An explosion of rooftop solar cells combined with low demand made for some funny accounting in Queensland, Australia, last week.
Solar power, now the fourth-biggest source of energy in the state, has driven prices so low that on July 2, the cost of electricity from fossil plants was minus $100 (AUD) per megawatt hour. Essentially, the coal plants had to give away free power or pay for people to use it rather than shut down their facilities, which would have been more expensive to operators.
As Boy Genius Report points out, it’s currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and Queensland has built too many coal plants, so we shouldn’t jump to wild conclusions. Still, with increased investment from China to North Carolina, the future is looking bright for solar energy.
Queensland is a special case due to local overbuilding of coal power plants and bad policy decisions. This is an example of how the rapid growth of solar energy is catching governments off guard. More than a million Australians have already installed rooftop panels, causing demand for electricity supplied by traditional utilities to plunge. According to analysis from UBS, demand for electricity in Australia has dropped by 13% over the past four years. 75% of Australia’s residential buildings and up to 90% of commercial buildings may be equipped by rooftop solar panels within 1o years.
Apple recently announced plans to expand its massive North Carolina solar power farm substantially. China’s solar power panel production is expected to double by 2017 as the country focuses on creating massive economies of scale to help drive down panel pricing. Various American tech companies are trying to compete against China’s raw government subsidy policies by introducing advances in materials, such as thin-film photovoltaic technology.
This dramatic rivalry between American and Chinese solar panel industries is likely to yield substantial reduction in solar power costs over the next five years. By the end of the decade, the idea of homes and companies getting close to self-sustaining regarding energy production and consumption may become the norm in the sunnier American states.
Here’s an Aussie news report from a year ago about Queensland’s solar scheme:
—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer
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