Which Solar technology will lead to lower cost?

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Moderators: Probir Ghosh, Dr. Rajan Kapur, Dr. John Barnes

Which Solar technology will lead to lower cost?

Postby Probir Ghosh » Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:30 pm

We have seen decent increase in production capacity by First Solar which has enabled them to produce panels out the door at a cost 98 cents/W. In the absence of competition, the selling prices are a lot higher. There are indications that costs can go as low as 60cents/W with marginal improvement in current technology efficiencies in the next few years.

If serious competition comes in we should see the price drop rapidly provided the plants are utilized at 85% plus capacities. This calls for a long term plan, we recommend 12 years with a promise to take on massive scaling if the industry can cross over the 7 cents/kWh curve by 2014-2015 for utility scale on the ground installs. There needs to be a significant streamlining and automation in BOS to make that happen. The industry needs to drive down the price even further so that the debate for keeping on using fossil based energy plants because they are the lowest cost becomes moot.

We believe Cd Te PV can be installed for $1.50/W or lower by 2014-2015 if there is massive scaling and we have serious competition. Beyond that unless triple junction technology becomes prevalent in production scale, and can be cheaply, the sheer cost/KG of glass will stall further price decrease. The question about storage as well as new uses of electricity to replace other fuels becomes a serious factor as massive scaling approaches 12% of total energy generation or about 40% of electric generation.

CPV and CST holds the promise of lowering the price even further but right now, realiable information is scarce with no public companies in this arena and most of the newer technology projects are still in pilot scale.

Massive scaling will make sense only if there are long term policies in place, and private and public parties come to the table to discuss an aggressive price curve plan that makes sense for all involved.

I would argue that with Solar just providing 0.002% of total energy required in USA, there is room for massive scaling and there is room for everyone, from rooftops with high efficiency gen 1 panels to distributed 5-10MW solar farms strategically located near grids, to 1-2 MW farms of farm perimeter to 200 MW + farms that will need serious transmission lines. If the farms are multi GW size farms transmission lines are a small fraction of the total cost. What we need to work on are policies to speed up installs. You can see what a breakthrough solar plan can look like in the invVEST Strategy document figure 4.
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Re: Which Solar technology will lead to lower cost?

Postby Dr. Rajan Kapur » Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:32 pm

The rough analogy I see is to the HDTV industry: LCD vs. RPTV. As investments were made in automated manufacturing, large screen LCDs just blew away RPTV.

I see flat plate PV as akin to LCD — the price drops may surprise us all. I see the main benefit of CST in its dispatchability.

So invest in PV to see how low it can go; equally important, invest in balance of system, to simplify installation, operation and maintenance. Invest in CST for storage and dispatchability.
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Re: Which Solar technology will lead to lower cost?

Postby Dr. John Barnes » Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:35 pm

Mr. Ghosh makes a key point with his statements “The industry needs to drive down the price even further so that the debate for keeping on using fossil based energy plants because they are the lowest cost becomes moot.
We believe CdTe PV can be installed for $1.50/W or lower by 2014-2015 if there is massive scaling and we have serious competition. ”

From my silicon valley and venture capital investment perspective several companies are underway to make this “grid parity” a reality with advanced PV modules. The phenomenonal manufacturing progress of the CIGS/CdS thin film companies such as Solyndra, SoloPower, Nanosolar, Miasone, Heliovolt etc. have all started with needing to make module sales for <$2.00 per Wp. I am betting on this group to lead the lower pricing wars, and reports from Greentech Media are also optomistic about them.

Mr. Ghosh properly employs all to work on the non module related costs. Strictly according to DOE they are the inverter, installation labor, BOS(condits+mounts etc.), and Other/indirect (which has profit and costs for forms and permits) costs.

Since this group of costs has now become more than the module portion going forward, public policy can significantly influence these costs. Time for permits and forms is much more onerous than in the EU.

The vision of Mr. Ghosh and the group shows a proper guideline for making great strides for the US and Colorado and making a great new work force at the same time.
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Re: Which Solar technology will lead to lower cost?

Postby Probir Ghosh » Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:10 pm

I would agree with you that we are nowhere close to understanding which technology in Solar will get to driving the prices down well below the price of fossil fuels after considering all the related costs. While First Solar is a great success story, unless we can create viable hyper-competition, we may not be able to drive our prices down aggressively to well below fossil fuel prices. As it stands today, I am not convinced flat plate PV will not hit a wall to drive down prices below $1/W installed to get to the massive scaling we are talking about in the breakthrough scenario. Hence we will need to keep looking at new technologies (Dr. Rajan Kapur’s DLP to flat screen TV example is apt.. so is the slide rule and the calculator).

I believe if anything we will have to increase our investments in fundamental technology discoveries to keep finding new ways to generate clean energy at lower and lower costs and prices.

I also believe it needs to be a two way street for creating a comprehensive vision and long term policies that are well thought out but are flexible enough to be adjusted as we come across new data or discoveries/limitations. For massive scaling to work we need to have a long term policy and free up credits and funds, but on the other side the industry has to commit to driving the prices down aggressively. We have provided a breakthrough Solar Energy: a Possible Scenario as a discussion point(see the menu bar or bottom screen.) We’d love to get your ideas and debate on where you see opportunities, where you see limitations and come up with ways around it to get to the vision.
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