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Published on July 7th, 2014 | by Jake Richardson

31

World’s Cheapest Solar Panels Coming In Several Years?

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July 7th, 2014 by
 
Last month, the San Jose, CA based solar company Siva Power announced it had successfully raised $15 million. On July 2, it came out with another piece of significant news: the intention to follow a technology road map leading to thin-film solar modules costing 28 cents per watt.

thin film solar modules, cigs
CEO Brad Mattson explained, “Silicon photovoltaic (PV) technology still relies on brute force replication of small production lines. The next wave of solar will require advanced manufacturing, high-speed automated production lines based on thin-film PV. Our technology roadmap results in a solar ‘Factory of the Future’ with gigawatt production capacity,  competitive efficiency and the world’s lowest cost.”

Two other major goals have been established for Siva: be producing in four years and with a 300 MW facility.

Twenty-eight cents a watt seems unusually low, especially considering that about fifty cents a watt currently seems to be the best. In March of 2014, apparently a Chinese company, JinkoSolar, achieved 48 cents a watt for solar modules.

However, a Forbes writer questioned this figure, because Chinese subsidies and questionable pricing might have played a role in achieving that mark, rather than technological innovation. (In 2013, it was reported that some Chinese manufacturers might have the ability to hit 36 cents a watt.)

Siva Power’s goal of 28 cents/watt seems almost like the moonshot concept that President John F. Kennedy had for the country in 1962. Additionally,  DOE’s Sunshot Initiative is an homage to Kennedy’s idea.

Former DOE Secretary Chu explained the SunShot vision in 2013:

The whole idea is within a decade, we will be the world leader,  not only in the R&D part, but also in the demonstration, deployment and manufacturing part of these components, because when we get to utility-scale prices, the SunShot goal…to a levelized cost of…roughly  6 cents per kilowatt hour of new power, which will be comparable to the  estimate…for new natural gas-powered plants 10 years from now. That would mean solar is competitive without any subsidy. This is our SunShot.

Siva Power appears to be determined to go well beyond the Sunshot Initiative or any other solar module manufacturer. So, if the world’s cheapest solar panels hit the markets in several years, how much less costly will they be than conventional power sources? Wind power is getting cheaper too; are we perhaps seeing the beginning of what is sometimes called a tipping point?

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  • jnistler

    A target of 38 cents USD per module watt might be competitive in 2018. But then the question becomes, as a thin film module, will the hardware now have to act as the frame for the panel, so what will be the real cost of the PVac system? Their laboratory module is presently at 18.3%, our commercial PVac690 is at 17.77% right now. We will be pushing 21% by 2015, so how will this company compare in four years. If the modules are not pushing 28% they may find out that even though they have made it, no one is interested.

    • Bob_Wallace

      38 cents per watt is panel price. It includes frame and cover glass.

  • vensonata

    This is getting out of hand! I just looked at Sun Electronic site and they claim to have a new world record low price on a pallet of thin film for… drum roll…34cents watt! That is retail price. Now I have no idea whether they are reputable or not, but if they are, what do you make of it?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Sun seems to buy up overstock and product from manufacturers who go out of business. They have some excellent prices but take a good look at the manufacturer.

      When I’ve checked the company’s reputation it seems to be very good.

  • Hans

    Up until a few years ago the cost of modules was the largest part of the overall system cost. At that time thin film modules sounded like a good idea: the efficiency was lower than that of conventional (p)c-Si, but it had the potential to be produced much cheaper. The problem was that the conventional modules turned out to be a fast moving target: incremental improvements in the modules and their manufacturing process caused spectacular cost decreases. Thin film modules managed to keep up, but never managed to take over.

    We are now at a point where the module cost is less than halve of the overall system cost, and now efficiency is important again. More efficient modules means less modules for the same power output. This means that you can get more power from the same roof or land area and that per Wattpeak less support structure is needed and the installation installation is quicker. In other words, the higher the efficiency the lower the soft and BOS costs.

    So now thin film modules have to beat conventional modules on two fronts: they have to be cheaper per Wp and also be at least as efficient as conventional modules. When you also consider that it takes quit some time to bring something from the laboratory to the production line, new solar module types bust beat the conventional solar modules of five to ten years into the future.

    This will be not an easy challenge.

    • mds

      Well stated. Never-the-less, the race for the best solar PV panel
      product continues …and ThinFilm ain’t dead …well aSi is, but not
      CdTe or CIGS (CIS) …and there are others like:http://www.pv-tech.org/news/stion_claims_prototype_cigs_mini_module_conversion_efficiency_of_23.2 – February 2013
      “Stion claims prototype CIGS mini-module conversion efficiency of 23.2%”

      That’s as good as any cSi module. We’ll see if it makes it into production at volume. …and there are others.

      Global production of Solar PV will surpass 100 GW per year soon. Brad Mattson’s focus on being able to scale rapidly to 10′s of GigaWatts per year production is spot on. Will Siva be able to deliver? How will other PV manufactures deal with this reality? Now that module and installation costs are dropping to the point where global demand without subsidies is very large, there is room for a reasonable PV panel profit margin. An extremely high rate of growth becomes possible, with huge profits at large scale production volumes. I can’t hardly believe it, but the Solar PV race just keeps getting more interesting.

      • Hans

        As Chairman Mao said: let a thousand flowers blossom.

  • mds

    “World’s Cheapest
    Solar Panels Coming In Several Years?”
    Yes, of course they are! The only question is will they be from First Solar, Solar Frontier, a new player like Siva, or one (more?) of the Silicon PV manufacturers/

    • Matt

      Head line should have been “Solar panel to be cheaper next year, and the next, and ….” It a good press release for Siva, but really wasted space. “We are on a roadmap to make cheaper panels” they might the might not. And if they do will the total cost of ownership be enough less than the new best/cheapest Silicon panels.

  • Patrick Lawson

    We are already at the tipping point. The improving cost per watt on panels is not going to be the main driver the next couple of years, it’s going to be the lowering of soft-costs. In 2013, solar city had customer acquisition costs above $1/w…that’s insane compared to more mature markets like Germany and Australia.

    There are already companies here in the SW that are under 6 cents and while panel price drops cannot be underestimated the major hurdle for installers trying to break that price point is soft costs.

    That said, bring on $0.28/w panels! I think it’s entirely possible to see $1.00 – $1.50/w installed in the next 2-3 years.

    • vensonata

      Yes, if you do the math (and it is definitely not my specialty) this a handy formula: each dollar of total working system equals electricity at 2.5 cents per kwhr. ( Each kilowatt of properly installed pv yields about 40,000kwh over a 30 year lifespan.) So if you can install a complete system for $4 watt, that is equivalent to 10 cents kwh. That is very doable today and 10cents is below average utility rates in the U.S. In Europe 20-25cents kwh is a common grid rate. European installed costs are commonly $2.50 watt…equivalent to 6.2cents kwh! There are variables, such as the lifespan of the inverter, but they are getting cheaper, more efficient and durable every year. They usually last about 15 years now and 20 years is not uncommon.

      • mds

        Some countries in Europe have significantly higher rates than 20-25c/kWh. Here:
        http://cleantechnica.com/2013/09/30/average-electricity-prices-around-world/ – September 2013
        “What’s The Average Price Of Electricity In…”
        Australia, with all their sunshine, is shown as 29c/kWh.
        Hawaii (not in that article) has a cost range of something like 33c/kW to 45c/kWh and this is similar on other sunny islands.
        Solar PV saves big time in all of these places.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    This is good development. 28 cents per watt is starting to be seriously cheap.

    This is true, because in solar panel installation soft costs are more or less irrelevant, because soft costs are mostly local jobs. And as there is a chronic underemployment in Western labour market, soft costs of solar means net gain in jobs into local economy and therefore money does not disappear from local economy.

  • JamesWimberley
  • Vensonata

    Sounds great, however it doesn’t matter if we get to those numbers. At twice that cost we are well within the practical ballpark.
    Here’s something I want to share with those who have solar on their roof or are thinking of expanding: the government website “pvwatts” is absolutely amazing as a solar panel calculator. Just punch in your nearest town, the size of your array, and it will calculate every month, even every hour of the year at a variety of angles…fixed array, one axis track, two axis tracking, seasonal adjustments etc. It is deadly accurate, I compared it to my real world records and my hair stood on end at how close it was! For example in December (the worst month) a 10 kwh array will yield at my latitude of 50degrees on a south facing roof of 33degree slope, 347 kwh. If optimized to 60degrees, 435 kwh. What about an expensive two axis tracker? Yield; 494. This takes all the guess work out…and it is free! Enjoy

    • Bob_Wallace
      • Vensonata

        That’s it, Bob. You’re going to love it. Use the beta one. It will even print out in excel. Just amazing.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’ll have to wait a while to love it. The reference city closest to me is a foggy town on the Pacific coast.

          Perhaps they’ll add something more appropriate later.

          • vensonata

            wow, I”m in Canada and they provided the city close to me, much to my surprise, with very accurate weather, and solar irradiance data. Did you try the Beta version?

          • vensonata

            I just looked again…there are over 1000 data sites listed in the U.S. you really must be near something equivalent to your location.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah, but the cities close to me have very different weather than do I. They are clustered along the foggy Pacific coast and I’m up at 3,600′ with significantly more sunshine.

          • Vensonata

            Just plug in an inland town on your latitude, it will be very close in final numbers.

      • Calamity_Jean

        Thanks for the link. I think I’ll find it seriously useful, since I’m hoping to put in solar panels soon. The ability to change the angle of the panels is particularly helpful to me because I’m planning a solar awning and want to optimize the system for summer power.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Here’s another site you might want to check.

          http://solarelectricityhandbook.com/solar-irradiance.html

          You can put in your closest city, panel direction, and pick one of several angles and see how much irradiance you should expect per month. It automatically gives you the optimal summer and winter settings plus the optimal fixed for year round production.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Thanks, I’ll check it out. I figure the more I know the better off I’ll be.

  • Bob_Wallace

    In 2013 First Solar announced that they would be manufacturing solar for 36 c/watt by 2017.

    We’ve tipped, Jake.

    • mds

      Heck yes we’ve tipped! Wake-up Jake! You are asleep at the wheel.
      Solar PV was less than half the cost of end-of-grid electricity in some places a few years back. …the cost is still falling at a significant rate. We’re talking about ludicrously low cost Solar PV power here now.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “to a levelized cost of…roughly 6 cents per kilowatt hour of new power”

    Recent PPAs in the SW are running 5 cents/kWh and a bit less. That makes the non-subsidized price of solar in the SW less than 7 cents. And it extrapolates to less than 9 cents in the less-sunny NE. We’re getting very close to 6c/kWh new solar.

  • yyy

    There are cheapest ones around now. They are the ones with the lowest price.

  • Omega Centauri

    Its several years out, and unproven. Projections of cSi costs for the best Chinese manufacturers in that timeframe are in the thirty something per watt range, as is First Solar’s CdTe thin film . So this isn’t hugely better than curent projections.

    • mds

      Mattson’s point on larger volume scaling at lower cost is extremely interesting. The game is changing right now. The ability to scale in steps of 10′s of gigawatts production will be needed. They have demonstrated 18.8% efficiency from the lab …something Nanosolar never did. It will be interesting to see if Siva can deliver. If they can… wow!

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