by Jigar Shah
I just read a very interesting article from Motley Fool on the oversupply of solar in the marketplace that is predicted in 2011. The article went on to try to compare the competitive position of the thin-film manufacturing and the crystalline manufacturing based on $/Wdc. Of course, for those of us in the industry we know that this has no meaning given the widening efficiency gaps, but like Moore's law the $/Wdc is followed by investors like a hawk. The more important metrics are:
1) $/kWh delivered - this includes the installed cost of the system plus the energy production per rated W. First Solar (FSLR) thin-film often performs well here even though the company's BOS costs are higher because it produces about 7% more energy than normal crystalline panels. The BOS penalty for First Solar is about $0.20/Wdc, less than the price delta today.
2) $/sqft of net profits - this is where First Solar has a bigger problem. Crystalline systems that are installed as a fixed tilt system could easily produce about 20-30% more electricity per unit area than CdTe. The reason this is important is that land is almost always a constraint. The developer tends to overestimate how much of their pipeline is ready to build, so taking the projects that are ready and putting more Watts on the ground can be very important.
In any case, solar is coming down in cost and the race is fun to watch. Today over 10% of global electricity sales are cost effective vs. diesel and expensive retail electricity rates --without any subsidies. This number is expected to grow to over 20% within 2 years. These represent trillion dollar markets already. It looks like solar is on its was to continue its rapid growth rate to reach a gigaton of carbon savings by 2020 -- 1,000 GWs of cumulative solar installed!
Disclosure: No positions