Applied Materials sees critical inflection point reached in the cost of solar energy

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A key point from Applied Materials third annual solar energy survey, undertaking to coincide with the summer solstice (June 21st) in the northern hemisphere is that electricity produced by solar PV panels will cost the same as traditional sources of residential power in 19 countries, including Italy and Spain and Brazil, and California by the end of 2011. Module prices have dropped 70% since 2008, according to the major equipment supplier and are expected to reach US$1 per watt in the next couple of years, echoing recent reports from market research firms such as IHS iSuppli.

“We've reached a critical inflection point in the cost of solar energy,” noted Dr. Charlie Gay, president of the Applied Materials Solar division. “In 2010, 32 megawatts of solar PV were installed worldwide [note: seeking correction], which is equal to the total amount of solar capacity installed in the history of the technology. This tremendous growth, coupled with new technologies that are making panels more efficient and scalable, has made solar power more affordable than ever before.”

Applied Materials is forecasting that by the year 2020, more than 100 countries will have access to solar power at the same cost as current residential power. This would include 98% of the world's population and 99.7% of the world's Gross Domestic Product and 99.2% of energy-related CO2 emissions.

The latest survey found that 32% of Americans polled, believed solar energy was the most efficient renewable energy source that was most easily converted from a raw material into useable energy.  However there was a perception disconnect as one-fifth (21%) of Americans believe the U.S. is the solar energy leader. As the report pointed out, Germany, Spain, Japan and Italy use more solar power than the US. Not withstanding that over 50% of PV manufacturing was located in China.

The report said that 51% of Americans believe solar energy makes up more than 5% of total U.S. energy consumption, while the truth is less than one percent.

More incentives, especially in reducing up-front costs would see greater willingness from Americans to adopt solar, even though the survey said more than a quarter (27%) of Americans would consider installing solar panels on their home. The vast majority of consumers (72%) would expect the energy savings from solar panels installed on their homes to equal the cost of installation in 10 years or less.

Leading factors that would make consumers more likely to install solar panels include:

• Government incentives to help offset the installation costs (65%)
• Increase in the home's value (54%)
• Having more information (49%)
• Ability to sell excess power to an energy company (47%)

The survey also noted that younger consumers were more attracted to solar than other age groups. Almost one-third (32%) of those 18 to 44 would consider installing solar, compared to 27% of those 45 to 64 years old. and 15% of Americans age 65 and older (15%). 

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