Solar price parity arrives early

Renewable energy now costs the same as other forms of electrical power. The world has changed.

By TheStreet Staff May 9, 2013 12:49PM
thestreet logoSolar energy copyright Mick Roessler, CorbisBy Dana Blankenhorn


When asked if the cost of solar power might ever equal that of other grid power, I used to say it would happen in 2015 or 2016.


Turns out I'm wrong. The correct answer is now.


The continuing shakeout among Chinese solar panel makers will drop the price of panel power to 48 cents/watt this year, according to GTM Research. It's assumed that grid parity is found at 50 cents/watt.


The GTM report estimates costs will drop to 42 cents/watt in two years. That's not counting the many breakthroughs being found in other materials, some of which could reach the market by that time.


All this is enabling the production of solar "mega projects," like the one SunPower (SPWR) is building for Berkshire-Hathaway's (BRK.A) MidAmerican Energy in Antelope Valley, Calif., which will be delivering 579 megawatts to the grid.

The Reiner Lemoine Institute in Germany, which has backed a number of solar projects in the past, adds that when wind and solar projects share space, barely 2% of the potential solar power is lost, twice the amount of total electricity is generated, and that this power is complementary -- wind power is primary on winter nights, solar on summer days, as CleanTechnica reports.

This architecture limits the amount of storage required for around-the-clock power, the Institute says, meaning that reliable, low-cost and abundant power is here to stay. It's big news for General Electric (GE), which makes wind turbines. Solar and wind energy can live and work together.

If you want to know why shares in SunPower and First Solar (FSLR) are rising, this is it. When renewable energy can compete on price with other forms of grid energy, it puts a thumb on the scale of energy costs. That thumb grows larger, and more powerful, over time as the amount of cheap renewable energy increases and costs continue to fall.


But this doesn't just impact upon one sector of the economy. It affects all sectors. It should reduce the domestic market for coal and even, over time, for natural gas. It should, over time, lower grid prices. Renewable projects also increase employment more than pipelines or refineries.


Germany, China and the U.S. are the largest consumers of solar panels. Despite the relative antipathy of new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to renewables, Japanese purchases of solar panels should grow by 130% this year, according to Wiki Solar, which tracks the development of utility-scaled solar projects. 

Many of these projects, like a 7.6 Mwatt project in Chattanooga, Tenn., are purchased by large industrial power consumers -- the Chattanooga project is owned by Volkswagen, which makes cars there.


Even with solar now generating over 100 gigawatts of power, however, that is still just 1% of the market. That means there is a lot more growth to come. A tipping point has been reached, and growth should only accelerate from here.


At the time of publication, the author was long GE.


More from

May 9, 2013 1:28PM
More Good news in Solar and Wind is bad news longer term for Big Oil and Coal. Overall, it's great for everyone at some point, even if they don't realize it now.
May 10, 2013 9:32AM

skip buying the stocks retog.  buy the PANELS to put on your house.  lock in your energy costs at today's prices.  electric bills typically go up 6% a year no matter what is going on.  so buying your own panels is a 6% fixed investment.  and it allows peace of mind when you turn on the AC. 


some states, like california, not pay true dollars (not simply credits that expire in a year) for excess energy production.  so that fixed investment of 6% also earns it's own dividend for excess power produced. 

May 10, 2013 8:39AM

Having lost our butts in 2-3 Solar investments over the last 3 years; Really doubt that I will be running back into the sunshine and attempting to be taken again....Too many variables.


And many were beaten down to "day trader status."  Not a great sign of investing to us.

Once bitten, twice shy...

We are not going off Oil or Coal anytime soon....imo. 

Solar panels to produce electrocity are just a waste of energy, this is definitely not "clean"; they are extremely polluting and require lot of energy to produce.
Solar power however is exceptional when it is used to produce heat, notably for housing: we know today how to build houses that don't need energy, or even produce more energy than they use.
It is not just sparing energy, but really prioduce it where it is: radiating fro mthe sun and already within the atmosphere just near the soil.
And there are rally a lot of resources in bioenergy (notably in methane); but certainly NOT by cultivating food to transform it into alcool and oil (this also requires lot of water, and producing and transporting that water also requires lot of energy).

May 12, 2013 1:39PM
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