Last week, the Department of Energy held its annual ARPA-E Summit near Washington DC. One of the keynote speakers, the CEO of DuPont Ellen Kullman, stated that “solar will be globally competitive in 2015”. First Solar is already selling solar power cheaper than coal in sunny areas like New Mexico. This is not a random event after years of improvements in cell efficiency and intense price competition. Does this mean solar is ready for prime time?
Not so fast. Solar power is causing grid engineers and policy makers to scratch their head: it is intermittent and has indirect costs to provide useful energy. Some victims of Storm Sandy realized that first-hand when their solar roofs shut down when the grid blacked-out. What is the point of deploying solar when you cannot use it when it matters the most? Back-up gas generators are still cheaper than deploying solar panels and batteries. The solar sector is at a crossroad.