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Published on June 16th, 2012 | by Andrew


LCD Panel Makers Could Drive 60% Reduction in Thin-Film Solar PV Costs

June 16th, 2012 by  

Photo courtesy: Manz AG

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panel manufacturers could be the driving force in reducing thin-film solar panel production costs, according to solar PV and clean technology developer Manz AG.

Leading LCD panel manufacturers, such as South Korea’s LG, Samsung Electronics, and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Co. can produce thin-film solar PV modules at about $0.30 per Watt or less by converting their glass-manufacturing production lines to produce thin-film modules, Manz AG CEO Dieter Manz told Bloomberg News. That would be a precipitous cost reduction of around 60%, given that market leader First Solar manufactures thin-film solar modules at less than $0.75 per Watt.

LCD panel manufacturers that “can introduce thin-film technology to their glass-manufacturing may convert factories to produce thin-film solar panels when demand more than triples for electricity produced from sunlight,” he was reported to have said.

Powerful Interests Gather Round Thin-Film Solar Manufacturing

The Chinese government in May singled out and set thin-film solar PV manufacturing cost and production targets in its latest Five-Year Plan. According to the new Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government intends to provide some $1.5 trillion in subsidies to achieve targets set out for seven strategic emerging industries, including thin-film solar PV.

Other large multinationals are also interested in producing thin-film solar modules. Last October, GE announced it would invest as much as $600 million in building a thin-film solar manufacturing plant in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

So is Foxconn, which manufactures iPhones for Apple. Foxconn in December announced it would build a solar PV manufacturing plant in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. In April, Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista told reporters that Foxconn would build solar panels and car batteries at the Acu Port site in Rio de Janeiro state his business group owns.

First Solar’s thin-film solar modules use semiconductors made of cadmium telluride (CdTe), which poses environmental and supply chain risks that manufacturers, including GE and the Chinese government, are looking to avoid by using copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) semiconductors.



LCD Panel Makers Looking to Enter the Thin-Film Solar PV Market

Some 30 GW of solar PV capacity was installed globally in 2011. LCD panel manufacturers will enter the thin-film solar PV market once it reaches around 100 GW a year, according to Manz. “In three years, more than half the players will be new entrants,” Manz said in an interview in Munich June 13. “Samsung, LG, Foxconn, all of them will come. For them it was too small before, so they wait for the market to be 100 gigawatts and then they step in.”

Manz has been expanding its thin-film CIGS activities from its base in the southwestern German State of Baden-Wurttemberg. The Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Wurttemberg (ZSW Stuttgart) completed its first thin-film CIGS production line in 1975. Manz AG acquired neighboring Wurth Solar’s CIGS innovation production line this year and has since gone on to achieve a ‘record production size module with a 14.4% conversion efficiency (15.1% on aperture).’

Manz is now offering an integrated, turnkey thin-film CIGS innovation line in the marketplace. Initial orders are anticipated this year, with companies from China, as well as other regions, expressing interest, Manz told Bloomberg.

About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

  • RobS

    The interesting thing about the point we have reached is that in a commercial utility system the panels are now at about 30% of the total system costs and falling which means that even larger and larger falls in panel costs are having less and less impact on total system costs. Factors like land costs an mounting systems are now having a more significant impact on total costs then panels.

    Panel costs are still a fairly large proportion of residential systems largely because they don’t have to pay for land and there is no opportunity cost to the use of otherwise unused rooftops.

    This means that unless larger steps are made in managing balance of system costs as panels continue to fall the economics of residential systems will improve much faster than utility scale systems.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Residential rooftop is averaging over $5/watt ($5.60 is the last price I saw). Panels are already a smaller part of the installation.

      There’s not that much labor in a solar installation. Racks aren’t expensive. Too much money is going somewhere.

      The feds just announced a $10 million prize to the company that could first install 5,000 rooftop systems for $2/watt average. By 2014. That should help shake prices down closer to what Germans are paying, $2.40/watt or less.

    • interesting point.

      it also brings into focus the ‘soft costs’ of installing solar, which the DOE is not focusing pretty strongly on to keep the fast drop in solar prices going.

  • With cheaper panels there is no real need to worry about optimising overall electricity output and they can be positioned so they will supply more electricity in the late afternoon or early morning.  With lower costs point of use solar would no longer be limited to roofs, but could go on walls as well.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Cheap  panels triple the amount of residential rooftop available.

      Now only roof facing roughly south get used.  Put panels on east facing slopes and the solar day starts earlier and those panels will heavily contribute until midday.  At that point the panels on west facing roof slopes will take over and carry solar later into the day.

      If you look at the price curve for German electricity you can see that even a modest amount of solar on their grid is bringing down midday energy prices.  But morning and afternoon price peaks still remain.  Positioning panels on east and west facing slopes should kill those peaks.

  • Dropping the price from approximately $1.00/ watt to anything close to 30 cents per watt is an absolutely GIANT step forward in the energy marketplace. Solar roofs would become so affordable that no government assistance would be needed. With government and/or affordable loans most new private homes could have solar roofs in less than 10 years.

    • Jan

       In the Netherlands electricity cost are about EUR 0.22 kWh, cost for electricity from solar about 0.16.

      A good step forward, could be a bit lower but it’s time for lift of for solar panels

      • Good to hear! Last i heard, just the other day, the NL was behind in its emissions reductions compared to other EU countries. Was disappointed to hear it especially since I love the NL and lived there for a bit.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Manz is now offering an integrated, turnkey thin-film CIGS innovation line in the marketplace. Initial orders are anticipated this year….”
    30 cents per watt.

    Now, a bit of skepticism is always in order for anything that “hasn’t happened yet”, but setting that little bit of caution aside this is a game changer.

    This could bring the cost of installed solar to $2/watt or less.  And that would bring the cost of solar electricity under a dime.

    A dime is cheap when you consider that solar produces peak hour power.

    A few years back NanoSolar predicted that they could bring the price of thin-film down to 30 cents/watt and the prediction was roundly greeted with laughter.  This may not be NS bringing the price, but really cheap thin film seems to be in our near future.

    • yeah, this is HUGE (if it is correct)… but it’s not all that surprising. as noted above, this has been a niche market, but as it reaches these bigger numbers, the big boys can come in, reduce costs further, and profit enough from the large volumes.

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