PSE Success Story
New Approach Calculates Solar Energy Costs
A variety of stakeholders, including investors and policymakers, are tracking the generational development and commercialization of solar technologies, and require greater insight into the projected costs of a solar energy project to aid in decision making.
When consumers consider the cost of solar energy, they use dollars per Watt, which is only a measure of the initial capital cost and the solar panel vendor’s performance specification. It does not take into account the actual energy one will get from the system or other cost factors such as maintenance. A far more informative metric is the levelized cost of energy (LCOE): the cost of an energy supply over its lifetime per energy unit produced.
To accurately project the lifetime cost of a solar-generated energy system for comparison to other energy systems.
Argonne nanoscientist Seth Darling measures the performance of a nanostructured organic photovoltaic cell using a solar simulator that replaces sunlight under standardized conditions.
Argonne has created a new, optimized approach using a Monte Carlo simulation (a type of math algorithm) that statistically selects from probability distributions to account for the uncertainty associated with various solar energy cost and production parameters. A Monte Carlo simulation can produce millions of possible performance outcomes that might occur in the future, weighted to reflect their likelihood. This work involves contributions from three Argonne directorates: Physical Sciences and Engineering, Energy Engineering and Systems Analysis and Computing, Environment and Life Sciences.
Argonne’s optimized approach has provided better stakeholder guidance. Currently, more rigorous data sets of location-specific solar panel performance and other parameters are being developed. Fair comparison to traditional energy sources, such as coal or natural gas, will require a re-examination of the hidden costs associated with those technologies. This work is published in Energy and Environmental Science.
"Investors need to know their expected return on investment, regulators and policy makers who help define the economies of energy production need reliable information, funding agencies need a means to analyze proposed technology development, and technology developers need to understand how they will compete relative to other technologies. We want to show that you can truly develop a more accurate picture of the potential costs of solar energy," said Argonne solar researcher Seth Darling.
- Poster: New Approach Calculates Solar Energy Costs (pdf)