Environment Forum

U.S. lab says 2008 pivotal year for solar costs

The holy grail for solar power is to match the cost of power from coal-fired power plants or other traditional fuel.

That goal is still on the horizon. But researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab say the industry is getting closer as the cost of going solar in the United States saw a pivotal year in 2008.

In a new report, the researchers found that the cost of going solar fell by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. The installation costs — before taking into account any incentives –  dropped from $10.80 per watt to $7.50 per watt during that period.

Costs like labor, marketing and overhead drove much of that decline. But the fall in panel prices, which tumbled from 2007 to 2008, helped push the total cost down in recent years.

Photo: Thousands of solar panels are shown that generate electricity used at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. Photo credit: REUTERS

Solar heads to developing world

While solar power has investors on Wall Street seeing green, countries in the developing world also see a bright future in solar technology.

They believe solar power systems that convert sunlight into electricity can help power developing areas without going the route of dirty coal-fired power plants.

Solar companies like China’s solar panel maker Suntech and California-based eSolar, have recently announced forays into the developing world.

Cow manure to combat global warming?

A cow looks out from the barn at Smith’s Country Cheese in Winchendon, Massachusetts in this June 30, 2008 file photoCould cow manure curb global warming?

A study by scientists in Texas reckons that cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and other farm animals excrete enough waste to generate electricity for millions of homes, helping reduce reliance on coal-fired power plants and so cut greenhouse gas emissions released by burning fossil fuels.

Left to decompose naturally, manure emits the powerful greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide. If trapped by a devoted workforce (people with an impaired sense of smell encouraged to apply) the gases could used to drive microturbines to generate electricity. That works by the manure being “anaerobically digested” — a process a bit like making compost — to release energy-rich biogas which would be burnt to drive the microturbines.

The calculations, the scientists say they are the first to outline a procedure for quantifying amounts of energy and greenhouse gases linked to national herds, suggest that farm animals in the United States alone could generate about 2.4 percent of U.S. electricity and avert about 3.9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.