I was having a casual conversation a week or so ago at a sunny baseball game when someone excitedly mentioned to me that solar power is now competitive with conventional fuel generation prices. Here are the Department of Energy’s predictions for solar costs by 2016 as of December 2010 and here is its most recent update for 2017 installations.
Without confusing you with details on how these are calculated or what the problems with these calculations might be, let’s take the numbers at face value. The estimates of a year ago for what the “equivalent” cost of generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity using Solar Photovoltaic cells was 21.1 cents last year and 15.7 cents this year. (For comparison’s sake, the most advanced combined cycle gas generation plants can produce electricity for 6.6 cents per kilowatt hour, and fracking has caused the cost of the fuel input here to hit 30 year lows.) This sharp decrease is partly due to the sharp decline in the cost of making the solar panels themselves. However, over half of the cost of producing electricity using solar power comes from places other than the panels, and it is not at all clear what pace these costs might decrease, if at all.
But ignore that. Let’s be Cassandras today. Shouldn’t we be celebrating the end of Global Warming today? If it is true that solar is already competitive with conventional sources and it is poised to get even cheaper, and we also know that the “fuel” for solar generation is costless and carbon emissions free, then why are we not celebrating at each and every Memorial Day parade today the end of the most terrifying thing we have faced in our history? Great job everyone! Let’s move on to other worries, like figuring out how to remove my tongue from my cheek.