Published September 25, 2013
The solar market is difficult to read because it relies on quickly changing technology while being heavily tangled in politics and other sectors of the economy, such as the volatile price of fossil fuels.
In addition, the wide range of solar technologies from quantum dots to nano-crystals make it difficult to track clear progress.
Despite its popularity, solar energy has come under fire from critics who cite expensive kilowatt per hour (kWh) compared to other energy sources. The EIA states that in 2017, solar energy will be 55.3 percent more expensive than coal, 63.2 percent more expensive than nuclear, and 73.9 percent more expensive than wind.
Solar companies continue to make grand claims of groundbreaking advancement, which would allow solar energy to be economically viable for an average consumer in near future. However, there is skepticism in the marketplace because leading solar advocates seem to dodge any binding quotes.
This Monday, German Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin announced the development of 44.7 percent efficiency solar cell. While some claim that the new record will allow for cheaper solar energy, others state that III-IV based multijunction cells used for this record is expensive to produce and do not hold much commercial value.
While there has been no promise of cost efficient energy application from this new record, Soitec's Chairman and CEO, Andr-Jacques Auberton-Herv, conveys that the quickening rate of development in the solar technology may allow solar energy to outcompete other energy sources earlier than expected.
"This world record increasing our efficiency level by more than one point in less than four months demonstrates the extreme potential of our four-junction solar cell design which relies on Soitec bonding techniques and expertise, he announced in the press release held this Monday It confirms the acceleration of the roadmap towards higher efficiencies which represents a key contributor to competitiveness of our own CPV systems. We are very proud of this achievement, a demonstration of a very successful collaboration."
US solar consumption has jumped by 55 percent since 1995 and appears in a multitude of commercial merchandises ranging from phone chargers to parking meters. In addition, big name companies have started to use solar as an energy source in their stores. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Wal-Mart (WMT) and Walgreens (WAG) lead the way with 144 and 134 stores using the energy source. Other leaders include Kohl's (KSS), Costco (COST) and Macy's (M).
Is solar energy the hope for humanity or is it the second coming of corn ethanol, propelled by green-energy zealots and angst about the rising price of fossil fuels?
Most experts agree that solar power will soon become a reliable and economically sensible energy source across the private and public sectors.
Assuming those analysts are right, a multitude of companies will enter and fade from the industry as the solar market takes form. Forbes reports that 40 solar companies went out of business in 2012 with several others declaring bankruptcy. Despite these failures, investors have huge expectations for solar, with these companies trading at huge multiples.
The Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN), which tracks the performance of 25 solar companies, is up more than 97 percent this year.
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