Philosophical Society of Washington

Does Solar Energy Have a Future in Utility Power?

If so, When and Why?

George D. Cody
Scientific Advisor, Exxon Corporate Research

2104th Meeting Abstract
Friday, April 02, 1999 at 8:15 PM


Photovoltaics (PVs) generate a significant fraction of the power in underdeveloped countries and supply the power of earth-orbiting satellites. Why aren't we using more solar energy instead of fossil fuels? Can PV power, which currently costs more than five times the US average, ever be competitive? And if so, over what time period can this be achieved?

To answer these questions, we use a utility pricing formula and experience curves to project the cost and performance of PV power over the next 15 years suggesting parity with utility average power by the year 2010 in selected locations. Recent press releases of Amoco/Solarex/Enron projecting sales of PV power at rates below the current US utility average starting in 1999 (!) in Nevada are placed in the context of our early projections. Finally we discuss the opportunities and limitations on the conversion of sunlight to CO2-neutral biomass fuel as well as fundamental solar limits on world food supply.

About the Author:

George D. Cody received AB (1952) and PhD (1957) degrees from Harvard University. Mr. Cody was a staff member and laboratory director at RCA Laboratories (1957-76) and scientific advisor at Exxon's corporate research laboratory (1976-98). He received the Franklin Institute's Ballantine medal in 1979 for the invention of the Ge-Si thermoelectric that powers the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini spacecrafts. His recent research focussed on the optics of amorphous semiconductors, and non-intrusive probes of two-phase flow in refining and petrochemicals. He has published more than 100 articles and holds 13 patents. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

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