Making Solar Big Enough to Matter

  • Posted by larry stanley
  • April 8, 2017 6:16:28 AM PDT

Solar energy has become big business. Over the past decade it has plummeted in cost, surged in volume, and, as booming industries do, benefited some investors and burned others. The International Energy Agency has predicted photovoltaic solar could provide up to 16 percent of the world’s electricity by midcentury — an enormous increase from the roughly 1 percent that solar generates today. But for solar to realize its potential, governments will have to grow up too. They’ll need to overhaul their solar policies to make them ruthlessly economically efficient.

The widespread view that solar power is a hopelessly subsidized business is quickly growing outdated. In some particularly sunny spots, such as certain parts of the Middle East, solar power now is beating fossil-fueled electricity on price without subsidies.

Even where — as in the United States — solar needs subsidies, it’s getting cheaper. American utilities now are signing 20-year agreements to buy solar power at, and in some cases below, 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Those prices, which reflect tax breaks, are in some instances low enough to compete with electricity from power plants that burn plentiful American natural gas. Solar will be all the more competitive if gas prices rise — something many predict — and as more governments impose prices on carbon dioxide emissions.

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