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October 13, 2011

The Sinking Costs of Solar

Sunny_flowers2In a recent article, Kees van der Leun, COO of an international renewable-energy consultant group, did some math and figured solar will reach grid parity by 2018, only seven years from now. Read the article here. He recalls his 2004 trip to a solar cell factory in Germany, where he came to understand solar's true potential in the free market:

They gave me a stack of 100 silicon solar cells, each capable of producing 3.8 watts of power in full sunshine. I still have it in the office; it's only an inch high! That's when I realized how little silicon was needed to supply the annual electricity consumption of an average European family.

The solar industry here in the states is miles behind Germany. But its growth as a grassroots alternative is very real. Renewable-energy wonks are currently keeping a close eye on Boulder, Colo., where residents will decide next month whether to part ways with its utility and establish a municipal structure that will vastly boost locally-generated renewable energy. The utility is panicking, dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating the ballot measures.

If Boulder voters approve the plan, the city could become an energy trend setter. A study found that a municipal utility for the city could increase renewable-energy generation by 40 percent. And "the economic value of local energy ownership would multiply within the city's economy to as much as $350 million a year," writes John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. No wonder why clean-energy supporters are excited by this potential. Even Van Jones, President Obama's former advisor on green jobs, is campaigning in Boulder! Watch his awesome video here.

The differences can't be any clearer between solar innovation and its costs and the old ways of fossil fuels. As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune pointed out last week, "the overall costs to our economy of burning coal are so high that they're actually greater than the market price of the energy that's generated."

-- Brian Foley

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