How cheap is solar? Cheap enough to cool the air outside

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How cheap is solar? Cheap enough, says the head of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to drive the transformation of our grid to zero emissions. Cheap enough, he says, to inspire some people to install air conditioners on their verandah to cool the air outside the house, as well as inside.


Source: Wendy Miller, Senior Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology (via The Conversation)

The latter, quite bizarre example was given by ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht at the recent Emissions Reduction conference in Melbourne to illustrate just how cheap solar has become.

He came across a home owner in Townsville, north-eastern Queensland, who had installed a very large rooftop solar system, and planned to use it to power an air conditioning unit on the verandah.

“He likes to have cool air on his face while he is sitting outside outside,” Frischknecht said. “And this is fine, because if you are only running it in middle of day, and using the solar, the energy is free.”

Indeed, noted Frischknecht, solar was becoming so cheap, and will become so abundant, that we will reach the situation where the kilowatt hours of use (i.e. the production) are effectively free. The cost will come in managing the variability, and integrating it into the grid.

But even here, contrary to much that is written, Frischknecht says the technologies to do that are available now, in the form of battery storage, demand response, pumped hydro and a “whole bunch of solutions that can ensure that the lights stay on.”

The challenge comes down to rewriting the market rules and regulations, and reframing business models, so that these technologies are rewarded for their services, and not punished.

He cited the use of battery storage.

 “If you have a battery today and charge it up –you have to pay transmission costs and distribution costs and a share of RET, and when you discharge it again and sell the output, you pay all those costs again,” Frischknecht said.

“You are adding 50 per cent to the cost of energy getting stored. That’s a pretty big barrier to put in place of a mechanism we need.”

Frischknecht says it is not hard to look forward and imagine a world where many things would be quite different, and when a lot of centralised fossil fuel generation is made redundant by the falling costs of renewables.

“The cost of solar PV will be so cheap it will literally cover every surface – packaging, buildings, cars, roads. Energy will be cheap, but we will still got this variable output issue. We are going to have to figure out different ways of pricing and dealing with variable output.”  

  • Ian

    Whoa there, with the illustration. Solar might be cheap(ish), but it is being subsidised by other electricity users to the tune of over 50%. We do not need there to be an excuse to cut the STC in favour of utility LGC’s. This just feeds into the narrative that individual citizens are not fit or competent to look after the nation’s interest and this responsibility needs to be put in the hands of government or corporations.

    • stephan011

      Your information is old.

      Renewables are now cheaper than coal and natural gas. Last year 70% of ALL new power generation capacity in the US was renewable, mostly solar and wind.

      “Low Costs of Solar Power & Wind Power Crush Coal, Crush Nuclear, & Beat Natural Gas”

      Not only are solar and wind cheap today, but costs are still plummeting.

      Solar and wind are technologies, and like cell phones and computers, they get better and cheaper, every single year. The cost of solar and wind have been falling by 5-20% for the last decade, and costs will *continue* to fall for another decade. The cost of utility solar fell 22% in 2016 alone.

  • A Wall

    A big problem with this thinking is the embodied energy of the installation. If we don’t care about use, and say “solar power is free” then we totally undermine our argument that solar is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions. Until solar PV installations are manufactured/distributed/installed/decomissioned with 100% renewable energy, the idea that solar is “free” power is dangerous and will lead to increased CO2 emissions. Maybe one day we will have printed solar panels with an embodied energy
    equivalent to cling-wrap — but that day is not here yet.

    Solar is not a silver bullet — we need to _reduce_ _consumption_ before we substitute our fossil energy supply for solar.

    • wideEyedPupil

      Agree, but EROEI for PV is improving all the time, printed film PV will drop the embodied energy a lot.

    • Calamity_Jean

      “Until solar PV installations are manufactured/distributed/installed/decomissioned with 100% renewable energy, the idea that solar is “free” power is dangerous and will lead to increased CO2 emissions.”

      I’m sorry, this doesn’t make any sense. Because PV panels produce usable energy, their “embodied energy” is essentially negative. As more people are convinced that PV power is at least very cheap if not free, and is therefore a financially rewarding investment, more PV will be installed. The proportion of renewable electricity on the grid rises. Every rooftop PV installation takes a tiny chip out of the profitability of fossil fuel generators and hastens the day when fossil fuels are no more.

      “…we need to _reduce_ _consumption_ ….”

      Absolutely! It’s called “increase efficiency” and this site and others beat the drums for it frequently. This article, however, is about the cost of the solar array and other parts of the system.

      • A Wall

        _This_ article says solar is “cheap enough to cool the air outside” — _this_ article is not advocating efficiency. I am being critical of _this_ article.

        Embodied energy is how much energy is required to make the panel. It has nothing to do with any energy that the panel produces later. If we are making solar panels solely to produce energy that is wasted (eg. air-conditioning the atmosphere), do you really think that offsets the energy required to make the panel?

        • Calamity_Jean

          This article mentions one fool with more money than sense who air-conditions his porch for an hour or two per day. This is a grand total of one out of more than seven billion people in the world. The rest of us aren’t that dumb.

          Everything has some embodied energy; that’s the price humans pay for having useful or beautiful things. If we aren’t willing to use energy to improve things around us, we’d have to live like Australopithecus, without even chipped-stone tools.

          • A Wall

            According to the article, it was the “head of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency” who was describing someone airconditioning the atmosphere.

            I know you get some anti-renewable trolls here — I’m not one. I love solar. I’m not saying we must avoid all embodied energy. I’m saying we should avoid waste. I hope that’s not controversial!

          • mick

            if that bloke is managing to be carbon neutral (in the iron age) he is doing better than his neighbors using diesel because of ff monopoly

          • JonathanMaddox

            Oh, many of us are comparably dumb.

    • Ken Fabian

      Emissions should be seen as a system wide/economy wide issue that should not result in emissions rules be applied selectively to renewables equipment manufacturers. As renewable energy becomes a larger part of energy production for industry that will flow through to production of renewables hardware. Yet every solar panel will produce far more energy than used in it’s production and is displacing fossil fuel energy by doing so and manufacturing companies will increasingly use renewable energy. Tesla factories for example, are being built to have a large proportion of energy self-supply, but to expect solar and wind manufacturers to source energy only from renewables sources when fossil fuels are “subsidised” by having the climate consequences counted as free would be unreasonable; they are companies expected to be profitable in competition with those fossil fuels.

      A Wall – Demand appropriate carbon pricing and then it might be reasonable for solar manufacturers – all manufacturers – to be required to shift entirely away from fossil fuels.

      • A Wall

        Of course emissions are system wide. That’s why I’m critical of airconditioning the atmosphere. What a waste! It’s wasteful wherever the energy comes from. Wasting renewable energy means that the (embodied energy) investment required to produce that renewable energy is also wasted, and that the carbon emissions from the manufacture of that renewable energy plant are also wasted.

        I support carbon pricing for all industry.

  • wideEyedPupil

    “The cost of solar PV will be so cheap it will literally cover every surface – packaging, buildings, cars, roads. Energy will be cheap, but we will still got this variable output issue. We are going to have to figure out different ways of pricing and dealing with variable output.”

    I concur and been saying it for years.

    • wideEyedPupil

      But no way will it be covering roads, totally stupid place to put solar unless vehicles change beyond recognition. Beside roads, above roads maybe but solar freakin’ roadways are a marketing scheme dressed up as visionary technology.

      • Ken Fabian

        Let the examples of solar roads prove themselves or not; there are some existing and proposed projects using PV and others making use of thermal energy. It may well prove the case that these can’t compete directly with other solar placements but I don’t think it’s totally stupid to look to roads; it probably rivals roof tops for the largest areas of sun exposed built “structures”.

        Solar roads, like other integrations into built structures, may depend on scale thresholds to be economically viable at large scale – in this case perhaps specialised equipment for mechanically laying and decommissioning and replacing damaged sections – but may well find niche applications at smaller scales.

  • Chris Marshalk

    Can someone kindly recommend a good solar power installer with battery pack in Melbourne? i’m using Jemena grid distributor.

  • patb2009

    I would hope he is using Solar to power a swamp cooler. That or make ice, and then
    use a blower to blow cool air over him