Just imagine – cheap solar energy. It is what books, movies and dreams are made of. Well, folks, it is coming! According to several sources, solar energy will be as cheap as coal within five years and certainly by the end of the decade.

As solar energy costs drop, installations for solar panels surge. “In ‘The Electric City’ of Butler, Mo., MC Power Companies, Inc. continues work this winter toward a spring launch for its new solar array. Rising from a site at the Butler Industrial Park, the plant will be one of the largest in the Midwest with a three-megawatt generating capacity. When complete, the facility will feature a 20-acre spread of (10,000) solar panels and sate-of-the-art components converting energy to match the current and voltage on Butler’s power grid. The company is currently on track to get the ‘farm’ online as Missouri’s first utility scale solar plant,” according to the Alliance Advantage, a newsletter of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.

Solar Link US Inc., a subsidiary of MC Power, is shouldering the projected $14.5 million construction costs of the Butler solar power farm. According to the Kansas City Business Journal, “ … solar energy is slightly more expensive than wind projects.” The Business Journal, citing comments from John Grotzinger, chief operating officer of the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission, also reports that “the farm’s ability to generate power during peak daytime hours brought added value and would make up the difference. Wind farms typically generate the most power during early morning hours, when use isn’t high.”

“We are already in this phase change and are very close to grid parity,” Shawn Qu, chief executive officer of Canadian Solar Inc., told Bloomberg News. “In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.”

Bloomberg also reports, “Chinese companies such as JA Solar Holdings Ltd., Canadian Solar and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. are making panels cheaper, fueled by better cell technology and more streamlined manufacturing processes. That’s making solar economical in more places and will put it in competition with coal, without subsidies, in the coming years.” Michael Liebreich, chief executive officer of New Energy Finance, said at the company’s annual conference in New York, “In a decade the cost of solar projects is going to halve again.”

According to Sami Grover, Treehugger.com, “With even mainstream homebuilders offering solar options, and some tantalizing hints that solar could be as cheap as coal by 2015, interest in solar for homeowners looks set to rise in coming years. Now there’s also an increasing interest in ‘solar gardens’ that allow energy users to invest in solar on someone else’s property and still reap the economic rewards.”

The idea of everyday, every-house solar energy is exciting. It’s revolutionary and, it’s about time! Yes, researchers have been working on this all along. The subject has not been a sleeper.

To find out more about solar energy and options for Independence, join Indy Energy at 10 a.m. Saturday the North Independence branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library, 317 West U.S. 24.

Lynn Youngblood is a residential energy client service coordinator certified by the National Energy Retrofit Institute. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.