The technology behind solar panels continues to improve but it will be five to ten years before solar can compete with fossil fuels.

Some 30 years ago, forecasters predicted solar would take off as a viable solution to the global energy crisis. If recent projections feel like déjà vu, you’ll realize how much work is still cut out for the très chic solar industry.
Research labs across the globe, many funded by government agencies, are making headway in the race to improve solar panels efficiency. But the ultimate goal of decreasing the global demand for fossil fuels through widespread use of solar energy is still five years off, if you ask some optimistic solar industry experts. The U.S. Department of Energy and other organizations worldwide give a more conservative projection of at least 10 years.
The solar industry’s challenge is to develop the smallest, most efficient and least expensive device possible. It’s the same concept employed successfully by the computer industry. So far, there’s nothing on the market that meets all three criteria and can compete effectively with traditional energy sources.
“The amount of [solar] installed worldwide is only a tiny fraction of the coal or nuclear” being generated, says Carl Osterwald, a solar test engineer with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and former chairman of an international solar standards committee.
Government policy is helping to change that. In the United States, for instance, the DOE’s new solar initiative aims to reduce the cost of installed solar power in the country by 75 percent by the end of the decade. At $1 per watt — 6 cents per kilowatt-hour — most industry analysts agree solar-generated electricity power could compete with coal-fired electricity.
California is the top solar market in the U.S. while Germany leads the world. They attribute their success to government incentives for the use and development of solar energy. Such incentives offer a financial return on solar investment and spur further solar improvements, eventually driving down the cost and the need for subsidies, the same goal of the DOE initiative.
source: mnn