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Renewable energy boom will mean vastly cheaper electricity

Lucas Mearian | July 20, 2015
Solar will surpass nuclear and negate the need to develop fusion power.

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, California [credit: Gilles Mingasson]
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, California Credit: Gilles Mingasson

Renewable energy, combined with prolific battery storage, will soon result in vastly cheaper electricity -- and solar power that's less expensive than what fossil fuel-based power plants can produce.

Additionally, solar power with lithium-ion and flow-battery storage systems will make the combination of renewable energy so inexpensive that it will surpass nuclear power and obviate the need for futuristic power sources such as fusion.

That was consensus view from a several keynote speeches delivered at the Intersolar Conference in San Francisco this week.

Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, said that in sun-rich countries, the cost of solar power is already below 5 cents per kilowatt and it will continue to plummet as battery storage systems become more prolific and less expensive.

"We are looking forward to create electricity for 2 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Compared to this, you can forget everything else, especially nuclear power plants and the quest to try to obtain nuclear fusion on earth," Weber said, explaining that solar will be less costly than any other power source.

Tesla CTO JB Straubel said he expects photovoltaic and battery storage systems to continue dropping in price, soon even passing fossil-fuel powered plants in price per kilowatt.

New installations of solar power capacity surpassed those of wind and coal for the second year in a row in 2014, accounting for 32% of all new electrical capacity, according to a report released earlier this year from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Tesla has a lot of skin in the battery storage game, as the all-electric car maker has announced two new batteries: one for businesses and one for homes.

Tesla is also constructing a its first "Gigafactory," which will churn out lithium-ion batteries to the tune of 500,000 a year, or enough capacity for 50,000 gigawatt hours of power.

Tesla is far from alone in creating lithium-ion batteries for home and commercial use. Last month, Mercedes-Benz announced its own brand of energy storage products to allow those with solar systems to store surplus power.

Earlier this week, U.K.-based OXIS Energy announced that next year it plans to bring to market a "super efficient lithium-sulfur battery" that it believes will undercut Tesla's in price. OXIS Energy also announced a partnership with Anesco, a leading commercial and home energy storage installer.

Straubel said the combination of solar and cheap batteries will create a constant flow of electricity that will beat coal and oil-fired fossil fuel plants; the U.S. is already within "grasping distance of that goal."

 

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