New technologies may lower solar power cost

Solar power currently accounts for less than 1 percent of the world's electricity, but solar companies are working to make solar power a cost-effective alternative to coal and natural gas.

A kilowatt of electricity from solar panels costs 35 to 40 cents to produce compared with 3 to 5 cents for electricity produced from coal, but if the cost of solar power can be reduced, solar power may take the place of inefficient coal plants that emit high levels of greenhouse gases.

The standard design for solar panels has been large blue or black silicon rectangles, which convert 12 to 20 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. Silicon's high price makes these panels too expensive to compete with coal or natural gas.