India set what some might have considered a lofty goal when it vowed to deploy 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by the year 2022, but with nearly 20GW added in 2015 and 14GW more planned through 2016, it appears they might actually get things done ahead of schedule and could even continue forward to shatter that goal. Of course, beyond the peace of mind that they are causing less pollution, the energy minister of India, Piyush Goyal, has declared he believes solar energy is actually cheaper than coal. And, when you really think about it, why shouldn’t it be?
Thanks to the focus of India in general, it should be pretty easy to see why Piyush Goyal views solar power as the cheaper alternative. After all, solar energy prices have hit a record low in India and the more solar panels they build the cheaper it will become. It goes back to the basic economics of supply and demand; the more solar power generated, the less expensive it becomes. Unfortunately, this does not really consider the cost of building the solar energy network in the first place. For many countries around the world, this is the problem that slows things down.
Just as the increased network of solar panels in India is making solar cheaper, the same law of supply and demand is what makes it more expensive in the United States or other countries. The materials used in solar panels are not cheap and to build one that will last requires no shortage of manufacturing expertise either. Currently, many places throughout the United States are subsidizing the cost, which is helping some individuals, but on a larger scale it could be slowing things down instead. How would that work? Basically, those producing the base resources for solar panel manufacturing are having a hard time keeping up with demand. In effect, they charge more for the parts, which keeps the cost of equipment high.
Since most people can’t afford to buy solar equipment outright, this leaves companies paying the cost of energy plus the cost of equipment, which is more than traditional energy options. In reality, if governments really want to make a difference, rather than spend money subsidizing energy purchases they would devote money to that investment in the first place to ensure people could get cheaper solar energy. Of course, what would they have to gain from that?
In addition to this, even if the cost of equipment was lowered in countries like the United States, the other concern is making sure that a building can remain powered at night. When you consider that many big cities have businesses open late into the night, the reserve solar power can be quickly drained. This means that in addition to the cost of actually building and installing all of the solar panels, there also needs to be a strong network of batteries there to support it. Fortunately, companies like Tesla in the United States have developed some powerful batteries to store solar energy and offer large-scale options that could support this kind of power load. Still, the infrastructure is an ongoing concern and actually getting the money to buy the right amount of power storage is another matter entirely.
Unfortunately, despite the apparent logic behind cheaper solar energy, there is a disconnect between execution. When solar panels are in place to generate enough energy, it would inevitably be cheaper, but the immediate concern is affording the panels in the first place. Until all these factors can work themselves out, the rest of the world may be stuck struggling with energy costs.