Solar PV vs Flat-Screen TVs: Growth Trajectories Compared (Graph)

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.
By Sophie Vorrath

The stunning growth trajectory of solar PV has been likened to that of a variety of its technology forbears, the most popular comparison being mobile phones. But at this week’s Disruption and the Energy Industry conference, hosted by RenewEconomy, another interesting analogy was used.

“LCD televisions fell at a cost curve of 20 per cent,” said Tony Sennit, managing director of Melbourne-based clean energy generator and retailer, Diamond Energy. “It only took 18 months for sales of LCD TVs to go from 2 per cent of market to go to 80 per cent of market.”

Sennit’s point was, that when the economics of solar PV get there, “it’s going to happen really quickly.”

“In 2012, solar was pretty expensive,” Sennitt said. Three years later, he adds it is already “so much cheaper than where we are in Australia with coal”, in terms of new-build, utility-scale plants – and he cites the example of the PPA First Solar secured from Nevada-based utility NV Energy, to buy electricity from its 100MW Playa Solar 2 project at 3.87 cents per kWh. Described at the time as, “quite possibly be the lowest electricity rate in the country.”

In light of this, Sennitt says, “nobody’s going to build another coal plant. Why would you? You can’t bank them, you can’t finance them.”

But according to Professor Ray Wills, the managing director of Future Smart Strategies, solar PV is not quite there yet. And he provided the chart below to prove it.


“If we think we’re really in a tech tsunami really and we’re building more panels that consume power (televisions) than we are panels that generate power, we’re not there yet,” Wills told the same conference on Tuesday.

The true measure of when solar PV is as ubiquitous in Australian households as LCD TVs, says Wills, will be when we start seeing solar panels left out on the nature strip, alongside the old flat screen TV, as part of the hard rubbish collection.

The panels will be out there, he says, not because they have stopped working, but because the household has decided to upgrade to the latest, most efficient energy self-generation technology – technology it needs to help power its five flat-screen TVs.

Reprinted with permission.

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15 thoughts on “Solar PV vs Flat-Screen TVs: Growth Trajectories Compared (Graph)

  • Well . . . people typically only get 1 or 2 TV sets whereas you buy 15 to 30 solar panels.

    • Did you not look at the graph or what?

      • ..if one watches most of his infotainment on the PC screen, is that counted in as TV-set?

        Also what does the number of TV screens have to do with number of solar panels?
        Most flat panel sets use less than 200W of power.. esp the LED ones and the bulk of pv panels for the last 12-24 months are 250W..300W panels.
        Are TV screens sucking up as much power as a solar panels is ‘producing’ during a day? I don’t think so, unless you’re unemployed or enjoy your not-work-time by consuming content on the screen – which is not very healthy btw.

  • TV set prices are held up by the continuous addition of new features like 3d, LED, 4k, bigger screens, better contrast, higher refresh rate etc.

    Solar panels have one simple purpose and the only change is efficiency.

    • And improved efficiency is not likely to result in people throwing out old panels. If they have enough solar on their roofs to power their house few people are going to replace them just so that more of their roof is exposed.

    • One function so far. Give it time. Multi-layer will start multi-functions: PV plus hot water, or photochemical for generating natural gas, battery/capacitor layers built-in under the generator layers, arrays wired so each photocell acts as an independent CCD to allow records of photocell production to be turned into large-scale cameras recording shade (clouds, planes, trees or buildings shading parts of arrays at given times of day)… if they figure out a way to make them come in various colors, or change colors per situation, they can become a design feature. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing. Of course, most of these won’t need to be developed until specific metros become saturated, and local installers need new angles to push.
      If really thin layers are translucent or transparent enough to be used on windows, could thin film PV be used to cover signs, and pick up power during the day to be used during evening hours?

  • Hum. The standard innovation chart with a swathe of logistics curves since 1900 shows considerable variation in the pace of change. The fastest were radios (1920s) and microwave ovens (1980s): both items costing little more than $100 in today’s prices. The slowest was cars – the only one comparable in cost to a representative solar panel installation ($15,000).

    • Would be interesting to see it extended to 2015. a lot of curves will have gone down again

  • he cites the example of the PPA First Solar secured from Nevada-based utility NV Energy, to buy electricity from its 100MW Playa Solar 2 project at 3.87 cents per kWh.

    Awesome 🙂 I’m guessing it’d be closer to 5c without gov’t subsidy.

    • That’s the Buffett buy? The 3.87 is a bit misleading because that price is inflation adjusted over time. In general the 5c/kWh solar PPAs are fixed price, no inflation adjustment.

      If you run the 3.87c out with 3% inflation the average price over 20 years is a bit over 5c.

      The federal PTC (2.3c/kWh for the first 10 years) would make either PPA about 6.5c/kWh.

  • So far, I have not seen any LED flat panel displays hit the side of the road. I did replace my CRT display, mostly as an energy conservation measure.
    My solar PV panels have a 25 year warranty. PV panels are mostly forgotten after installation, and most people only look at them when the inverter fails or when there is a hailstorm. Nearly all the time the panels are fine, and they go back to ignoring them.
    A TV is something that most people look at daily, and they are built to fail. Good luck getting even a five year warranty for one of them.
    I expect that more LED TVs will be dumped in the next twenty years than solar panels, by a very large margin, even as the average solar house will have 10 to 20 panels on the roof.

  • I’ve bought one TV in my life. And that was only so I could try to learn another language.

  • Can’t wait till my neighbours start throwing away solar panels. Then I can put solar power on my shed.

  • The most relevant comparison would be the growth of flat screens v the manufacture of thin film solar panels. One facilitates the other as virtually the same vapour deposition techniques and equipment is used for manufacturing both.

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