Clean Power

Published on February 3rd, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


Thin-Film Solar Power To Be Sold For Less Than Coal Power

February 3rd, 2013 by  

Update: Some sentences and links have been added to this post to provide better context and comparison.

Update #2: I’ve published two articles on energy subsidies in response to comments on this post regarding that matter. They are: “Energy Subsidies — Clean Energy Subsidies vs Fossil Subsidies” and “Oil Subsidies & Natural Gas Subsidies — Subsidies For The Big Boys.”

According to a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between El Paso Electric Company and First Solar, electricity will be sold from First Solar’s thin-film solar panels to El Paso Electric Company for 5.8 cents per kWh (a good 4-8 cents cheaper than new coal, which is in the 10-14 cents per kWh range).

A First Solar installation of some of its CdTe panels.

The name of the power plant is Macho Springs Solar Park. It is located in New Mexico, and it has an electricity generation capacity of 50 MW.

An interesting thing about this is that the average residential retail cost of electricity in the United States is 11.4 cents per kWh, which is twice as much as the price at which this power plant will be producing electricity. Also, the typical price of thin-film solar power is 16.3 cents per kWh, which is 2.8 times more.

Clearly, even compared to the wholesale price of electricity from the cheapest energy options, this is quite competitive.

First Solar may have a very bright future. CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan recently had the opportunity to interview the CTO of the company while attending the World Future Energy Summit, International Renewable Energy Conference, and other Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week events. He has a post coming soon on the potential for thin-film solar to take the lead again in the solar panel market, as well as more on First Solar’s development plans. Stay tuned.

If you’re inclined to bring up subsidies, it should be noted that a Harvard Medical School study found that coal costs us an additional 9-27 cents per kWh in health costs. In a perfect world (economically), that would be added onto the LCOE of coal mentioned at the top (the 10-14 cents per kWh figure). That would bring the LCOE to 19-41 cents per kWh. Additionally, coal has received subsidies for about a century that dwarf anything solar has received.

As far as the plant above, the power purchase agreement should be signed by June.

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa

Source: PV Magazine
Photo Credit: boutmuet via Flickr

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • jburt56

    The important thing is to get the unsubsidized price down to around $0.10 / kWh as soon as possible. The subsidies are a good value if they promote that goal and you can tell if the industry is consistently reducing costs over time instead of getting stuck on a price plateau.

  • Pingback: First Solar Buys 150 MW California Solar Power Plant (To Be Done 2014) | CleanTechnica()

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  • Can anyone tell me if this thing works? >>

    • Bob_Wallace

      My guess is that if it works at all it works poorly.

      If someone had a breakthrough technology would they be hawking it on U-toob like a better potato peeler?

      If they had something great you’d see it being funded by venture capitalists with recognizable names.

  • Dr Green

    This clearly shows the way for a better life. Even if this is possible by the added subsidies solar energy manufacturers get, we need to be happy that the subsidy is for a good reason.

    • Bob_Wallace

      In the US we spend about $1 billion per day to treat health problems caused by burning coal. That money comes out of the taxes we pay and out of our health insurance premiums.

      Coal is extremely heavily subsidized. We just don’t talk about it. (Enough)

  • FYI, I’ve published two articles on energy subsidies in response to comments on this post regarding that matter. They are: “Energy Subsidies — Clean Energy Subsidies vs Fossil Subsidies” and “Oil Subsidies & Natural Gas Subsidies — Subsidies For The Big Boys.”

    Links here:

  • dorfs1

    Coal is usually about 3 cents a kw/hr. The key line is “new coal”, which means that the power plant was forced by the epa to use plasma conversion. The city of Colorado Springs found a way to meet epa regulations without plasma conversion to manufacture syngas, instead uses a new shaker method, The greenies cried foul and sued, even though clean air standards for all emissions levels were never breached. Colorado Springs has the 6th cleanest air in the country. The NSG scrubbers remove the same amount pollutants as syngas conversion does, except for CO2, which is not a pollutant. Man made global warming is a hoax. Congress already told the EPA they didn’t have the right to regulate CO2, so why am I paying out the ying yang to regulate something that China doesn’t regulate?

    Go nuclear and use the money saved to fight poverty, the number one killer of man worldwide.

    • Sorry, we’re not in the business of spending our days & nights on lost causes. And we have our limits with the amount of BS we let people spew on our webpages. Good luck learning from science & keeping up with society’s advancements.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Leave your denier BS at the door when you enter dorfs. We don’t entertain crackpot theorists here.

      And learn something about the cost of nuclear.

      Here, I’ll help you get started…

      “Let me state unequivocably that I’ve never met a nuclear plant I didn’t like,” said John Rowe, who retired 17 days ago as chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, which operates 22 nuclear power plants, more than any other utility in the United States.

      “Having said that, let me also state unequivocably that new ones don’t make any sense right now.”

      “I’m the nuclear guy,” Rowe said. “And you won’t get better results with nuclear. It just isn’t economic, and it’s not economic within a foreseeable time frame.”

  • maquih

    Bob Wallace, you are a moderator, NOT a debate participant. Allow us users to debate, it is inappropriate for you to affect the debate when you should be moderating, NOT arguing.

    • Bob_Wallace

      When you manage to get yourself put in charge of the site then you can make the rules.

      Until then I input and I smite….

  • maquih

    Why is everyone hating on this article? The price of Solar energy is going down. That’s a good thing. If you have access to very very cheap coal energy, good for you! Congratulations! However, not everyone pays the same price for coal energy and why wouldn’t you want Solar to compete with coal. COMPETITION IS A GOOD THING. There is no question that Solar energy will continue to drop in price and that is unquestionably a good thing. Whether or not you choose to power your home with Solar, Coal, Natural Gas or some other source is your own personal decision and that is fine. However, whenever the price of energy drops in this country, that is a good thing!

    • they are very likely connected to the coal industry in some way. the vast majority of the public loves solar and doesn’t like coal (for good reason).

  • Rjbeach

    If one paid the true cost of gasoline at the pump, almost the entire military budget would have to be included. I have read, no reference here, that the true price of gasoline is $16-20 per gallon

    • Sounds about right, but probably a bit low — health and societal costs probably not fully accounted for in that but I’d have to see the study & assumptions. (It’s quite common to leave out costs that are hard to calculate.)

  • Bob

    re “Thin-Film Solar Power To Be Sold For Less Than Coal Power”

    “from First Solar’s thin-film solar panels to El Paso Electric Company for 5.8 cents per kWh (a good 2 cents per kWh lower than coal’s median price of 8 cents per kWh).”

    We live in Colorado next door to New Mexico and we currently pay Xcel Energy $0.04604 per KWh (that’s 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour) for our residential electric power (that’s the retail price).

    That’s obviously less that 5.8 cents per KWh. 5.8 cents is 26% *more* than the 4.6 cents (retail) electric price we currently pay here.

    The fault embedded in the article lies in its comparison of the new plant’s *specific* retail cost to a *median* cost of ‘coal’. If you go to the article’s linked source for the claimed 8 cents/KWh ‘median’ cost of coal, you find three nedian prices for ‘normalized’ coal energy per KWh in the graph (per KWh):

    $0.05 – Coal, Pulverized Coal, Scrubbed.

    $0.04 – Coal, Pulverized Coal, Unscrubbed.

    $0.08 – Coal, Integrated Gasification, Combined Cycle.

    The article’s author chose the highest of the three median figures for his comparison. That was unfortunately not as informative as it might have been for readers. There are no ‘median’ power plants, there are only specific plants and readers will be best informed by comparisons of specifics to specifics rather than comparing a specific plant to an illusory non-existent ‘median’ plant. The merits of PV vs coal are well-known, but an article that states the figures so that a new specific solar install beats an averaged figure chosen to imply a *general* cost advantage to solar is unhelpful, IMO.

    We pay less here for our coal and natural gas than the new plant in NM, which will charge 26% more to its retail customers than we currently pay. While there is great interest in Colorado in moving away from coal for our electrical needs, there’s no disputing that we pay less now than the article’s solar subsidized neighbors will to the south of us. We currently burn coal here for our electric, much more than the national average. Our state’s portfolio of installed wind farms is increasing, but delivers quite a bit less than our coal and natural gas powered plants. These are the facts on the ground here. Thanks for listening.

    rate source:

    UC Berkely Physics ’79

    • Bob_Wallace

      Incomplete accounting, Bob.

      You left out the “hidden cost” of coal. The billions we pay in tax dollars and health insurance premiums to treat the health problems caused by coal pollution.

      And the 13,000+ Americans who die each year from coal pollution.

      You’re really paying close to 20 cents per kWh for the coal-electricity you use.

      And this…

      “The fault embedded in the article lies in its comparison of the new plant’s *specific* retail cost to a *median* cost of ‘coal’.”

      You can’t legitimately compare the cost of electricity from built and paid off coal plants with the cost of new generation.

      Did you not take a econ class?

      • maquih

        Why don’t you moderate instead of actively participating in the debate??

        • someone can’t keep an eye out for spam while also engaging in discussion? o.O

          • maquih

            I guess they CAN, but they shouldn’t.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You don’t like someone pointing out how coal is costing us a fortune and human lives, maquih?

          • maquih

            Not when that person is a moderator.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve got me one of them Sherlock Holmes hats. The ones with a double bill.

            When I’m commenting I keep the “comment” bill to the front.

            When I need to smite spam I spin it around to “mod mode”.

            It’s a site feature. Live with it….

          • maquih

            Actually, that would be an interesting solution; switch to your non-moderator account to make an argument. Having a moderator participate in a debate taints the integrity of that debate.

          • I don’t understand the theory that one person can’t do two jobs. ?

    • maquih

      You pay 4.6 cents?? Congratulations you are very lucky. In NYC we pay 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. We would love to have anything under 10 cents. It’s a good thing that solar energy is becoming cheaper. I don’t understand why you criticize the article. A median is a useful illustration of what samples exist out there. Obviously, some are higher and some are lower, and most likely many are right at the median. Your anecdotal evidence is far less useful than knowing a national median price.

    • yes, the original source for price of coal was loose. in actuality, though, it was conservative (on the side of coal). new coal costs 10-14 cents per kWh. take a look at the updated link. of course, add on the health externalities of 9-27 cents per kWh (as determined by a Harvard Medical School study), and coal is several times more expensive. it’s a shame that wasn’t in the story originally.

    • and regarding using data from a specific project in the region — yes, that would be useful, but coal power plants are on the way out, so we don’t have that data. solar power won the contract… for several reasons.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Here’s some data on the NM subsidy. It average 2.7 cents for ten years.

    Year 1: 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 2: 2 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 3: 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 4: 3 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 5: 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 6: 4 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 7: 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 8: 3 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 9: 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour
    Year 10: 2 cents per kilowatt-hour

  • Walt Gorden

    where does the electricity come from at night?

    • Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

      They haven’t figured that part out yet, currently they park the company vehicles in front of the solar panels and put the high beams on.

      • Say who? The electricity feeds into the grid. The grid has many sources of power. We could add about 40 times more solar to our grid and not have issues with ‘too much’ solar — we’d be about where Germany is (relatively speaking) with solar.

    • They store power in special batteries during the day that can be used at night.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Wind, hydro, geothermal, natural gas, coal, and storage. (We have over 20 gigawatts of pump-up storage in the US.)

      Over time fossil fuels will play a smaller role and renewables + storage will take over. It’s already happening.

      Through November we got 5.3% of our electricity from non-hydro renewables. That’s up 13% from the year before and 2011 was up 17% from the year before that.

  • Golem xiv

    How dare you get my hopes up.

  • Let’s purposefully overlook the government subsidies that are driving that price down……. Ridiculous. I like solar power, but let’s be honest about it.

    • The sweetheart tax deals for coal and gas dwarf anything renewable energy might get. Its bad enough but now those older sources are trying to use their political power to muscle out anything new. Its not the free market at all if you only want one side to have to compete on fair ground.

      • In total, absolutely. But per kWh (which is the measurement that actually matters) coal gets about half as much as solar. Chris is right.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You don’t understand the very large amount of financial support coal receives. You’re looking at only part of the numbers.

          • Stanley

            Do any of you have links to sources about these coal subsidies. I’m honestly very skeptical, as green energy is politically correct and coal is not, so I’d expect the solar producers to be given favorable treatment over coal. Remember Solyndra?

            The fact that this article also makes ZERO mention of subsidies and treats the 5.8 c/kWh indicates to me that this piece is more about propaganda than news.

          • Bob_Wallace

            First, a newspaper report…


            And then the study it is based on…


            Some people attempt to use the term “subsidy” in a narrow way to limit support to only direct financial assistance.

            We subsidized the transcontinental railroad by giving away enormous amounts of public land to the railroad companies. Some they used for their tracks. Other, significant, amounts of that land were sold by the railroad to finance their construction.

            We subsidize the oil industry by using our military to provide oil field/shipping route security at no cost to the industry.

          • quite frankly, if you want to get into subsidies, the situation looks even worse for coal. i’ve added some links above, but basically: new coal is 10-14 cents per kWh on the current market, but there’s an additional 9-27 cents per kWh in health costs that society pays. that dwarfs solar subsidies. then there are also historical subsidies for coal, which are significant.

    • The_Countess

      without those it would still be cheaper then coal. and that’s removing the subsidies on coal energy.

      • If you removed the subsidies on both solar and coal, solar would still be significantly more expensive. This article is making a strange conclusion, since it’s saying that this one instance of wholesale solar power is cheaper than retail coal power in general. It’s not cheaper than wholesale coal power.

        BSing doesn’t benefit anyone.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Wrong, Rob.

          Add in the amount we pay in tax dollars and health insurance premiums to treat coal pollution health problems.

          That’s what makes coal our most expensive form of electricity generation.

        • It is cheaper. The wholesale price (or LCOE) wasn’t originally included. But it is now. Furthermore, a Harvard Medical School study has found that coal costs the US up to $500 billion a year in additional health costs. That equates to 9-27 cents (extra) per kWh. That’s a societal subsidy that actually brings its price up to 19 cents per kWh on the low side to 41 cents per kWh on the high side. Coal also has historical subsidies that dwarf solar’s subsidies per kWh to date.

    • FairAnd Blanaced

      I love the indignant comment. Solar subidies are about 1/100th of what oil and coal get. But ya know, it’s always good to spout off on the internet.

      • Mike

        More like 1/10,000th of what oil and coal get.

        • You have your math wrong. Solar receives 10,000/1 what oil and coal get. Almost man, just backwards.

          Also cite your references if you want credit. Spouting off on the internet isn’t good enough anymore.

          • Joe

            HA, ok sock puppet. I like all the references you cited… Get back to jerking it to fox news.

      • You’re replying to a post about the cost per kilowatt-hour, not the cost in total. Your argument makes no sense. Solar power subsidies in the US are twice as high as coal subsidies when measured per kWh. Stop being deliberately obtuse.

        • deliberately obtuse? seriously, be careful what you say. a Harvard Medical School study has found that coal costs the US up to $500 billion a year in additional health costs. that equates to 9-27 cents (extra) per kWh. that’s a societal subsidy. it also has historical subsidies that dwarf solar’s subsidies. don’t be deliberately obtuse, please.

      • Cite your sources about 1/100. It’s more like 100/1 if you would go look up a reputable source and show your results here.

        But you won’t because it will break your argument.

        Enjoy spouting endlessly without any proof.

    • Bob_Wallace

      No, let’s look at those government subsidies.

      Thirty years ago solar panels cost $100/watt. They are now selling for around $0.65/watt. That’s a 150x drop in price.

      What brought solar panels from “too expensive to use anywhere except in space” to “affordable for just about everyone’s rooftop” is government subsidies.

      It’s one of the very best investments we’ve ever made with public money.

    • If you internalized the health costs of coal, it’d be about 3-5 times more expensive than it is. But hey, let’s just ignore that. And beyond that, coal’s historical subsidies (and its first year’s of subsidies alone) make solar’s look miniscule. But hey, let’s ignore that so we can hate on society advancing. 😀

      • “internalized the health costs of coal” – reference needed
        “2-4 times more expensive” – reference needed
        “coal’s… make solar’s look miniscule” – reference needed
        “society advancing” – opinion only, references and sources needed.

        My god. you just wrote the most opinionated/non fact paragraph I think I’ve ever read in my life, and my roof is COVERED in solar panels, in fact I love it. It’s super expensive though. And you have no sources to show otherwise.

        • Wow, “most opinionated/non fact paragraph” ever? [sic] amazing! (unless you happen to be using hyperbole…)

          regarding health costs: i’ve added a line & link to the post about this. a Harvard Medical School study found that the health costs of coal add 9-27 cents per kWh to its LCOE. I was basing 2-4 times more very generally on 8 cents per kWh. however, it seems that the cost of new coal is actually 10-14 cents per kWh. so, actually, the true cost of coal (not including historical subsidies and other externalities) is 19-41 cents per kWh. hardly anywhere close to the unsubsidized cost of this solar project of about 9-10 cents per kWh.

          as for the rest, seriously, i hope you’re either the type who will write anything in order to get in a debate or are closely tied to the coal industry and thus have a problem accepting the reality of the situation…

  • Charles

    This is just sloppy research and sloppy thinking. 1. PPA isn’t apples to apples with residential retail prices of electricity – you have to compare to forward contracts, which are much lower because the utility needs to take care of transmission, distribution, etc. Not to mention electricity prices vary tons from state to state (e.g. what’s the non-peak price in New Mexico specifically?) 2. Solar remains heavily subsidized. 3. This isn’t unusual at all – no PPA is going to be above the retail price of electricity just from the way prices work. Or else no one makes money (with the exception of satisfying renewable portfolio standards)! 4. How is your assertion that “coal” is more expensive backed up when the only numbers you cite are with respect to the average retail price?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Charles, that’s just a mess of a comment.

      Of course this is a wholesale price. Of course it’s subsidized (all electricity is subsidized/somehow supported with taxpayer money).

      Solar for under a dime will bring down the wholesale price of electricity. In major ways where merit order pricing is used.

      Actually, that’s a low estimate for the price of new coal produced electricity. I’ve seen estimates as high as 19 cents/kWh.

    • Good points, but Solar wins again. The wind business (awea) informs investors their average accepted PPA bid is around 6 cents/ Kwhr. This often matches combined cycle turbine bids, also ~ 6 cents. Both are below the ~ 8 cents coal PPA average. Of course, the coal bids come from a large base of already constructed plants. New coal would require scrubbers and be higher still. My guestimate is – at least 10 cents PPA for new coal.
      Sources: eenews april 7, 2011 & Feb 3rd Climate Progress articles.

    • 1- nope, it’s not. that was just an aside. 2- solar is starting to hit grid parity in NM, AZ, CA, and other states. it’s for real. it’s not a scam. and why would you even want the non-peak price of electricity — solar is peak power. 4- the median price of coal is 8 cents/kWh (not taking into account externalities which would really make it 2-4 times more than that.

  • ianfitz

    So if I read this article correctly, the only thing that can be taken away from this is that the wholesale price of solar energy is less than the retail price. Wow.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You didn’t read correctly.

      Utility scale solar has crossed the 10 cent per kWh threshold.

      That officially makes solar cheaper than new nuclear and new coal.

      Feel free to take away more….

      • Jacob R

        umm … no, not cheaper than coal. I get my power from Pt. Marion powerplant, and pay $0.07/kWh on my last month’s electric bill. Oh, and don’t even get me started on what natural gas costs for electric generation … but you betcha it’s far less than even the cheapest solar electric generation.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You pay 7 cents at the meter and then you pay another larger amount when you pay your taxes and health insurance premiums.

          That coal that you think gives you cheap electricity is actually giving you a large dose of butt-hurt.

          Natural gas, median LCOE for combined cycle is 5 cents. NG turbine is 7 cents. Both will be increasing in price as we finish burning through the current gas supply bubble.

          Those are the wholesale prices. You pay retail.

          • Jacob R

            ACTUALLY, in addition to giving me cheap electric, it gives me something much, MUCH more important. Namely, a job (i.e. a way to pay my bills).

            Not gonna argue all day.

          • and we get to the root of the bias…

    • the price of coal wasn’t initially included. guess the writer thought that was a given. added now. 😀

      • Allen Bouchard

        Can you please put a message saying that a story has been edited when you do this. I accused someone of lying because of this. 🙁

        • Yes, sorry, just added a note at the top of the page. Also recently added more info/context and a better link for the cost of (new) coal.

  • Belmont12

    I’d believe it if the First Solar stock hadn’t gone from $311 as a high to $28 now

    • Bob_Wallace

      You’re missing the bigger picture.

      The solar panel industry is in the phase of maturity in which the least efficient manufacturers are being forced out via market consolidation. It happens in every technology, starting at least back with Henry’s Model T Ford and extending through computers, cell phones, etc.

      Profits are low right now because margins are low. Margins will stay low because panels are becoming “commodities”. Profits (and stock prices) will rise as manufacturing volume increase. Smaller margins x large volume = good profits.

    • Ha, don’t worry about First Solar. It’s doing quite well. 😀

  • Can’t be factually correct. If it (cost so low) were, the story would make headlines worldwide. Can’t be true. Dream on.

    • TryGoogle

      I guess Bloomberg/Businessweek are just making it up.

      • prioritizer

        Being SOLD for this cost? Is the government subsidizing the heck out of solar down there?

        • The price reported is correct. There is decent (1.5 cent/kwh?) NM incentive, and there are tax benefits at the Federal level (primarily ITC) – but this is a much much lower price than I am aware of anyplace else. It’s a big deal.

          • fred

            It will be a big deal when it is done without a subsidy. You’ll need these panels to cover damn near half the earth to power everything. You green freaks are such morons. I applaud the technology but you have wet dreams over nothing.

          • The Dr.

            well no longer “half the earth” because particularly in recent years solar panels have become WAY more efficient, yes they are not the perfect creation yet, but they are becoming a very viable source of energy, and if advances in solar energy in the next 10 years come even close to matching the ones made in the the last 10 then by 2023 Solar energy would be an extremely viable method. It has become over 4X more efficient than 10 years ago.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” You’ll need these panels to cover damn near half the earth to power everything. ”

            That’s a very ignorant statement, Fred. Stick around, read more on this site and smarten yourself up.

            And here’s a short cut. Check out this map. It shows how much of the Earth’s surface would need to be covered with solar panels in 2030 for us to get 100% of our electricity from the Sun.


            Since we’ll likely get something more like 30% to 40% from solar you can cut those little rectangles down to about 1/3rd their shown side.

            That remaining bit of green would mostly fit on existing rooftops and over parking lots.

          • fred, a recent study found: if, by 2050, 100% of the world’s electricity was generated by solar farms alone, the total land mass used would be less than 1%. Read more at

          • and panels are continually getting more efficient, resulting in less need for land. plus, most of those panels can/will be put on rooftops.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The NM subsidy averages 2 cents/kWh over 10 years. The federal subsidy probably works out to around 2 cents.

          This is a BFD. It means that utility scale solar has broken the 10 cents/kWh un-subsidized threshold.

          Think about how much utilities pay for peaking power on hot, sunny days. Several multiples of 10 cents.

          And with merit order pricing (all suppliers get the same rate as the most expensive supplier in that time block) 10 cent solar knocks the heck out of the wholesale cost of electricity.

        • the government has subsidized coal hundreds of times over compared to solar. so, yeah, there are some subsidies, but you don’t really want to bring them up unless you want to point out that solar is disadvantaged in that arena. also, the point is that subsidies for solar have driven down its costs, and it’s reaching grid parity in many places.

      • No sarcasm. They are. I own solar. On my own roof. But it’s too expensive still guys. Give it 5-10 more years.

        • It depends on where you are. In some places, it’s at grid parity. In some places, it’s much cheaper. If you’re in a location with decent policies — policies that help internalize pollution externalities of fossil fuels and pay for the many benefits of solar to the grid — solar is probably your best option for electricity.

    • The_Countess

      this is the first thin film plant.and thin film still has some clear drawbacks (mainly lower efficiency per square meter so you need plenty of room) and it still doesn’t solve the problem of power at night.

      it is a huge step forward but not yet life changing.

      • Jake

        Haven’t you ever used a solar light? They charge during the day to keep the light powered all night. Same concept 🙂 Like charging a battery.

        • Jacob R

          NO, jake, it’s not the same concept. That uses a small battery to store a small amount of charge. With power-production, we talk about (where I am) MEGAtons of coal, and MEGAwatt-hours of electricity (i.e. the first new power plant in WV in a long time – the Longview plant b/t Morgantown and Pt. Marion across the Mon from Rt. 119). That means you would need, at the average cost of car batteries per power storage, approximately $2.5 MILLION dollars in batteries, which would wear out and need replacement about once every 3-5 days. So, STFU if you don’t know what you’re saying. btw – power consumption, outside of exceptional cases (see: NYC, Chicago, LA, Miami) where numerous lights remain on all night, is about 5% of daytime electric consumption, year round (varying by seasonal and regional variations). Wind, if the numbers pick up, and the whole NIMBY case is dealt with, may help solar, and since times when solar is less functional (night, storms, etc.) wind tends to produce more, it may help out some with making the numbers work. The fact is, though, our electric grid is still woefully unprepared for, well, everything. Keep in mind, after you get your battery thing done, you’d still need monsterous diode-grids to produce the DC power for storage, since our grid is (as it should be) AC, and then, after that, you need an inverter to produce AC for the grid, and then balance it, and make sure you have systems in place for grid failure, inverter failure, and voltage drops/surges to avoid demolishing your batteries any faster than you would already. So, once again, no, it’s not like a solar-powered LED light that uses 1A/hr and charges all day … it would be a VERY complicated, and expensive, system. Even with the subsidies, the fact is, solar still has trouble keeping up with coal prices, even with all the extra fees, taxes, etc. placed on coal by the EPA, MSHA, DNR/DEP, etc.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gigawatts are 1,000 times larger than megawatts.

            We have over 20 GWs of pump-up hydro storage in the US right now. We know how to build big stuff.

            We are already installing large scale battery grid storage. It’s mainly going in at the wind farm level to firm up output. As battery prices drop we’ll extend battery storage to other uses such as moving large amounts of power from one part of the day to another.

            If you paid attention to the facts you would know that coal actually costs us close to 20 cents per kWh. Those health problems caused by coal pollution are paid with taxpayer dollars and through health insurance premiums. They may not show up at the meter, but they are real costs and they hurt our economy.

            That money is coming out of your pocket.

            Solar has been cheaper than coal for a long time.

      • thin film, like everything, has advantages and disadvantages. it still has a lot of room to grow, and my bet would be on it landing a pretty decent share of the market in the coming decades. no energy source if going to do everything on its own, but solar is the fastest growing for a reason. and as it hits grid parity in more and more places, this type of story will become old news fast. but something to keep in mind is that solar provides electricity at peak, which is much more valuable.

    • SolarWha

      I think there is some confusion as to the TOTAL price of coal, and the retail price. (Total Price = Retail + Delivery). I would imagine the Total Price of Coal is 8.8 cents/kWh and the Retail price of Solar might be 5.8 cents/kWh. Still seems low, though.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The total price of coal is around 20 cents per kWh. You’ve got to add in what we pay in health costs via tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

        That’s the price for electricity from older, paid off coal plants. Electricity from new coal plants would cost well over 20 cents, close to 30 cents per kWh.

        Solar, without subsidies, seems to have fallen below 10 cents per kWh. The 5.8 cent price includes federal and state subsidies.

    • It has, but nevermind that.

  • Kenkmooo

    That actually looks liek it might jsut work. Wow.

  • SDsurfin

    I’ll get excited when I can buy pallets of them cheaply in my local region. Till then, it’s pie in the sky.

    • The_Countess

      if they can equip a large solar farm like this with them then they can produce them by the pallet load.

      the main problem with thin film is that they are less efficient per square meter (even if they are far more cost efficient). so you need more square meters to produce meaning amounts. so covering your roof with them might not make your power bill go away completely depending on where you live.

      • thanks. exactly. the reason why thin-film isn’t really used for residential solar.

        • SDsurfin

          Which is why I’m not interested in Solar. I’ve been reading about miraculous breakthroughs for 20+ years now. But, it still costs a minor fortune to wire my house up to solar. Thanks, but no thanks.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Many people reach their old age with almost nothing put away for retirement.
            They never grasped the concept that investing money can yield high returns.

          • If you’re in San Diego (just a wild guess from your handle), I think there’s a good chance you’d save a good bit of money over the medium to long term by investing in solar. If you’re not the investor type, you can probably get a solar lease that would save you money from day one.

            But all depends on your specific house — if you have a lot of shade, maybe not.

            If you haven’t done so recently, I’d check in and get a free quote from someone like 1BOG (ads on this site). Costs and prices have come down a lot in the past couple years.

            But completely your call.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Where’s your region? The US?

      You can buy single pallet units for $0.99/watt. Possibly cheaper, I haven’t checked lately.

      If you’re in the market for multiple panels the price can drop under $0.70/watt.

    • You can. But nevermind that, I guess.

  • First Solar, if you supply Solar panels at this rate,I can get you hundreds if not thousands of MW business in Asia and Africa!
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    • Bob_Wallace

      Contact them. First Solar sells panels.

      But realize that the 6 cent number includes about 2 cents of federal and about 2 cents of state subsidies.

      You can check current panel prices here. Lots of people are selling at First Solar prices.

  • Solar photovoltaic is a gimmick that requires more energy and money to produce than it will ever recover. This is no secret. Why do projects like this continue to receive funding?

    • Citation needed.

      • Astro

        I’m guessing he is talking about the way solar panels are built. In their construction they need to “baked”. They have a glass surface, which must be manufactured.


        • It’s funny because I have a 80watt solar panel in my bus that I use to charge my deep cycle batteries on my bus. Gimmick? Lol. It’s not like I’m using coal to charge them.

          • come on, get a furnace going and shovel in some coal every day! you’ll be glad you switched from that PV gimmick. 😉

        • MDillenbeck

          These are valid criticism, but I often find those who raise these criticisms fail to bring up the costs of extraction and transportation of coal, account for the pollutants released when doing these activities, and fail to account for the subsidies that tax payers put into the coal system (all while criticizing the forms of environmental regulations put on the industry due to the costs).

          Is solar power the magic bullet solution to our energy needs? Is it the ultimate “clean” form of energy? No. There is no single technological solution for our energy needs (or water, or food); and, no, there is no such thing as a truly “clean” energy solution – they are all dirty, just in varying degrees.

          As to Mark Holland’s comment, I could say coal is a gimmick – it is a subsidized industry. It is often located in economically challenged areas, so not only do tax dollars go to subsidizing it but also the health of the more impoverished populations of a region. Thus if we look at the total life cycle costs of coal, we are probably not coming out “ahead” on it either.

      • This mistaken claim has been around awhile. It has long been debunked – energy payback estimates are typically 2-3 years.
        Google “embodied energy, energy payback, solar panels” or see
        Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Solar Panels, 2006

    • Coal shill spotted!

    • The_Countess

      you don’t think the price of the energy used to produce them is integrated into the price?

      because if what you say is true all solar panels would be sold at a loss. this is obviously not the case.

      you are also confused with the silicon panels which do require a large amount of energy to produce. but even those recoup their energy costs with in a few years depending on location.
      these thin film solar panels are far, far cheaper to produce and require far less energy.

    • Mark….a 10k system makes about 1 mw per month…..what you’re saying is it takes, for example, 12 mw x 25 years (the life of a panel) to mfg. 40 panels….that’s 300 mws to mfg the panels..1 mw powers up to 500 homes..that’s the equiv. of 405 THOUSAND horsepower…are you saying that it takes more power to make 40 panels than it does to power 500 homes for 25 years…..I have read some of your posts….you don’t SOUND nuts…but this one is beyond rediculous.

      • st0815

        I think what he said used to be true at some point, when PV was something which was only used on satellites where you couldn’t get power any other way.

        Probably even then it was more in the form that it would take over 10 years to get the production costs out, or something like that.

        Anyway, for some reason that idea has stuck around even though decades of technological progress have long overtaken it. It’s like someone claiming that you can’t build an ocean crossing ship without sails because you can’t possibly store enough charcoal to power a steam engine for that distance …

        • ship analogy: great one. get so many people claiming this kind of nonsense (or something similar regarding the price of wind or price of solar). will have to remember this analogy. 😀

    • Better maintained solar panels don’t need to be obstructed by the 25-year death sentence that commercial panels often have. If you care for them properly, they can last much longer.

      Also, how much do you think it costs (energy or money) to make a coal-fired power plant? They’re absolutely MASSIVE. They wouldn’t have recovered their costs for similar amounts of time.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Commercial panels aren’t likely to be executed after 25 years. We’ve got 40 year old panels still pumping out lots of electricity. (At 40 years they will produce, on average, about 80% of what they originally produced.)

        Twenty-five years is simply a “safe” number used to calculate costs.

      • Johnny Le

        How do you properly care for solar panels? I’m being serious here. I don’t know how. Do you have to clean them on a regular basis?

        • Bob_Wallace

          Yes. And no.

          It depends on how they are mounted and where. If it’s a place that gets some rain and the panels are sloped at least 5% then they may never need cleaning. (That’s what Google found on their buildings.) If they’re flat mounted or in a place with dust storms they may need cleaning now and then.
          There’s one study that took place in Tuscon AZ where panels were not cleaned for more than a year and lost only about 2% output.

          I clean my panels from time to time. After I weed eat around them and blow grass trimmings on them. If I notice they’ve got some bird poop (happens during blackberry season). Usually doesn’t take more than spraying them with the hose.

    • yoshhash

      haha, Mark Holland, you are going to have to try a little harder to pass your coal agenda off here. Your claim that “solar is just a gimmick” might work with people raised on a steady diet of Fox news propaganda but we cleantechnica readers know how to research things for ourselves. Go home you sad little man.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Mark, your information is years out of date.

      Energy payback for solar panels for multi-crystal solar is just over two years and three years for thin-film. We have 40 year old solar panels still producing electricity. (They lose about 0.5% output per year.)

      Solar panels are now being sold in large lots for about $0.65/watt. Put one of those panels in a moderately sunny part of the US and it will get an average of 4.2 solar hours per day. Each watt of PV will produce 1.5 kWh per year.

      If we use the average price of electricity in the US $0.12/kWh we can see that they pay for themselves in 5.4 years.

      And then produce electricity for free for at least another 35 years.

      • Johnny Le

        Bob, you have 40 year-old solar panels? You have them since the 70s? You’re a pioneer, man. Too bad that our solar panels now have pretty the same efficiency as yours 40 years ago. The price has gone down but the efficiency hasn’t gone up.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, not me. I got my first panels in the 1980s.

          I don’t have those panels any longer. Gave them to a friend for his cabin.

          Efficiency has gone up considerably.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oops, that’s too small to read. Let me try again.

            Click on to see mo bigger….

          • Johnny Le

            This is good to know, thanks, but these are just research. The commercialized/mass products, haven’t they mostly stayed around 10-15% efficiency?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Mass produced panels have been increasing in efficiency. When I bought my current set about 12 years ago 12% was common. Now panels are around 16%. There are commercial 21.5% panels.

            Then there are the triple junction panels which have much higher efficiencies but are expensive.

    • Are you kidding me? Apparently you don’t follow the technology at all.

    • A 100-watt panel will generate $788 of electricity over its 25-year lifetime, assuming an electricity rate of $0.12/kWh.

      Whether the energy source required to build the panel was natural gas or electricity, it won’t be much less than $0.12/kWh.

      So, assuming that the energy required to manufacture the panel is just as much as it produces, the energy cost of manufacturing the panel would be $788.

      Yet the average solar panel that size only costs $200-300. If you were correct, that 100-watt panel would have to cost over $788 after labour and equipment costs are factored in.

      This alone proves the notion that solar panels don’t generate as much energy as is required to build them, is incorrect.

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