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10 December 2015
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4 March 2016

Solar electricity is not only cheaper … It is becoming cheapest!

When even the Belgian renewable energy magazine Renouvelle starts its latest edition with “La production photovoltaïque coûte moins cher que le nucléaire” … (Solar photovoltaic electricty is cheaper than nuclear electricity) … Change is in the air.

Belgium, despite its long summer days, is not particularly famous for having sun. Of course daylight is there, but still: The sun shines roughly 40% less in Brussels than in an average French southern city. So when solar photovoltaic electricity becomes cheaper than nuclear in Belgium a milestone has been passed.

Now keep this in mind: The nuclear sector does not know yet precisely how to evaluate the cost of nuclear waste treatment, and the risk, the most controversial issue at stake in the whole nuclear debate, is almost not taken into account in the pricing of a nuclear electricity kWh (kiloWatt-hour)… That yields a very cheap nuclear electricity cost, and therefore a tough competitor for solar.

Indeed, when discussing solar, keep that one in mind: earth receives A LOT of solar energy, but on the other hand it is very dilute, the density of energy received is barely 1000 Watt/m2, and after all the fundamental and practical limitations, you reach a production of 200W/m2, that’s not even a microwave… So you need A LOT of solar panels to power your house.

Despite this, solar photovoltaic electricity, produced on a roof, not even produced in a plant, is now cheaper than nuclear electricity in Belgium and all countries south of Belgium. What’s you bet for the Gulf? Cheaper…

Does this mean that a house can run on solar autonomously? Usually we answer: that’s not the point, solar should be part of a renewable mix (I’ll come to this in a later post) for our electricity production.

But here also things are changing… Most of the renewable energy professionals still believe in the “renewable mix” that will by manage by a smart electricity grid, however, battery prices are now low enough to bringthe “solar + battery” package price down to the market price!

The same Renouvelle magazine made a calculation showing that with a 7kWh-storage capacity battery, a mid-sized solar system of 4kW peak capacity brings an electricity cost around 17 eurocents/kWh… Just a bit lower than market prices!

For Belgium this is still fiction, but with the recent announcements made by Tesla, releasing a battery designed and sized for a typical household, this is becoming reality in Australia, and one can imagine that more and more battery producers will go on the household market in the immediate future. This does not mean that all houses will be autonomous, as there is no need anyway, but it does mean that houses will be potentially autonomous electrically, and that electricity transport will be less and less needed. That’s good news because transport is a major source of loss and of pollution, be it visual, or air pollution.

Way to go!

Ounsi El Daif