Elon Musk Promises Solar Power Cheaper Than Fracked Gas

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Elon Musk’s SolarCity buys panel maker and promises to slash the cost of solar power

Tesla Motors boss Elon Musk has bought solar panel maker Silevo, and promised that he will deliver unsubisdised solar power that is cheaper than electricity from coal or fracked gas.

Musk’s solar energy company SolarCity has paid up to $350 million for the company, which gives SolarCity the ability to make panels with a “unique combination of high energy output and low cost,” Musk said on a SolarCity blog.

solar panel power plant field © Vaclav Volrab ShutterstockSolar ambition

SolarCity has initially splashed out $200 million for the company, with the possibility of $150 million more if certain goals are met, but Musk is clearly planning to put a lot more funds into the idea.

Musk plans to build a factory in New York State to make the Silevo panels at scale, to achieve a “breakthrough” in the cost of solar power.

The planned facility will have the capacity to produce 1GW of solar panels within the next two years. This is a huge increase over Silevo’s current 32MW capacity and will be one of the biggest in the world.

In subsequent years, the plan is to ramp up by an order of magnitude – a plan which boosted solar company stocks but left some scratching their heads.

Silevo is one of several firms making new-generation panels, which are 15 to 20 percent more efficient than traditional ones, according to MIT Review. It also uses copper rather than silver for the electrodes, in order to cut costs.

“Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry,” said Musk. “What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing.”

Musk’s blog does the basic maths: the sun radiates many times more power to Earth than the human race uses, and solar panels could (if the economics worked out) deliver all the power we need. But if solar is to reach even 40 percent of our needs, the human race has to install 400GW of panels every year for the next 25 years.

Compared to that, Musk says, his plans are “small in context”.

Solar power is increasingly popular for data centres, with Apple a large investor, although it does require storage technology or an exchange with grid electricity, as it is only available during the day.

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