New solar installs are contributing the same amount of electricity as building one new coal-fueled power station annually in Australia, according to the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).\n\u201cWe are essentially seeing the [equivalent] of a new power plant being built every season,\u201d AEMO chief Audrey Zibelman told the Sydney Morning Herald.\nOne reason rooftop adoption in Australia is exploding, the paper wrote, is because of government subsidies. However, there\u2019s another financial driver of alternative power globally, which is the full-lifecycle cost of building and operating \u2014 it\u2019s now lower.\n\nAlternative power generation is much cheaper now over the lifetime of a plant than when working with traditional fuels like coal, according to a report by investment bank Lazard.\nLazard says the cost of producing one megawatt-hour of solar-produced electricity in North America is currently $50, compared to $102 for coal-origination. It says that in 2009 it would have cost $359 to produce that level of power with utility-scale solar arrays, and $111 with coal-fired power stations. Wind-power comes in even cheaper at $45 per megawatt-hour today.\nThe investment bank uses a special calculation, called the Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE), in the November 2107-published analysis.\nLCOE computes the unit cost of power over the lifetime of the generating asset, such as power station or wind farm, and takes into account lowering prices for components such as racks, PV panels, inverters and turbines, among other elements.\nUncertain long-term fuel costs required for traditional power generation \u201cclose formerly wide gaps,\u201d Lazard explains of its numbers. There are also significant, newfound efficiency gains that get thrown in the LCOE mix.\n Lazard\nSolar panels that don't need sun\nIn fact, the latest solar panels are so efficient they don\u2019t actually need sun.\n\u201cToday\u2019s panels are more durable, efficient, and can handle all kinds of weather for many years,\u201d says Jason Rothman, writing on solar-system vendor Hahasmart\u2019s blog.\nGermany, for example, a Northern European country not known for its beach weather, produces much solar power, Rothman says. That\u2019s because, contrary to what you\u2019d think, solar efficiency is actually reduced in high temperatures. In high temperatures, heat causes the electricity to be converted into even more heat \u2014 not power. Clouds, too, don\u2019t block the solar rays needed to run the panel anymore, and rain cleans the panels, making it more efficient.\nMore advancements in solar panels are coming on stream, too. I recently wrote about experimental panels that create electricity from raindrops\u2019 friction, as well as from sun.\nNew battery technology is also being developed. One promising idea is a water-based battery being developed at Stanford University that could feed stored sunny-day alternative energy into the grid when demand is high or at night.\nIt\u2019s not practical right now, the researchers say, but will be. And storing energy in hydrogen gas using industrial salt and water would be cheap \u2014 much cheaper than lithium-ion.\n\u201cIt would cost a penny to store enough electricity to power a 100 watt lightbulb for twelve hours,\u201d Stanford says in an article on its website.