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>> The U.S. Department of Energy estimates an average cost of $156.90 per megawatt-hour for solar

Because solar energy is free, the average cost of solar power is zero.<<

I'm sorry - this is way off base.

Cost of energy projects is usually divided into capital cost (CAPEX) and operating cost (OPEX). The average cost per MW-hr is the sum of these components.

Capital cost is composed of initial capital and revamp capital. Initial capital is amortised over the Project life, usually assumed to be either 20 or 27.5 years. Revamp capital upfront is usually assumed to include revamp Projects every 10 years or so.

OPEX of energy generation Projects is composed of operations, maintenance, and fuel. Operations expenses include the labor of operations staff, along with consumable chemicals. Maintenance is the sum of labor plus parts and components. Fuel is self-explanatory.

The only component that is zero for solar power is fuel. Despite this, most solar facilities have operating expenses that are comparable to coal facilities because the operations and maintenance is actually quite a bit higher than thermal coal plants. The amortised capital of solar facilities is much, much higher than coal or natgas facilities.

The average cost of solar power is nowhere near zero, and in fact is much higher than the DOE estimate of $156.90. (It is also worth noting that this estimate is far too precise - $156.90 and not $156.80? Come on, get real!). I estimate the actual cost of solar is order of $300/MW-hr.

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