12 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | DEC. 14 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
NEWS IN THE WORLD OF POWER AND INTEGRATED BUILDING SYSTEMS
Studies Differ on the Cost of Solar Power
Fuel-Cell Power Ready for Commercial Use
> EVALUATING THE COST-
effectiveness of renewable power has
always been a fairly simple calculation. As
manufacturers lowered their production
costs and improved the generating
efficiency of their technology, renewables
became more cost competitive with
conventional sources of power.
Now, that assessment has become a
little murkier. Two recent studies in particular present contrasting interpretations
of solar-power costs.
In October, the Department of Energy
released a report that takes the more
conventional position. Published jointly
by the Department’s National Renewable
Energy Laboratory and the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory, the report
identifies a sharp decline in the price of
solar in 2013 and projects a continuing
decline for 2014.
“Photovoltaic Pricing Trends: Histori-
cal, Recent, and Near-Term Projections
(2014 Edition)” notes the price of solar-
power systems dropped by 12 percentage
points to 19 percent in 2013. It ranges a bit
due to variations in geography, markets
and prevailing utility rates. Of note in the
report is a drop in the price of utility-scale
solar-power systems to below $2 per
watt last year.
The report projects the price of
photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United
States to continue on this downward
trend through 2016, adding that, “at these
pricing levels, PV is expected to reach
widespread grid parity in the U.S. without federal or state subsidies” by 2020.
A report from the European Union
reaches a completely different conclusion
about the overall costs of solar power. The
report, “Subsidies and Costs of EU En-
ergy,” claims to examine the “true costs”
of all energy production on the European
continent. It examines factors that are not
typically considered, including external
costs, the costs of government interven-
tion (such as subsidies) and environmen-
tal impact (such as the depletion of natu-
ral resources and the pollution generated
during the manufacturing process).
Surprisingly, solar power did not score
well in the analysis, costing more than coal,
natural gas, wind and nuclear. The study
considered a number of factors that are not
typically examined in the usual side-by-side comparison of the benefits and costs of
the different sources of power.
> MOBILE LIGHTING SYSTEMS powered by hydrogen fuel cells are cleaner
and quieter and now have a proven
track-record in applications like nighttime construction, sports and entertainment events, and airport operations,
making them ready for commercialization and broader use.
That’s the conclusion reached by
researchers at Sandia National Laborato-
ries and others after a multiyear project
sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technolo-
gies Office and the Boeing Co. Project support also came from
the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Altergy
Systems and 11 other project partners.
Over the past five years, Sandia and 14 institutional partners
have been developing the fuel-cell mobile light tower, called
H2LT, as a clean, efficient alternative to traditional lights powered by diesel generators.
The pilot programs were intended to perform a variety of
lighting tasks, assess the operation and reliability of the technol-
ogy in a variety of potentially corrosive environments, reduce
diesel emissions at deployment locations and help promote
hydrogen fuel-cell technology in new markets.
“The project has been deemed a major success in opening
up new fuel-cell markets that complement broader hydrogen-energy markets, including the light-duty vehicle market,” said
Lennie Klebanoff, Sandia project lead.
“Wherever the H2LT was used or displayed, we engaged
with local fire and building safety authorities and first respond-
ers, few of whom had prior knowledge of the physical or safety
aspects of hydrogen and fuel-cell technology,” he said. “After
hearing our technology descriptions and seeing the different
ways the H2LT was being used, those groups rapidly welcomed
the technology as both reliable and safe.”
In addition to zero emissions, the most attractive feature of
the fuel-cell mobile light system is perhaps how quiet it is.
“The primary driver of the project from the outset was the
lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, and, in fact, the H2LT
system was not designed to minimize noise,” Klebanoff said.
“Still, hydrogen fuel-cell technology, by its very nature, is dramatically quieter than diesel generators, and this noise reduction
is something that really excites users.”