Generating clean electricity that's as cheap as power from fossil fuels is the Holy Grail of green-energy companies. A new solar project powering California homes appears to be closing in on that prize.
Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy in San Diego, just took the wraps off a 10-megawatt solar farm in Nevada. That's small by industry standards, enough to light just 6,400 homes. But the ramifications are potentially huge.
A veteran analyst has calculated that the facility can produce power at a cost of 7.5 cents a kilowatt-hour, less than the 9-cent benchmark for conventional electricity.If that’s so, it marks a milestone that renewable fans have longed for: “grid parity,” in which electricity from the sun, wind or other green sources can meet or beat the price performance of such carbon-based fuels as coal and natural gas.
This is great as long as the math is real. The company has made quite a few changes from conventional solar, including using cadmium telluride as the semiconductor instead of the more expensive polycrystalline silicon and fashioning them into thinner films.
I am not a big fan of unverified claims, especially when so much money is likely to be involved. But the exact number is not important. This installation appears to get close to or greater than grid parity without the externalities of fossil fuel power generation (carbon costs, mercury mitigation, etc.) being accounted for on the “conventional” side.
The future appears to be sunny!
One small, niggling issue, can we stop calling coal “conventional”? Coal comes from the remains of prehistoric plants that made all their biomass by using the sun as a fuel source, got buried way underground, and, after millions of years at high pressure and no oxygen, formed a carbon rich material that if burned, releases a small fraction of the energy that the sun put in it! As such, using the sun directly as a power source is about as conventional as it gets, everything else is 2nd order, derivative and fairly inefficient.