(EnergyAsia, July 23 2012, Monday) — Consumers in four major markets are optimistic about the future of solar power, but are not fully informed about the current cost and adoption rates of solar technology, according to the latest annual survey by Applied Materials Inc, a market leader in solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing equipment.

In its fourth annual survey expanded to cover consumers in China, India, Japan and the US, the Santa Barbara, California company found that the industry expects the cost of solar panels to drop below US$1 per watt, enabling grid parity, or solar energy power that is cost-competitive with traditional electricity prices, to be achieved by the end of the year. Last year, most had expected this to be achieved by 2020.

“Solar panels now cost less than US$1 per watt, which means more than 100 countries have achieved grid parity,” said Charlie Gay, president of Applied Materials’ Solar division.

“We have witnessed an explosion in global solar PV installations in the past year due to the dramatic and accelerated rate of cost reductions in the supply chain. This has resulted in significant decreases in end-market costs, and a continued focus on technology innovation will further drive down the total cost of solar electric power plants.”

The survey found that 55% of respondents recognise this shift and believe solar energy is less expensive than traditional energy sources such as coal.

About 68% of respondents in India believe solar power was less expensive while only 49% of Japanese thought so. Of the 35% of all respondents who believe solar power to be more expensive, 39% believe it will become equal to or less expensive than traditional power by the end of the decade.

The survey also found that nearly half of respondents believe that solar market growth will create jobs, and that Chinese and Indians support more aggressive solar energy adoption than current national goals.

About 46% of respondents believe the growth of the solar market would create jobs. The US is most optimistic with nearly six in 10 consumers (58%) expressing this view. China and India are nearly equal in second place in their estimation of job growth, at 49% and 48% respectively.

Consumers in Japan are the most cautious, with four in 10 believing that it will have no impact on the job market.

About a quarter of all surveyed think that it will reduce the number of jobs.

“More than 50% of the jobs in the global solar power industry are found after the solar panel leaves the factory such as construction teams, installers, sales people, designers, engineers, electricians, etc,” said Cathy Boone, senior director for Energy Policy and Market Development at Applied Materials.

“Any country, city or community has the potential to directly benefit from the growth in the solar power industry with on-the-ground jobs if they are willing to make a commitment to replacing fossil fuels with solar.”

Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Ipsos conducted the Applied Materials Summer Solstice survey online between May 25 and June 7 2012.

Applied Materials did not state the number of people covered by the survey.