EU Energy Institute: Solar panels last longer, cheaper than expected

30 November 2009 – The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to research from the EU Energy Institute.

According to the BBC, tests show that 90 per cent of existing solar panels last for 30 years, instead of the predicted 20 years. According to the independent EU Energy Institute, this brings down the lifetime cost.

Panels had been expected to last for 20 years and price calculations were based on this (with a free energy source, purchase and installation represent almost the entire price of solar power).

The institute says the panels are such a good long-term investment that banks should offer mortgages on them like they do on homes. At a conference, the institute forecast that solar panels would be cost-competitive with energy from the grid for half the homes in Europe by 2020 – without a subsidy.

Heinz Ossenbrink, who works at the institute, said the institute’s laboratory has been subjecting the cells to the sort of accelerated ageing through extremes of heat, cold and humidity that has long been a benchmark for the car industry.

It has shown that more than 90 per cent of the panels on the market ten years ago are capable of still performing well after 30 years of life, albeit with a slight drop in performance.

Dr Ossenbrink says 40-year panels will be on the market soon.

A key goal for solar is what is known as grid parity. That is the point when it is as cheap for someone to generate power on their homes as it is to buy it from the grid.

It varies from country to country depending on electricity prices, but the institute estimates that Italy – which has a combination of sunny weather and relatively high electricity prices – should reach grid parity next year. Half of Europe should be enjoying grid parity by 2020, it estimates.

Key sticking points for domestic solar would be the lack of flexibility in electricity grids to take in surplus generated energy and difficulties with finance.

Dr Ossenbrink said: “What I would like to see is the finance sector saying solar power is a product like financing a house – except they can predict the value of the solar panel much more safely than they can predict the value of the house in a volatile market.

“Electricity will never be given away free. Banks should offer mortgages on people’s solar panels like they do on homes – the bank should own the panel, then it would transfer to the householder when the loan has been paid off. It would be perfect for life assurances.”

It will take much longer for solar to match fossil fuel power at the point of generation, the institute says, as wholesale electricity prices are much lower than retail prices.

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