The affordability challenge for solar

Sunlight is free, but solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are quite expensive to manufacture and must be installed and maintained.

The problem

UK climate limitations (the UK is not a very sunny country), present an affordability challenge for solar as a means to generate electricity on a large scale. Installing enough solar panels to match the output of a large modern power station would require a large amount of solar capacity and would be expensive.

The majority of installed solar in the UK is microgeneration - be deployed by individual consumers and businesses.

Government-backed subsidies such as Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) are available to make installing solar panels more cost-effective.However, it still takes several years for the panels to pay for themselves.

The solution

Solar panel costs have fallen dramatically over the past few years. This trend may continue if (for example) technology continues to improve and costs of producing the panels continue to fall.

US researchers are seeking to reduce the manufacturing costs of solar panels by producing cheaper crystalline silicon wafers. They are also investigating thin-film PV cells, which require less silicon than a conventional cell, and new semi-conducting materials such as organic cells and nano-rods, which could replace silicon entirely.

China's PV cell manufacturing industry is thriving and is predicted to continue to expand.. Many energy providers have improved the affordability of solar energy by importing Chinese PV cells rather than manufacturing them in the UK.