Inverter Update

A little while ago I posted on the need for cheap inverters if photovoltaics are to really come of age. Looking at the latest solarbuzz update we see just how important that is becoming. Retail panel prices dropped 6% in the US this month. While Europe only experienced a 1% fall, over the last year prices are down 23% on both continents. I haven’t seen Australian data, but it’s unlikely to be much different.

The cheapest panels are on sale for around $1.40/watt, so the long-dreamed of goal of $1/watt panels is well within range. The problem is that in the last year the price of inverters fell by a measly 0.3% in the US (though it was a healthy 8% in Europe). Is is possible that one day the inverter will cost more than the solar panels? Hard to believe, but certainly it looks like the cost of inverters may now be the major obstacle to producing solar power at prices that wipe coal off the map.

Battery and charge controller prices actually rose in the US, although they fell substantially in Europe. However, this probably isn’t nearly as important as inverter prices. In the near future the major goal for solar has to be to produce enough power to match the gap between day and night time consumption. Only after that will the issue of storage for night (or cloudy day) consumption become a major issue. Whatever storage methods we’re using when that happens, it certainly won’t resemble the battery kits people use for off-grid storage.

I gather Steven Chu is aware of this issue, and has slashing inverter prices as one of his goals. I wonder if the same can be said for many other important players. If anyone in Australia is conducting research on the topic, I’m yet to hear of it.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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