AUSTRALIA and the US will collaborate on research with the aim of cutting the cost of solar energy to the level of conventional fossil fuel power within five years.

In a media conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Melbourne's carbon-neutral Pixel House, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government would commit $50 million of renewable energy funding announced in this year's federal budget to joint research into solar technology projects.

The government's Australian Solar Institute will oversee the Australian contribution to research into dual junction photovoltaic devices, hot-carrier solar cells and high temperature receivers.

Ms Gillard said it was part of an aggressive effort to cut the sales price of solar technology by two to four times.

''This is an ambitious goal. But anyone who has stood under the Australian sun, even here in Melbourne where sometimes we see [the sun] and sometimes we don't, knows how much we stand to gain if we can do this,'' she said.

Mrs Clinton compared solar power to mobile phones, saying costs fell dramatically after a goal was set to make the technology universally available.

''The good news is that the price of photovoltaic modules has dropped about 50 per cent in the past three years, but to meet our goal we have to drive the price down even more,'' she said.

The announcement comes as rooftop solar power is under attack in New South Wales as an expensive and inefficient means to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The NSW government recently scaled back the country's most generous solar power subsidy scheme, or feed-in tariff.

The cost of reducing emissions through photovoltaic solar panels is hundreds of dollars per tonne, compared with the likely starting price of an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax of about $20 a tonne.

Solar power advocates say a pure cost comparison ignores the long-term benefits of developing a clean energy industry.

 

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/joint-research-with-us-to-cut-solar-costs-20101107-17iyo.html