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IEEE: Solar could challenge fossil fuel in 10 years

World's leading engineering organization says improved solar technology efficiency and scalability could facilitate cost parity.

Solar photovoltaics have the potential to be the most cost-effective electricity source and could even challenge fossil fuels within 10 years.

That's according to an announcement made by leaders of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) today as part of the organization's launch of photovoltaic research initiatives.

"Solar PV will be a game changer. No other alternative source has the same potential. As the cost of electricity from solar continues to decrease compared to traditional energy sources, we will see tremendous market adoption, and I suspect it will be a growth limited only by supply," James Prendergast, IEEE Executive Director and IEEE Senior Member, said in a statement.

"Solar energy is the earth's most abundant energy resource. The rate of energy from sunlight hitting the earth is of the order of 100 petawatts. Just a fraction is needed to meet the power needs of the entire globe, as it takes approximately 15 terawatts to power the earth (1 petawatt = 1,000 terawatts)," according to the IEEE.

But the organization does see two challenges holding back solar PV from being competitive with fossil fuels.

"To achieve this cost parity, the global industry must continue to improve the efficiency of solar PV cell technologies and create economies of scale to further decrease manufacturing costs," the IEEE said in a statement.

To that end, the organization launched a new title in its series of peer-reviewed journals called the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics, and a corresponding call for submissions. It's also featuring a series of videos promoting photovoltaics research on IEEE.tv.

The IEEE had already expanded to include photovoltaics in its series of specialty conferences. This year's photovoltaics conference in Seattle next week has been expanded and will feature over 1,000 photovoltaic research, development, and manufacturing organizations.

The IEEE headquarters in Piscataway, N.J., has been drawing electricity from 275 solar panels installed on its roof since 2009, but this year plans to add more panels to expand its current 50-kilowatt capacity to a 220-kilowatt capacity.