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Are solar photovoltaics just too costly?

First, biofuels were dealt a body blow. A pair of recent studies pointed out that practically any crop -– whether corn, sugar, or oil bearing plants -– grown on newly cleared lands created such a deep carbon deficit that it could take decades or centuries for biofuels generated from those acres to start benefiting the environment. Then this week, a study harshly critical of the cost-effectiveness of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy has put a scare into the industry.

According to a new study by Severin Borenstein, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and director of the UC Energy Institute, current solar PV technology is not economic: “We are throwing money away by installing the current solar PV technology.” Such criticism are nothing new. In any rank ordering of the cost effectiveness of renewable technologies now being built, solar PV tops out as most expensive. Yet its proponents maintain that government subsidies are justified. The public money will speed the solar PV’s evolution and lower its price. This has happened. Improving economies of scale in manufacturing, lower installation costs, and chips which do a better job of converting more of the sun’s photons in electricity have dramatically solar PV costs.