Breaking the $1/watt price barrier has been as mythical to the Solar Power House industry as breaking the 4 minute mile barrier in athletics. Until it was actually done in 1957, it was considered impossible, even fatally dangerous to the athletes attempting it. Here’s how Sir Roger Bannister described his feelings after crossing the finish line in less than 4 minutes. “It was only then that real pain overtook me. I felt like an exploded flashlight with no will to live; I just went on existing in the most passive physical state without being unconscious.” Today however, it’s a different story. Just about every country in the world has athletes that routinely beat 4 minute mile barrier. In US, some top college level athletes achieve this too.
In February 2009, First Solar Inc. threw the gauntlet by breaking the $1/Watt price barrier. Now, to anyone of us who has done some basic research on the internet, this is an astounding figure. We are used to seeing typical solar electric system prices around $2-4/Watt.
Solar Power for Houses has gone through a similar phase in its quest to achieve cost parity with traditional sources of energy like natural gas, coal, and even nuclear. There have been similar negative claims made about house solar panels. While up starts and newcomers in this industry have been on cutting edge of solar technology and driven by innovation, there have been attempts by traditional large manufacturers like BP Solar to downplay $1/Watt price barrier. According to them $1/watt is not good for the health of the solar electric power systems. I am not joking folks, honestly, their claim is that manufacturing practices involved in getting the solar electric panel price so low results in poor quality and shorter life span of the solar power generator systems.
BP Solar’s claim is not entirely baseless of course. They are in this for profits, and it’s normal that they present their strengths to the consumers. They are positioning themselves as the Maytag of solar power house business. Sort of like, the machine lasts so long and you never need to call the repairman, so it’s worth it to pay some extra $ upfront. In fact they claim that over the lifetime of the solar power generation system, their modules cost 20 cents/kilowatt hour, which is the lowest cost in the industry, even if buyers pay more upfront.
However, I do believe companies like First Solar are an important part of the solar ecosystem. They push the cutting edge further, and make sure that traditional large players don’t get too comfortable. Over time, I am sure the reliability and longevity issues will be ironed out as with any new technology. In the end who benefits? You, the intrepid Solar Power House owner.