By Lynn Youngblood
Leavenworth Times
Posted Sep 02, 2011 @ 06:22 AM

Imagine. Just imagine – cheap solar energy – it’s what books, movies, and dreams are made of.

Well folks, it is coming! According to several sources, solar energy will be as cheap as coal within five years and certainly by the end of the decade! According to Brian Merchant of Treehuggers.com, “China is set to double its solar capacity by the end of the year.” He also states, “…solar power will be as cheap as – or cheaper than – coal in less than five years.” His article continues, “Reuters reports …The finding is pretty consistent with other reports that predict solar will hit parity with coal by the end of the decade.”
This report is not alone in the solar world and the net is abuzz with such talk and the world is taking off with solar initiatives. As solar energy costs drop installations for solar panels surge. Ehren Goossens of Bloombergs (an online source) quoted Shawn Qu, chief executive officer of Canadian Solar Inc. (SCIQ), in an interview, “We are already in this phase change and are very close to grid parity. In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.” Goosens continues, “Chinese companies such as JA Solar Holdings Ltd., Canadian Solar and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. are making panels cheaper, fueled by better cell technology and more streamlined manufacturing processes. That’s making solar economical in more places and will put it in competition with coal, without subsidies, in the coming years, New Energy Finance said.
Michael Liebreich, chief executive officer of New Energy Finance, said at the company’s annual conference in New York last week. ‘In a decade the cost of solar projects is going to halve again.’”

The secret to reducing the cost of solar energy is in the solar panels themselves. There are two main types of photovoltaic technologies, cadmium and the traditional silicon. Cadmium is abundant, produced as a by-product of other important industrial metals such as zinc.
So, with all of this good news about cheap solar energy what about those who live in condos, cloudy climates, or the woods? How do they get in on cheap energy? Cheap solar energy is so close to the here and now that some progressive states are passing legislation for community solar gardens. Can you even imagine! According to Sami Grover, Treehugger.com, “With even mainstream home builders offering solar options, and some tantalizing hints that solar could be as cheap as coal by 2015, interest in solar for homeowners looks set to rise in coming years…Now there’s also an increasing interest in “solar gardens” that allow energy users to invest in solar on someone else’s property and still reap the economic rewards.”

In fact, last year Colorado passed a law to legalize community solar gardens for renters and condo-owners to be able to take advantage of solar energy, and to support non-fossil fuel sources. This led to the opening of an 858-kWh community solar garden that opened at Garfield Community Airport in Colorado. Now, the idea of community solar gardens is spreading and California is looking at passing a similar law. California Senate bill SB-843 that would make community solar gardens possible has passed the state assembly and is waiting for its first hearing.

The idea of every day, every-house solar energy is exciting. It’s revolutionary and, it’s about time! Yes, researchers have been working on this all along. The subject has not been a sleeper. We will be witness to a whole new way of life. Imagine!

Lynn Youngblood is a KC-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.

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