Vying to be the most efficient solar panel

There are many efforts to reduce the costs of renewable energy technologies. One important way is to improve efficiency and Anna Nicolaou writes in the Financial Times about a new panel by SolarCity that is said to be the global leader.

 

Musk’s SolarCity vows super solar panel

A company backed by billionaire Elon Musk recently said it will produce the world’s most efficient solar panel.

The new panel by SolarCity, the biggest US home solar power installer, will convert sunlight into electricity at a 22.04 per cent rate, topping the 21.5 per cent made by rival SunPower, the company said. The industry average stands about 16 to 17 per cent.

SolarCity, which was conceived by Mr Musk and his cousin Lyndon Rive while on their way to the Burning Man festival in 2004, started out installing and supporting solar systems for homes, businesses and schools.

But last year, with the acquisition of start-up Silevo, the company expanded into making the panels as well, claiming it would build more efficient systems to cut the costs of its products.

“At the time, people probably thought: ‘wow, that’s stupid’,” said Mr Musk of his foray into solar panel production. “I kind of like counterintuitive moves.”

SolarCity is betting on solar power becoming more widely popular, after the costs of solar panels have dropped dramatically in the past few years amid a boost in Chinese production.

The average cost of a solar electric system has dropped 50 per cent since the start of 2010, the Obama administration said in August when announcing plans to support solar, wind and renewable energy projects.

Nearly 600,000 US homes have solar panels, according to GTM research.

Mr Rive said that as costs continue to fall he expects solar power will become the dominant source of energy by 2040, and the higher power output from each of its new panels will cut costs even further, by 15 to 20 cents per watt.

“When done right, high efficiency and low cost end up being the same thing,” said Mr Musk. “There’s limited space on rooftops, so you want to generate as much energy as you can from that given space, to compete with natural gas or coal.”

SolarCity last year announced plans to build one of the world’s largest solar panel plants in upstate New York, bucking the trend of solar manufacturing being dominated by Asia.

Mr Musk said he wants to dispel beliefs that solar energy is not a viable replacement for fossil fuels. “For a long time with Tesla [the electric cars manufacturer], they said we couldn’t make it. By acting first . . . this helps shift big players in the industry in the right direction.”

Speaking at a SolarCity event in New York, Mr Musk also touched on his ambitions to colonise Mars by sending a fusion bomb to create “two tiny pulsing suns” to warm the planet. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that our sun is a giant fusion explosion.”

Shares in SolarCity — of which Mr Musk holds a 23 per cent stake — climbed 7 per cent on Friday, but have fallen 20 per cent in the past year.

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