Brent Keller, Cambridge, Mass.
As a researcher currently studying photovoltaics as part of my PhD work and as someone who grew up in Minot, I was disappointed to see the misguided sentiment in the Sept. 30 Minot Daily News editorial that renewable energy is "extravagantly expensive and cannot replace fossil fuels in anything but the least demanding environments." While this was true for some technologies decades ago, the truth today is exactly the opposite. To focus on solar, the typical cost of a kilowatt hour of solar electricity has decreased from over a dollar in 1990 to around 30 cents in 2000 to approximately 10 cents today and will continue to decline in the future. As an example, using the power output and cost of a residential system available online from The Home Depot and Nation Renewable Energy Laboratory data on the weather patterns and latitude effects for Minot, I calculated the cost of solar energy to be just under 10 cents per kilowatt hour excluding any federal or local incentive programs. While this neglects the cost of professional installation (approximately 2 cents per kilowatt hour based on national averages), it is already cheaper than retail prices in many parts of the country in the U.S., 20 percent of electric power already sells for more than 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
So it should come as little surprise that the Department of Energy, Deutsche Bank, the International Energy Agency, and a host of other government and financial intuitions have determined that in many countries and US states, solar power is already cheaper than the local cost of retail electricity, and most estimates predict solar power generation cost to drop below the cost of utility scale coal power generation in around a decade.