Today in Cleantech

Let’s dedicate this Friday to singing the praises of solar power, the new industrial employment engine of the world’s major economies. The good news comes from Stephen Lacey of Think Progress, who writes this week that the U.S. and German solar sectors both now employ more people than U.S. steel production. According to 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the U.S. solar sector generated 93,000 direct and indirect jobs, if one includes jobs in solar photovoltaic (PV) power, solar hot water and concentrating solar power. In Germany, solar PV alone accounts for 100,000 jobs. As solar power grows in might and scale as an industry, we’re seeing the continuing fall in prices for solar raw materials and finished products down the chain, which makes for tough markets for solar equipment producers but cheaper solar power in the long run. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest figures (PDF) show that from May to June, prices for solar-grade silicon fell 28 percent, silicon wafers fell 23 percent and solar cells fell 15 percent, with the end product of solar modules (panels) falling 6.5 percent. That brings the cost of generating power from solar PV down to 18 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour — and that can compete with daytime power prices in select markets. Things are starting to get interesting.

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