Solar as Cheap as Televisions?

The crushing margins experienced by solar manufacturers over the past couple of years are likely to get worse and force consolidation of the industry to just a handful of manufacturers by 2015.

Consolidation is also happening on the installation side of the solar industry.

That’s what the Shawn Qu, CEO of Canadian Solar said, according to Bloomberg.

When that happens, solar will be as cheap as televisions are today, because solar technology is actually less complicated.

TVs are cheaper today because about five major manufacturers mass produce them, Conrad Burke of DuPont told Bloomberg. He predicts the solar industry will follow the same pattern as the mobile phone industry, which consolidated once technology enabled low-cost production.

DuPont acquired Innovalight last year – a graduate of the Department of Energy (DOE) PV Incubator program that invented silicon ink (a liquid form of silicon) and an ink-jet approach to "printing" solar cells.

The innovation dramatically improves the performance of solar cells and can boost manufacturer profits by 20%, according DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).  

Conrad Burke, general manager of Innovalight, says DuPont materials are now in 70% of the world’s installed panels and the company is shooting for $2 billion in solar sales by 2014. 

DuPont has expanded production of backsheets used in solar panel production. They also make encapsulants and metalization pastes used to make solar panels and cells.  

Besides hurting manufacturers, low prices for solar, which are down 80% from just five years ago, are also beginning to beat out prices utilities charge for fossil fuel-based electricity.

Spain-based Fotowatio says its next solar plant there will supply electricity 25% cheaper than the local utility charges for conventional power.  It will sell power for $0.16 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) compared to $0.21 per kWh from the utility.

Solar is now a $100 billion industry that’s transforming the world’s power supply in the same way semiconductor efficiencies put personal computers everywhere, changing the way information flows, says Bloomberg. 

Project developers are beginning to match utility rates in Hawaii, India and in parts of Europe, and California, Brazil ad China will get those benefits by 2015, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts.

Years of government subsidies worldwide have nurtured the industry, preparing the way for a"revolution" in photovoltaic power, says Paolo Frankl, head of Renewable Energy at the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

"This is a potential avalanche that could make the deployment of PV very fast even in the next five years," he told Bloomberg.

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