Solar-Power Industry Hits Magic Number

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"It's already high noon for some parts of the sector."

While some investors feel they're still waiting for the sun to rise on the solar energy industry, it's already high noon for some parts of the sector.

". . .I you look at it as a [retail] ratepayer," says Ted Sullivan, senior analyst at Lux Research, "we're there today."

Solar industry insiders argue that promoting solar technology from the "end user up" rather than from the "power plant down"óbetter captures the real value of solar energy, versus trying to compare the cost of kilowatt generated from coal versus one generated from solar, or "grid parity."

"As an industry we've allowed ourselves to be painted into a corner," says Doug Payne, executive director of the solar industry trade group SolarTech, about aiming for grid parity while minimizing the industry's real efforts at saving their customers' money over retail electricity costs.

Analysts emphasize that utilities won't be swapping a 100-megawatt solar farm for a 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant to distribute power. Instead, distribution will be served by installing solar panels on rooftops, adding a few kilowatts of power at a time.

This model makes "economic viability visible on the horizon," says Deutsche Bank's solar research team, which predicts that distributed solar power generation costs could hit 10 cents/kwh or less in some geographies within three to six years.

"Creating a vibrant solar PV industry in the US can be done but thus far has not been," says the Deutsche Bank report. "The US can either wait for solar PV electricity costs to decline [further] and then chase an industry established elsewhere, or lead with the development of a [domestic] solar PV industry."

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