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Photon International Magazine reported on a conference of solar cell companies held in April 2007 according to the second quarter report of the New Alternatives Fund, one of my vast and extremely lucrative investments (or so I hope).

The conclusions of the report were that silicon supply growth is coming on faster than anticipated, costs are coming down faster than expected, and global demand is more robust than expected.

Photon also reports that silicon production for 2006 was 41,000 tons and by 2010 should be at least 120,000 tons.  Dow Corning, for instance, states that they will increase production 80% by 2010.  I believe it was only last year that solar surpassed computers as the majority user of silicon.

Photon says that the cost of solar PV electricity is now $0.25 per kWh and that by 2010 is projected to be $0.15 or $0.10.  Solar cell production is growing faster in China than any other country.

You can compare this to another Photon report on the world solar electric market from 2004 by Michael Rogol, "Solar Power through 2020:  Potential and Challenges."  

In that report Rogol said that solar has had 23 times growth in the last decade and is poised to have 25 times growth in the next.  Solar electric has maintained a consistent growth rate of about 33% per year since 1994 which is rare in a business sector.  However, there are great challenges that will have to be met by 2015 and after in order to maintain such levels of growth.

Last decade's growth is concentrated in the OECD, not the developing world.  The vast majority of PV is grid connected and the major markets are Japan, Germany, and California.  92% of the solar electricity installations in Japan are on rooftops and the figures are commensurate in Germany.  

The price of PV has fallen by about 7% per year and has, until now, been passed on to the consumers.  In the next few years, due to increased demand, all of those continuing price reductions will not be passed on to consumers meaning that the producers will be able to accrue profits.

The next decade looks good for solar because the residential grid price is increasing, the cost of solar is falling, the government incentives for solar are rising with $1 billion in Japan this year and about $500 million, half Federal and half state, in the US.  What may become a difficulty is rising interest rates.  A 3 to 5% increase in interest rates would be trouble.  However, this is balanced by the fact that some  government subsidies include locked in low interest rates.  Another difficulty on the horizon will be the response of generating companies to solar peak shaving.  Small peaks in demand tend to trigger much larger price increases.  Solar shaves summer peaks and thus cuts demand and prices increase for generating companies.  There is already an impact on Japanese generating company profits.  At some point, they will have to react.  [Reportedly, the Japanese government has removed incentives for solar electricity as PV has become cost competitive without them.]

Solar electricity is already a $7 billion industry worldwide and the average cost is $7 per watt installed.  $3 of that is module cost and the rest is the accompanying electronic controls, installation, design, licensing, and miscellaneous.  Sharp's PV module business is $1 billion this year and will be $2 billion next year.  It is their second largest growth platform after LCDs.

Solar accounted for about 4% of all refined silicon five years ago and now accounts for 25%.  There are six companies that produce 90% of the world's refined silicon, 28,000 tons.  They are beyond full capacity now and the prices are rising due to expanding demand in both the electronics industry and the solar industry.  Silicon for electronics is more refined than that used for solar and some of the rejected electronics silicon is transferred to the solar sector, perhaps 10% of the total used in solar.

Originally posted to gmoke on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:31 PM PDT.


Rosy future for solar electricity?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Silicon-based photosynthesis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Check out this recent article by Freeman Dyson in The New York Review of Books. Dyson proposes that biotechnology will create brand new species of plants and animals to meet basic needs. Most surprisingly he suggests:

    We can imagine that in the future, when we have mastered the art of genetically engineering plants, we may breed new crop plants that have leaves made of silicon, converting sunlight into chemical energy with ten times the efficiency of natural plants. These artificial crop plants would reduce the area of land needed for biomass production by a factor of ten. They would allow solar energy to be used on a massive scale without taking up too much land. They would look like natural plants except that their leaves would be black, the color of silicon, instead of green, the color of chlorophyll.
    [Emphasis added. DM]

    •  Organic PV (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shpilk, Demi Moaned

      There are also a number of new compounds and ideas for PV materials including organic PV and dye-based PV.

      We can also work from the other end, the demand side.  As appliances become more and more efficient, we will need less and less PV or other power sources in order to make them work.  That's why I concentrate on small scale solar, the minimal solar light, my dirty f*ck*ng solar hippie backpack, or a one room solar electric system.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:50:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  ws talking with the SO about this the other day (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Demi Moaned

      Between the two of us, we have the biochem, chemistry, physics, genetics and the electrical engineering background. It got a bit interesting.

      socialist democratic progressive pragmatic idealist with a small d.

      by shpilk on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 11:31:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And...? (0+ / 0-)

        Or will you write a diary on it?

        It sounded a bit scary to me because you'd also need to develop new kinds of fungi that digest the silicon compounds. Talk about uncontrolled experiments?

        •  actually Dyson's idea is a bit more advanced (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Demi Moaned

          and I doubt we'll be seeing anything like that for a long, long time.

          However, electron transport in good old fashioned plant material is real, and good old fashioned plants can be made to carry some electrical current. The mobility is limited, but it's there.

          If one could alter the structure of how the plant material is laid out, it's possible that one could make anodes and cathodes in existing plant material.

          Using the photosynthesis engine of plants the way they are, one could theoretically derive usable power from it - it's in the laying out of the structure, the schematic of the plant to make channels where current could flow that would be the challenge.

          socialist democratic progressive pragmatic idealist with a small d.

          by shpilk on Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 09:46:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for posting this update (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Photon International, reFOCUS, and Renewable Energy World are all great resources for the latest international news on renewable energy.

    "If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy." -teacherken

    by offgrid on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 10:10:19 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for Reading (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shpilk, offgrid

      It was an easy post as I just recast the report from New Alternatives and added my notes from 2004 and Michael Rogol's talk at MIT.  Oddly enough, there's a lot of meat there.  Sometimes I surprise myself so much that I almost know what I'm talking about.

      But then the feeling passes.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 10:13:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  PV based solar is one way of capturing (0+ / 0-)

    solar energy. I think that using concentrators and converting the thermal energy into steam, or driving Stirling engines may be another alternative.

    Converting the thermal energy directly to chemical storage in a fuel cell is probably going to be a major factor in cutting back the impact of PV based applications.

    There are so many competing technologies right on the edge of breaking through, I cannot be sure which one to follow, so I try to follow them all.

    socialist democratic progressive pragmatic idealist with a small d.

    by shpilk on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 11:36:41 PM PDT

    •  South-Facing Window Already a Solar Collector (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That's where I start.

      As for PV, I use small scale PV every day, from button batteries to AAs.

      Yes to Stirlings and all the other alternatives.  Yes to PV and fuel cells.  But also yes to my garden and my sunny windows in the winter.

      We are going to need everything we can imagine in order to allow our children and grandchildren to live comfortable lives.

      I say start designing from refugee camps on up so that EVERYBODY can begin to take advantage of the power of the sun.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 08:59:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Growing plants is capturing solar energy, too. (0+ / 0-)

        If one grows plants which can produce oil, which can take the place of petroleum based oil, even that is ultimately 'solar energy' being converted into power!

        It's all good. We have so many avenues at our disposal, it's almost overwhelming.

        socialist democratic progressive pragmatic idealist with a small d.

        by shpilk on Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 09:50:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Insurmountable Opportunities (0+ / 0-)

          We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.

          Walt Kelly, Pogo

          Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

          by gmoke on Fri Aug 17, 2007 at 06:42:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you .. (0+ / 0-)

    interesting discussion at Eurotribune about the relative cost of solar and offshore wind power.  Some real number crunching going on ...

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