5 Alternative Energy Sources That Are Cheaper Than Solar

Getty Images
Is solar power "the fuel of the future"? Elon Musk thinks so.

The co-inventor of PayPal, now turned alternative energy rock star, has built two companies -- solar power utility SolarCity (SCTY) and electric car company Tesla (TSLA) -- around the idea that solar-generated electricity is the way to power our cars and save our environment. He's also working on a third company -- SpaceX -- which aims to bring mankind a bit closer to that ultimate clean-energy source, the sun.

But is solar power truly the solution to our energy needs? Not necessarily.

'Free' Power Can Be Awfully Expensive

Last month, alternative energy analyst Gordon Johnson at Axiom Capital crunched the latest numbers out of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and published a report on his findings.
The upshot: When it comes to "alternative" ways to generate electricity, solar energy is just about the most expensive form of energy you can get.

Cost of energy

Calculating the cost of generating a kilowatt hour of electricity by tallying the cost of building a facility, operating it, and paying for the fuel it consumes -- then amortizing all this across all the electricity it's expected to produce in its lifetime -- Johnson points out that solar photovoltaic power costs about 22 cents a kwh. Solar thermal power, where sunbeams are reflected and concentrated on a heat-retaining medium such as salt or graphite to store heat for later use in generating electricity, costs even more -- about 32 cents a kwh.

What forms of energy are cheaper than these? Pretty much any that you might think of.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any solar or electric car company named above. (Go figure.) But The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Tesla Motors.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Introduction to Value Investing

Are you the next Warren Buffett?

View Course »

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Mandrake Nsr

Unfortunately cofeecat, Solar PV is turning out to be a bust. It is a highly toxic production process, it requires all kinds of petroleum based products to produce, and the requirement of exposure to light eliminates steady power. It is only useful in certain parts of the world and even then the efficiency is so underwhelming it is unthinkable. Even with the great breakthroughs in the last few years of materials and construction it just is not monetarily workable for a major power plant.

I think solar power with a large battery bank works great for individual cabins or homes even where light is regularly available, but not entire power grids. The consumption need and consistent requirements are just not present in solar. Perhaps as an assist or long term cost offset at the most.

July 12 2014 at 12:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


January 15 2014 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

coffeecat you need to be quite because you are wrong!!!!!!!!! GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THAT IS A NON RELIABLE SOURCE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!YOU KNOW THAT RIGHT????????????

January 15 2014 at 8:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Lying with Statistics #1: Use the wrong numbers: The referenced EIA report lists the cost of Solar PV as 14 cents per kWh and not 22 c/kWh! For "unknown" reasons, the Max Cost column (from Table 2 of the EIA report) was used for Solar PV cost but the Average cost column used when reporting the cost of Coal, Gas, Hydro, Advanced Nuclear, etc. Pretty easy to prove your point when you lie and use the wrong numbers. If the same "mistake" had been made in reverse, using the Minimum Cost for Solar PV (11 c/kWh) and the Max Cost for others, they could have proved that Solar was cheaper than Coal, Advanced Coal, Nuclear, Natural Gas (not combined), Biomass.
If the same cost column had been used, the rankings would not have changed, but the difference between Solar PV and Advanced Coal with CCS would have been about 1 penny per kWh, hardly enough to make a blip on anyone's utility bill.
Lying with Statistics #2: Apples to Oranges Comparisons: The costs for Solar PV in the EIA report are to build and operate a utility-grade plant, not for a homeowner. Since the utilities would have to purchase land in the desert and then run power transmission lines from a Solar PV PLANT, the cost is much higher than it would be for a homeowner to install Solar PV, where they already own the land and the electricity only has to travel from the roof to the house below. But the picture in the article makes it look like the reported costs are for homeowners.
Shame on Rich Smith for writing such an untruthful article! Shame on Daily Finance for publishing such an untruthful article. We will never find good answers for the future when people and companies produce and distribute invalid information. Always check the numbers! No matter how juicy the story is!

July 27 2013 at 7:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

If you wish to visit a Geothermal power generating site go to Middletown, California to the Geysers, it produces for San Francisco and the Bay area. Worked on the site during the initial building phase, very interesting..

July 21 2013 at 11:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

What absolute horse manure! Who payed this guy to write this article...Can anyone say, blinding propaganda?

July 21 2013 at 10:06 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cyberseanx's comment

Horse manure published by the Obama administration? Guess you did bother to read the source citation

July 21 2013 at 10:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Jim Ringo

I inspected a Geothermal plant a few years ago that was producing 40 MW of power in Nevada for Los Angles at the lowest cost in America. There was only 3 employees working the plant and most important it had no effect on the atmosphere. Geothermal is cheap and clean

July 21 2013 at 7:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jim Ringo's comment

Sorry junior but not at geothermal plants operate as efficiently, not all locations are in a subduction zone

July 21 2013 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rachel Connolly

lol...this is a wonderful article. It's a great example of misinformation..I am an accountant and one of my first jobs ever in the 80's was working for the first windpark in the United States. This article is total B.S. once the start up cost have been amortized the "green" energy will clearly be the winners here...typical for this website to post propaganda like this...

July 21 2013 at 7:17 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Horses are a good source of fuel, ask the Amish. Horses power the wagons, pull the wagons and plows, provide burnable waste material, and provide meat for fertilizer and pet food upon death.

Pigs and cows are also good fuel generators, and many farmers are collecting the waste gases and burning same for powering their farms.

Exercise is a good generator of electric, if the exercise bike is fitted with a small generator and battery; use in many foreign nations for homes.

Elevated reservoirs are a means of providing clean energy, the water is pumped up to the reservoir / park during the night, and released to the generators during the peak use times of the day.

July 21 2013 at 6:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

;If we had a president and a Congress that would simply create an energy policy based on the chepaest methods such as natural gas, shale oil an geothermal we would be awash in energy and be in the catbird seat. Money and jobs would flow like a gusher and the governments at the local, state and federal level would greatlyl benefit from the tax base that would flow like water. But with the political scene being what it is, we will continue to pander to a president who is obligated to his environmental backers and doesnt care about the 20 million people without jobs but obligated to be on the dole.

July 21 2013 at 2:29 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Ron's comment

We are awash in excess oil and petroleum based fuels, and that is why we are EXPORTING fuels, failing to develop new cleaner fuels, failing to upgrade our fuel infrastructure (i.e., automotive fueling stations), and failing to pay the true price of a gallon of gasoline, which is about $30 per gallon.

July 21 2013 at 6:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
La Bala Lares Jose

yes maybe a point to the solution

November 23 2013 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply