For years, one of the big arguments against solar energy is that it's too expensive for consumers, and can't compete price-wise with conventional electricity produced by burning fossil fuel in utility plants.
But that may be changing. Two new studies indicate that solar is getting affordable more quickly than expected, and that it's on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices for most of the United States in just two years.
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One study, by Deutsche Bank energy analyst Vishal Shaw, isn't yet available on the financial institution's website, but its findings have been reported in Bloomberg News and other media outlets.
Shaw reportedly predicts that solar will reach parity with conventional electricity prices in as many as 47 states by 2016. He also says that solar will become mainstream as prices continue to drop and financing becomes more affordable. That progress is contingent upon Congress preserving the current 30 percent tax break for solar energy users. But even if the subsidy is reduced to 10 percent, consumers in at least 36 states would still find solar energy to be as cheap as conventional electricity by 2016.
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Meanwhile, a second report, released by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), finds that the cost of installing residential and small business-scale solar energy systems, which produce 10 kilowatts or less, is now 59 percent lower than industry analysts' predictions made back in 2010. The government report also notes that the equipment price dropped between 12 and 15 percent between 2012 and 2013, and could drop by a similar amount this year.
The United States, though, is still catching up to countries such as Italy and Germany, where solar power already is as cheap as conventional electricity, according to Climate Progress.