In this week’s Solar News Roundup, we explore the massive price drop in high-efficiency solar panels over the past year, plus an early indication that solar battery systems are a viable solution for peak electricity demand.
High-efficiency solar panel prices fell almost 40% in 2017
High-performance solar panels are becoming more and more cost-effective. Monocrystalline solar panel prices fell from $0.72/Watt to $0.45/W in 2017, a 37.5% drop. Monocrystalline solar panels usually operate about 10% more efficiently than polycrystalline solar panels due to the type of silicon used in construction, and are now only 6% more expensive, on average.
A key factor in this price drop could be China’s “Top Runner Program.” The program is a government incentive structure that sets a high threshold for module conversion efficiency, and subsequently has encouraged monocrystalline panel development and price reductions. China is the world leader in solar cell production, and as Chinese companies have invested more in monocrystalline technologies, prices worldwide have responded.
It is clear that solar manufacturers are realizing both the potential of monocrystalline solar cells and the high level of market demand for high-efficiency solar panels. We may see a day soon where less efficient polycrystalline solar panels fall out of favor as consumers lose interest in products with lower energy production at a similar cost to high-efficiency options. More than anything, this recent price trend shows that although solar prices have fallen dramatically in recent years, there’s still a lot of room to move.
Solar and batteries are pulling ahead of natural gas
Don’t look now, but a few U.S. utilities are starting to choose solar power and batteries instead of natural gas plants for their peak power. Most recently, First Solar won a bid with Arizona’s largest utility to build a 65 megawatt (MW) solar farm attached to a 50 MW battery system. Across the country in Florida, a utility just installed a battery system fueled by solar. And in California, state regulators have called on PG&E to begin using non-fossil fuel resources like batteries matched with solar to meet peak demand.
Projects like these have the capacity to rival natural gas plants due to solar-plus-storage’s ability to meet energy demands even during peak hours. For the Arizona utility that chose First Solar, system electricity demand usually peaks between 3 pm and 8 pm. The solar farm will generate power and store it in the battery system during the day, so that when demand peaks, the utility can depend on the stored electricity in the battery system to meet that demand.
Solar + storage is clearly here to stay. One of solar power’s biggest disadvantages has been that it couldn’t keep up with peak demand when the sun sets. Now, solar battery technology is showing that solar power can be relied on to provide electricity at all times, even when the need for electricity is highest. Watch for solar battery systems to keep proliferating as prices fall and the practicality of a solar + storage system becomes clearer.