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.
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?