21 May 2008

Photovoltaic Update

According to photovoltaic industry analyst SolarBuzz, total PV installations in 2007 were 2826 MWpeak, representing a growth rate of 62 % (!!!) over 2006 . By way of comparison, Worldwatch claims that PV installations were 2935 MWpeak in 2007 (hat tip Peak Energy).

Germany continues to be the main driver for the PV industry, although Spain is now coming on very strong with their subsidy program as well. Ontario now has a similarly (over) generous subsidy program in operation so we are starting to see many announcements for PV power plants there as well. Japan is falling behind as their subsidy program was for a fixed capacity (i.e. 100,000 homes).

Thin film is growing much faster than poly- and mono-crystalline Silicon. SolarBuzz claims growth of 123 %, from 180 MW to 400 MW of installed capacity. Since a lot of the newer thin-film capacity is either CdTe or microcrystalline Silicon rather than the simpler amorphous Silicon (which happens to degrade quicker), the 400 MW number is probably actually 'firmer' than the 180 MW deployed in 2006.

The current leader of the direct bandgap thin film solar industry is First Solar of Ohio. The manufacturer of CdTe thin film solar cells has gone from $67 million in sales in the first quarter of 2007 to $197 million in the first quarter of 2008. Net profits increased 830 %, from $5 million to $46.6 million. With profits being about 25 % of sales, they have a much higher profit margin than most industries, including any oil major. That tends to imply they will be able to grow their production capacity very, very fast. They are currently advertising for 105 positions. According to the above report, First Solar is selling their modules for $2.45/Wpeak, and since the cost of sales is 47 % of total sales, that implies a cost of $1.15/Wpeak.

It will be interesting to see how the CIGS manufacturers stack up. As long as the price of solar is supported by overly generous government subsidies we aren't going to see technology sorting out winners and losers in the market, however.

Update: in case you wonder what $1.15/Wpeak means, I calculate that for an environment with a capacity factor of 0.2 (i.e. San Franciso), when amortized over 25 years it works out to under $0.04/kWh. Each peak Watt will average 1.6 kWh/annum (max of 1.75 kWh in first year, dropping by 20 % over 25 years). Assumptions: energy inflation of 2.5 %/annum, general inflation of 2.5 %/annum, interest on financing of 6.0 %/annum. You have to add in all ancillary costs onto that four cent figure (such as frames, inverter, etc.) but the point remains obvious.