It is ironic that the same day that Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline and all the carbon fans were up in arms raging against such foolishness, that this report should come out showing the inevitable triumph of solar power. This report was first linked in the Australian news, but then quickly pulled down, reflecting no doubt the Aussies embarrassment at their gung ho coal plans and the official lack of solar development. Move over Rover , let solar take over!
ELEANOR HALL: A German think-tank has released a report today showing that solar energy will be the cheapest source of electricity in many regions of the world within the next 10 years.
Agora Energiewende is independently funded to help the German government achieve its 80 per cent renewable energy target.
Its CEO Dr Patrick Graichen spoke earlier to Annie White.
PATRICK GRAICHEN: We’ve seen a lot of cost decline in the photovoltaics technology in the last five years, and the question was: is that going to come to an end, or will we see further cost declines in the next 10-20 years.
ANNIE WHITE: And what was the finding?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: The finding is there’s no end to the cost decline in photovoltaics. The technology has still further improvement, so that we expect that within the next 10 years, photovoltaics will become, in many regions of the world, the most cheapest source of electricity.
ANNIE WHITE: In our part of the world, there’s arguably a view that solar is still a fringe technology, if you like, that it is useful on the side, but that it could never replace fossil fuel power. What’s your feeling about that compared to what you know now in this study?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: That notion was true in the past, but today we see that photovoltaics will become so cheap that, especially of your part of the world, it will be cheaper than burning fossil fuels.
ANNIE WHITE: What has led to the decline in cost?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: It’s the sum of the parts. It’s the technology itself; the modules have become cheaper because China is now producing them on very large scale, so we have the effect of the mature technology with a global market, where prices decline, and second, we’ve got to know better how to integrate it into the systems during the past five-six years.
We will see prices like AUD$5 then for electricity from photovoltaics in Australia within the next five years.
ANNIE WHITE: How big is the uptake in solar in your part of the world, in Germany?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: Well we have in Germany an extensive program on photovoltaics in the past years, and that has led to now about 40 gigawatts being installed. That is still only six per cent of our electricity production, but still, it is already six per cent, and we’ve seen how that already impacts on our electricity system in the sense that we don’t need peak power of gas-fired power plants in the summer anymore.
ANNIE WHITE: Are you surprised that countries with more, arguably, sunshine even than Germany, like Australia, haven’t reached that kind of uptake?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: Indeed, I do find it very surprising. Because, if you look at that technology and you ask yourself the question: where in the future will we have cheap and clean energy? It’ll be those countries in the world with a lot of sun and with stable investment conditions.
And it should be Australia.
You see a lot of solar projects are now coming up in the Gulf, are coming up in New Mexico, California, Texas, but Australia is lacking in that concept.
ANNIE WHITE: Why do you think that is?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: All those countries that have strong tradition on fossil fuels, like also Germany, that do have coal mines, we all have this culture that energy traditionally comes from below the ground, and it does take its time to overcome that old notion that we need to dig into the ground to find energy.
ANNIE WHITE: What about the problems with solar that are raised here, for example, collection, of feeding back into the grid, of retaining, of transporting that power, as it were. Have those things been addressed yet?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: Of course you have to take care of the issue, you need good enforcement when you install solar PV. You can combine basically the question, where to put solar with the question, where is the grid the strongest.
So if you have your solar power plant close to where there’s already a strong grid infrastructure, then there’s no extra cost coming from that first issue.
ANNIE WHITE: And what sort of resistance do you think you’d see from the fossil fuel industry?
PATRICK GRAICHEN: Well yes, I mean, obviously this is a threat to all those that are betting on coal, but there has always been structural changes, major structural changes to economies. Those that were building railroads weren’t happy about cars either, but in the end the cars came because the technology was better suited to the needs of the 20th century.
And, I would say that’s the same case now here with the 21st century. Our need is cheap and clean energy, and that’s something solar and probably also wind will deliver and coal can’t.
ELEANOR HALL: CEO of Agora Energiewende Dr Patrick Graichen, speaking to Annie White.