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Top tech companies plug into renewable power

Lucas Mearian | March 5, 2013
Microsoft, Google and Apple are among those tapping solar, wind and hydroelectric power sources.

By pumping money into renewable energy resources, Google also hopes to drive up the economies of scale in order to eventually push prices below that of brown energy resources, Demasi said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, utility-scale wind projects cost about $2 per watt to install, and solar projects are about $3 per watt. Using those figures, a 100-megawatt wind project would cost about $200 million; a similar solar facility would cost about $300 million.

Independent power producers such as NextEra and Invenergy own more than 80% of all wind power capacity installed in the U.S. The same is true for solar power.

Dropping prices

The median installed price of solar photovoltaics has dropped by 25% to 35% over the past three years, according to a study published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in November 2012.

The cost for solar electricity dropped by $2.1 per watt from 2008 through 2011, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.

The study, which includes preliminary data for 2012, included data based on more than 150,000 individual residential, commercial and utility-scale photovoltaic systems, totaling more than 3,000 megawatts and representing 76% of all grid-connected photovoltaic capacity in the U.S.

According to the study, the median installed price in 2011 was $6.1 per watt for systems less than 10 kilowatts in size; $5.6 per watt for systems between 10 and 100 kilowatts in size; and $4.9 per watt for systems offering than 100 kilowatts. Prices for 2012 are not yet available.

But partial data for the first six months of 2012 indicate that prices continue to fall, with the median installed price of projects last year 3% to 7% cheaper than in 2011.

The installed price of solar power has dropped even more in states such as Massachusetts, where incentives for renewable energy have placed the state ahead of the rest of the country in solar deployments.

According to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab study, the market for photovoltaic power in the United States is, to a significant extent, driven by national, state, and local government incentives, including up-front cash rebates, production-based incentives, renewables portfolio standards and federal and state tax benefits.

For example, the price for solar power deployments in Massachusetts now costs on average of $4 per watt, down from $12 in 1998, according to Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs for the Washington-based SEIA.

While Massachusetts is ranked 44th in size among the other 50 states, the Bay State is ninth in solar energy deployment, mostly due to aggressive state government incentive programs.

A solar power farm next to Route 495 in Southboro, Mass.

To date, Massachusetts corporations have deployed 200 megawatts of solar power and utilities have deployed another 50 megawatts, according to Hitt. Yet, solar power still only makes up about 1.5% of the state's 13,000 megawatts of power generation.


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