CLIMATE SPECTATOR: Solar's great vanishing act

The biggest hurdle for the widespread deployment of solar PV has been its up-front cost. But what if the owners of buildings and households could make that cost disappear?

Climate Spectator

The cost of solar PV has fallen so dramatically in the last few years that industry pundits have begun playing a new game – identify the spot where the price of PV finally hits a floor. But what if it never did?

That tantalising prospect was raised by the International Energy Agency in its Solar Energy Perspectives report released last week, when it said that building-integrated PV – a thin layer of PV-active material – will become almost a standard feature of building elements such as roof tiles, faade materials, glasses and windows, just as double-glazed windows have become standard in most countries. Because solar PV would be crucial to the value of such buildings, the IEA argues that the cost of PV could "almost vanish” in the very market segment where it currently costs the most. "PV roof costs may never meet a floor price,” it says in the report.

The idea that PV costs will "vanish” into the value of the building is potentially revolutionary for a technology that is supposedly hamstrung because of its high up front capital costs. Commercial building owners, however, are comfortable with the concept of "vanishing costs”, because it is a fundamental part of the "green building” push that has rewarded higher investment in energy efficiency and low emissions technology with greater yields. And now the concept been taken up by the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, which argues that adding a standard 1.5kW rooftop solar system could actually reduce the size and the term of a home mortgage, and thereby vanish into the value of the home.

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