunity than large-scale renewable energy, which can at best reduce pollution and wholesale energy costs. Decentralized solar is democratic because it provides both political and economic power by allowing people, individually and collectively, to challenge the utility monopoly over energy supply."

Sep. 19, 2014 - John Farrell, MPP 



Lester Brown, MS, MPA, founder and President of Earth Policy Institute, stated the following in his Apr. 21, 2015 article "Lester Brown: The Great Energy Transition to Solar and Wind Is Underway," available at ecowatch.com:

"The worldwide use of solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity is expanding by more than 50 percent a year. In addition to millions of rooftop installations, thousands of utility-scale solar projects are now under development or construction. At peak power, the solar systems installed worldwide by 2014 could match the output of at least 100 nuclear reactors.

The costs of both solar- and wind-generated electricity are falling fast, undercutting fossil fuels in more and more electricity markets."

Apr. 21, 2015 - Lester Brown, MS, MPA 



CON (no)

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance stated the following in its Feb. 12, 2015 report "Filling the Solar Sink Hole: Billions of Bucks Have Delivered Too Little Bang," available at its website:

"Government-backed solar boondoggles are rampant and include such devastating examples as the Solyndra loan, which cost taxpayers $535 million and left 1,100 employees without a job, and the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, which, despite reaping $1.6 billion in subsidies, produces electricity at a cost three times higher than traditional power and has requested $539 million in additional direct handouts from the federal government...

In spite of government's best efforts to encourage innovation by solar energy companies and encourage Americans to rely more heavily on solar electricity, solar power continues to be a losing proposition. American taxpayers spent an average of $39 billion a year over the past 5 years financing grants, subsidizing tax credits, guaranteeing loans, bailing out failed solar energy boondoggles and otherwise underwriting every idea under the sun to make solar energy cheaper and more popular. But none of it has worked. Solar energy remains prohibitively expensive – often three times more than electricity produced from natural gas or other sources. As a result, less than 1 percent of the electricity consumers by Americans comes from solar energy sources."

Feb. 12, 2015 - Taxpayers Protection Alliance 



The Institute for Energy Research (IER) stated the following in its Feb. 20, 2015 article "Obama Subsidizes U.S. Solar Energy and Promises to Do the Same in India," available at its website:

"President Obama subsidized solar and other renewable energy in the United States with taxpayer money to the tune of $39 billion per year on average for the past 5 years. These massive subsidies, however, have done little to increase the contribution of solar power to the electricity generation mix as solar is expected to produce just 0.6 percent of electricity generation this year...

States also have also heavily subsidized the solar industry by offering tax breaks and 538 rebate programs. Twenty states have personal tax credits related to solar products, 18 states have corporate tax credit and deduction programs, and 14 states and Puerto Rico offer taxpayer-funded grants to support solar electricity. The 538 different state and local green energy rebate programs are intended to reduce the final cost of products including solar water heaters and grid-connected rooftop solar panels...

Government programs intended to drive down the cost of solar electricity have failed to make expensive sources of energy affordable. As result, instead of the consumer paying the full cost of solar-generated electricity, the government programs shift some of the cost to the taxpayer. Federal loans leave the taxpayer on the hook in cases where the loan is not repaid."

Feb. 20, 2015 - Institute for Energy Research 



Charles Frank, PhD, Nonresident Senior Fellow for Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, stated the following in his May 20, 2014 article "Why the Best Path to a Low-Carbon Future Is Not Wind or Solar Power," available at the Brookings Institution website:

"Adding up the net energy cost and the net capacity cost of the five low-carbon alternatives, far and away the most expensive is solar. It costs almost 19 cents more per KWH than power from the coal or gas plants that it displaces...This means a new wind plant could at least cost 50 percent more per KWH to produce electricity, and a new solar plant at least 200 percent more per KWH, than using coal and gas technologies."

May 20, 2014 - Charles Frank, PhD 



Diana Furchtgott-Roth, MPhil, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and former Chief Economist at the US Department of Labor, stated the following in her May 20, 2014 article "It Costs You a Fortune for Obama to Be Green," available at the Real Clear Markets website:

"Solar energy produces a small fraction of one percent of America's electricity and costs almost twice as much to produce as natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. If the 27 percent of U.S. electricity generated by natural gas came instead from solar power, consumer costs for monthly electric bills would increase about 25 percent...

For power plants entering service in 2019, energy produced by natural gas can be produced for $66 per megawatt hour, compared with $130 an hour for solar PV2."

May 20, 2014 - Diana Furchtgott-Roth, MPhil 



H. Sterling Burnett, PhD, Research Fellow for Environment at The Heartland Institute, stated the following in his July 20, 2015 article "Solar Power Still Disappointing," available at the Heartland Institute website:

"Despite a tremendous amount of subsidies, solar power, whether from traditional arrays of solar photovoltaic panels or solar thermal generate less than 1% of U.S. electricity demand. Solar arrays, however, provide six times more power than solar-thermal plants and, though still more expensive than traditional power plants, cost roughly half as much to build as their solar thermal rivals...

Whether in terms of ecology or economics, the costs of solar power are high, and the amount of power delivered underwhelming and less than expected."

July 20, 2015 - H. Sterling Burnett, PhD