Solar Power Cheaper Than New Coal, Foresees German Solar CEO

Credit: Bert Kaufmann

By Tina Casey via Clean Technica.

In a new interview with Deutsche Welle, the CEO of a Germany-based global solar developer made a good case for the potential for solar power to become cheaper than coal sooner rather than later. That would be Bernhard Beck, CEO of BELECTRIC. In the interview Beck had some interesting things to say about the direction of the global solar market and the potential for growth in large-scale solar power generating plants, and if anything, we think his forecast could come true even sooner than he thinks.

Solar Power Cheaper Than Coal

BELECTRIC specializes in utility-scale solar power plants as well as rooftop solar, and the former area is where the focus of the Deutsche Welle interview takes place.

According to Beck, large scale solar power in Germany is already “approaching the costs” of conventional power, at 10 euro cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Beck was reluctant to lay out a specific timetable, but he did predict that with additional technological improvements, the cost of solar power in Germany (and by extension, other relatively sun-poor countries), will ultimately fall below the cost of conventional energy.

He foresees a much shorter time span in “sun-rich” countries, where the trend is rapidly moving in the direction of solar power for less than 10 euro cents per kWh. That could put solar power below the cost of wind power as well as coal or gas.

However, Beck indicates that these countries have some obstacles to overcome. By “sun-rich” he means countries with a less developed transmission infrastructure, which puts large scale power plants at a disadvantage in terms of operating costs. Also contributing to higher operating costs is the characteristic dust-heavy environment of the “sun-rich” countries to which he refers, which translates into higher costs for cleaning and maintaining solar panels.

Cheaper Solar Power And The Grid

Regardless of those obstacles, overall Beck is optimistic about the potential for future innovation to drive down costs. That optimism is partly based on his own company’s track record, which goes beyond advanced thin film solar cell technology to embrace the key area of grid integration.

In that regard, BELECTRIC won this year’s InterSolar Award in the Solar Projects category, for its new utility scale solar power plant in Templin, Brandenburg.

The Templin solar array, which is currently billed as the largest thin film, ground-mounted solar plant in Europe, was designed as an “integrated intelligent power plant” that self-adjusts to ensure a stable operating voltage while compensating for grid fluctuations in real time.

The Templin plant also involves a couple of other cost-related factors that Beck does not mention in the interview, but which could become deciding factors when siting new power plants in densely developed regions.

First, the construction involved use of a previously developed brownfield for a construction site, rather than impinging on valuable farmland or open space. It occupies the site of a former Soviet military airport, which at one time was the largest in central Europe.

Along those lines, consider that the actual construction took only four months, and weigh that against the cost and the timeline for constructing a coal powered generating plant with advance pollution controls.

Another factor that could affect future cost parity is transportation. The shortest line between a solar power plant and its fuel supply is, literally, the shortest distance between two points. Compare that to coal, which is increasingly making a laborious international trek across oceans, into congested inland shipping routes.

Some of these factors are already coming into play in the US, where earlier this year the El Paso Electric Company and First Solar collaborated in a major deal to sell solar-generated electricity for less than coal (the First Solar price was reported as 5.8 cents per kWh and “new” coal is currently in the 10-14 cent range).

More Danger Signs Ahead For Fossil Fuels

The cost of financing new power plants is also going to have a significant effect on parity between solar and fossil fuels, and the warning signs have already been floated where fossil fuels are concerned.

Earlier this spring we noted that Moody’s foresees dark skies ahead for conventional thermal power plants in Europe due to the strength of the renewables sector. Just about the only thing keeping the conventional sector afloat is the need to satisfy peak demand, but the rapid development of advanced energy storage solutions could make that a moot point sooner rather than later.

That naturally includes utility scale energy storage, ranging from pumped hydro to a massive dry cell battery array in Texas.

Aside from that, small-scale energy storage is also rapidly emerging as a big time player in the peak demand game. Aside from the potential for storing energy from rooftop solar arrays in the form of fuel cells, Navigant is one research company that foresees growth in the use of electric vehicle batteries to store energy for peak periods.

Here in the US you can see that EV/peak energy storage trend hard at work in Ford’s MyEnergi Lifestyle system, which recently upped the ante by partnering with the major US home builder KB Home’s ZeroHouse 2.0.

And since you regulars know that CleanTechnica is all over the US military’s adoption of advanced clean technology, let’s not fail to mention that the Department of Defense kicked off 2013 by announcing a $20 million EV leasing program that will involve 500 vehicles integrated with energy storage, smart grid and renewable energy generating systems.

Tina Casey’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Reposted from Clean Technica with permission.

21 Responses to Solar Power Cheaper Than New Coal, Foresees German Solar CEO

  1. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The rise of renewables, particularly solar, seems inexorable now. With a mixture of centralized and distributed, it has all the advantages and few of the disadvantages. Average price of coal has dropped 25% recently and financing new projects is increasingly difficult. Activism is up and denial is down. So many forces are conspiring, not to mention the old lady doing her bit, ME

  2. Superman1 says:

    Right. That’s why every CREDIBLE major governmental, intergovernmental, and industrial organization projects an increase in fossil fuel use over the next 2-3 decades. Hmmm, who should I believe?

  3. Superman1 says:

    “The rise of renewables…..seems inexorable now.” Wind, too, no doubt.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Of course, as usual with your content-free trolling, you fail to give the names of any of these “CREDIBLE” organizations, or to explain what makes them “credible”.

    It is obvious, however, that what you find “credible” is any opinion that supports your rabid opposition to deploying the existing technologies that can easily replace coal-fired electricity generation within a decade.

    The reality is that pretty much every major organization that forecasts energy trends has consistently grossly underestimated the growth of renewable energy over the last decade, as the growth of wind and especially solar energy have vastly exceeded their projections. Given that the explosive growth of wind and solar continues to accelerate, there is every reason to “believe” that will continue to be the case.

  5. Superman1 says:

    “easily replace coal-fired electricity generation within a decade”. Whatever happened to ‘virtually overnight’? Oh, that was last week’s fantasy.

  6. Superman1 says:

    “you fail to give the names of any of these “CREDIBLE” organizations”. I have probably mentioned the projections of EIA, IEA, and industrial organizations well over a dozen times, but that doesn’t fit your agenda. And, who’s the alternative: you?

  7. CrystalK says:

    The Telegraph is a conservative paper. I would take what it says with a heaping tablespoon of salt. It backs the fossil fuels just on stubborn principle.

  8. Superman1 says:

    “growth of wind and especially solar energy have vastly exceeded their projections”. And, how much EXISTING fossil use has that replaced? All it has done is slightly slow the growth of ADDITIONAL fossil, but we need to reduce the consumption of EXISTING fossil poste haste!

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Quoting the Torygraph on wind power, which they fanatically oppose, does not redound to your credibility, Super.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    With your omnisience I would have thought you knew that projections from the past only work when there is stability. When rapid transitions happen, they are useless, ME

  11. Calamity Jean says:

    “New” coal costs 10 to 14 cents per kWh. What does “old” coal power cost? By “old” coal I mean power from an existing, fully amortised generating facility which only has costs for fuel and maintenance. I ask because that is what renewable power really needs to compete with.

  12. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    One should be careful in comparing the costs of Solar Vs Coal. In Europe where high efficient solar cells are used the economics workout differently from the ones in Developing countries. In India where is major Solar Program is on,this statement may not hold good.
    In the case of India, almost all of their solar capacity consists of low efficiency, thin-film solar panels mounted on the ground which produce much less electricity per square meter than any coal plant operating at its originally intended capacity.

    Unless improved efficient solar cells are commercially available ,solar remains still expensive power option.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  13. Superman1 says:

    Remember, Mulga, even a broken clock is right twice a day!

  14. Superman1 says:

    Is there uncertainty in these projections; you bet! But, if what’s needed is an order of magnitude reduction in present global fossil fuel use, and all the credible projections identified above show increases, that should be a major cause for concern.

  15. fj says:

    Not investing in the methods and technology that will support us in the future is the same as not investing in information computer technologies, etc.

    And because the future is now quite sketchy because of bad fossil fuel investments and dependency on fossil fuels, the cost in not divesting in fossil fuels is extremely high.

    Investing in solar and the technologies of the future is the only path that makes good economic sense.

  16. fj says:

    Building our future the most important coincident strategies must be something like

    1. Poor people first

    2. Positive disruptive high efficiencies

    3. Minimal footprint tight integration with natural services.

    4. Rational economics

  17. Gingerbaker says:

    “…which produce much less electricity per square meter than any coal plant operating at its originally intended capacity. ”

    What?? Are you comparing the footprint – the area taken up by solar panels with the area taken up by a coal plant as if that is a meaningful analysis? Please explain.

  18. Gingerbaker says:

    You think it is fair to not include infrastructure costs with carbon fuels but to include them with solar?

    That’s called cherry-picking.

    A more useful analysis would include the cost to ameliorate AGW due to CO2 emissions. Solar wins. And to compare the cost of the fuel itself – coal vs sunlight. Sunlight is free.

    Additionally, if Obama’s intentions are realized, all coal plants are going to need to be retrofitted to reduce CO2 emissions. I would love to see how many solar panel equivalents could be purchased with the monies needed to retrofit.

    There are plenty of ways to avoid meaningful comparisons of costs. But none of them are very useful.

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It doesn’t matter how many people use the wwrong method, they all get the wrong answer. Ever heard of a phase change? ME

  20. Solar power is not nearly cheaper than power from coal. From the point of view of the society as a whole, we need to judge the unsubsidized costs of solar power versus fossil fuel power and other power sources. Examining actual projects in the US the capital costs (before subsidies) for solar power plants exceed $5/watt — about the same as for nuclear power plants. But solar plants provide on average only 20% of peak capacity. [Nuclear plants run at about 90% capacity factor.] This leads to a cost of at least 23 cents/kWh; some contracts agree to 35 cents/kWh. New coal plants will generate power at 6 cents/kWh. Only nuclear power and hydro generate power that can be cheaper than power from coal.

  21. fj says:

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    We do not need the energy density of fossil fuels let alone the energy density of nuclear.

    At some time in the future humanity will likely have access to virtually limitless free energy but it will only make sense and be practical when we have eradicated our inner demons and have evolved to be incapable of the horrors we now continue to foster.