Back Forty

EPRI Journal looks back 40 years at the electricity sector and research

Solar Photovoltaics in 1978: Pricey

An article on solar photovoltaics (PV) in the March 1978 issue of EPRI Journal reported that the cost of a kilowatt of solar capacity was about $15,000—down from $200,000 per kilowatt in 1959 but far above conventional power plant costs of $200 to $1,000 per kilowatt of generating capacity. (In 2017, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported utility-scale solar costs of $1 per watt, or $1,000 per kilowatt.)

The EPRI Journal article cites a 1978 EPRI study which concluded that the “avenues most likely to lead to economical, large-scale utility applications will involve materials and/or concepts that are alternatives to established single-crystal silicon technologies,” such as thin-film solar modules and high-concentration photovoltaics. Today, most commercially available solar modules are based on monocrystalline and multicrystalline silicon cell technologies. The article’s authors also point out that photovoltaic systems are modular, giving the technology a potential role in both distributed and centralized applications.