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Solar News

Surplus of Silicon Reduces PV Prices

07-14-2009

July 14, 2009
By: Daniel Maysick

Consumers Can Expect to See Lower Module Prices

The main barrier inhibiting solar's entrance onto the main stage is the cost of silicon used in manufacturing. In anticipation of a growing world market, companies are developing newer, cheaper and more efficient methods of refining silicon for use in solar products. As these methods are perfected the supplies of silicon are increased.

The next step in the supply chain links the silicon to an actual product such as a solar panel. Companies are increasing supplies of finished solar products and also increasing their capacities to manufacture solar products. Elementary economics tells us that as supplies increase, prices will fall due to an oversupply. Technology comes along and reduces the cost of production further lowering the prices and production ramps up to meet a demand this lower cost is sure to bring.

Nanotechnology Now reported recently on a new production method pioneered by the General Physics Institute and the Russian Academy of Sciences that dramatically cuts the production costs of refining silicon.

"The cost of poly-silicon manufacturing using traditional approach is high primarily due to very high electrical energy consumption. In proposed technology, the electricity consumption is several orders of magnitude less (about 20-40 kWh/kg), which leads to a substantially lower cost (at least 10 times). Thanks to the microwave discharge narrow area localization, the plasma does not touch the device's walls, which allows increasing the purity of the final product. The product's purity only depends on the purity of initial reagents. Thus this product could be used not only for the solar elements manufacturing, but even to grow the mono-crystalline silicon with electronics grades.

"Preliminary calculations show that the cost of 1 Kg poly-silicon manufacturing (with production capacity about 3,000 Kg per month) will not exceed $10. Current market allows to price poly-silicon at least for $100/Kg, and there still will be high demand. Thus even mentioned small production will result into $270,000 revenue per month or more than $3 million per year. The increase of production throughput to 10,000 Kg per month would drop the production cost to potential $6-7 per Kg."

Soon enough this refinement process will be implemented on a large scale process reducing the costs. Soon enough news reported by electricyforum.com about Fresco Solar announcing their ability to place large solar arrays anywhere across the country for $2.95 per watt.

"Fresco Solar has announced that it will construct solar photovoltaic ground arrays of one megawatt or more in size anywhere in the United States for $2.95 per watt.  This new breakthrough pricing, when coupled with federal tax credits and other local initiatives such as the California Solar Initiative, brings solar photovoltaic power within the realm of grid parity.

"The price of $2.95 per watt, or $2,950,000 for a one megawatt array is based on the DC STC size of the system. It excludes sales and use taxes, local permits and fees and any land development costs. It includes delivery, installation and testing of the racking, photovoltaic panels and inverters and associated foundations and wiring."

Not only does the cost reduction in silicon production and cost reductions for solar manufacturers benefit large public utility projects and projects undertaken by municipalities, but the cost reductions continue on to individual consumers. Greenpacks.org provides a listing of smaller endeavors and the possible future applications all made possible with cheaper silicon. Notable endeavors include Wal-Mart refitting several of their stores to run on solar energy and the city of San Francisco updating to truly modern bus stops.

"By 2013, San Francisco is going to have 1100 solar-powered bus shelters installed throughout the city. This initiative can be the head start for other states and even nations to follow. There is hardly a flaw you can pick-beginning with the grassroots- as these shelters have been developed out of recycled material.

"With a rolling red crest of photovoltaic panels on its top, the shelter will capture the solar energy that will power the intercom, the LEDs and the wireless routers. Apparently once all the 1100 shelters are in place, these routers would offer WiFi connectivity to the entire state.

"As for the unused energy, it's not going to be wasted. It's going to be transmitted to the grid for others to use. It's definitely a small step, but it's time for other states to look for similar plans.

"Wal-mart is about to put some life into the renewable energy market. The company announced on Earth Day that it plans to double the size of its solar power initiative in the next 18 months. Some 10-20 stores and distribution centers in California will get solar panels on their roof tops. Sam already has solar set ups on 18 stores in California and Hawaii.

"Wal-mart will save the equivalent of enough energy for 2,600 homes or keeping 4,000 cars off the road each year--until Sam sells those cars, I suppose. And Wal-mart will not buy the solar setups outright, but will instead pay only for what it uses under a 10-year power purchase agreement. The stores that use solar power get 20-30% of its electricity from above."

Solar power is beginning to reach grid parity and in some markets has already achieved grid parity proving once again the time to go solar is now.


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