Friday, December 19, 2008

Thick and Thin

It's hard to fathom that a barrel of oil was trading for 147.00 dollars just last July, and that it traded this week at under forty. How can that be? And wouldn't it be nice if say something like solar panels plummeted the same way?

Well, they just might. Here's the story from Renewable Energy News:

PV costs to "plummet" in 09

The cost of photovoltaic electricity is due to plummet in 2009, according to leading clean energy analysts at New Energy Finance.

The second issue of its quarterly Silicon and Wafer Price Index shows average silicon contract prices falling by over 30% in 2009, compared with 2008. With thin-film PV module manufacturing costs approaching the US$1/Watt mark, crystalline silicon-based PV will come under severe competition for larger projects, resulting in margins shrinking throughout the silicon value chain, as the company argues in a recent exclusive report – "Through Thick and Thin".

The ultimate winners will be consumers, who will finally see competitive solar power, and those few companies with good cost positions.

The second quarterly issue of the New Energy Finance Silicon and Wafer Price Index shows an average perceived spot market price of solar-grade silicon during October and November of US$332/kg. The weighted average price for polysilicon for delivery in 2009 under contracts signed in 2007 and 2008 was US$113/kg, compared with US$165/kg for silicon for delivery in 2008, a reduction of 31.5%.

At the 2008 contracted silicon price of US$165/kg, silicon contributes an estimated US$1.52/W to the current crystalline silicon module price of around US$4/Watt – or just under 40%.

A silicon cost reduction to US$113/kg in 2009 would therefore lower module prices for the majority of the market volume that uses contracted silicon by 12%. clip

Although the decrease in silicon prices will be good news for silicon-based cell and module-makers, another threat is now looming larger. According to the new report, "Through Thick and Thin", New Energy Finance forecasts that production of thin-film photovoltaic modules will more than quadruple to 1.9GW in 2009, and thin-film technology will be competitive with crystalline silicon photovoltaic in larger space-constrained applications, such as commercial rooftops and smaller on-grid projects. (clip)

New Energy Finance analysis, based on the historic cost experience curve, suggests that current silicon-based solar module prices of US$4/Watt could drop to US$2.60/Watt by the end of 2009, a reduction of 35%. (clip)

For a ground-mounted plant in a region with good insolation, and based on a 6% real cost of capital, this could translate into an unsubsidised generation cost of US$0.17/kWh for crystalline silicon – competitive with daytime peak electricity prices in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, thin-film manufacturers can achieve unsubsidised costs of US$0.13/kWh for the same large project by 2010.

Michael Liebreich, chairman and CEO of New Energy Finance, said: "We are about to see the convergence of two powerful forces in solar photovoltaics: the price premium accruing to silicon refining is about to unwind, at the same time as thin-film manufacturing is really starting to get to scale. (clip)

The next two years will change the economics of PV electricity out of recognition."

As encouraging as these numbers appear, consider how these costs can be further reduced through more advanced optics, chemistries, and other advancements. Here's my edit of a piece from the National Renewable Energy Lab:

New Technologies Show Promise for High-Efficiency Solar Cells
by Kevin Eber, NREL

A number of recent technological advances suggest new pathways to solar cells that will convert a large fraction of sunlight into electricity -- if the technologies can be commercialized, that is. clip

In November, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) announced that they have developed an antireflective coating that captures the entire spectrum of sunlight from any angle.
The arrangement allows each layer to enhance the antireflective qualities of the layer below it, resulting in a highly efficient capture of sunlight.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took a similar approach to boosting solar cell efficiency, but focused their efforts on the back of ultrathin silicon solar cells. The team applied an antireflection coating to the front of the cell and covered the back with multiple layers of reflective coatings and a diffraction grating, trapping light within the cell and boosting its efficiency by up to 50%.

Sunovia Energy Technologies, Inc. and EPIR Technologies Inc. have developed a glass ceramic material with nanoscale crystalline particles embedded in it that is transparent to visible light but converts ultraviolet light into visible light as it passes through. The material could be used as a cover on rigid solar modules, increasing their conversion efficiencies.

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) have devised a potential solar cell material that can capture the entire visible portion of sunlight. It has promising properties, including the ability to generate electrons that remained in an excited energy state for a relatively long period of time."

There is even a way that you, yes you, can help in developing affordable clean energy.

The "Clean Energy Project" is part of the World Community Grid, which draws on unused computer resources to generate solutions that can benefit humanity. It will combine quantum chemistry calculations with molecular dynamics to determine the electronic properties of thousands of compounds, and it is expected to be completed in only two years.

IBM will pilot the World Community Grid on its internal computer network. You can learn more about the Project from the World Community Grid and Harvard.

Lowering the price of silicon with more silicon plants, while using less and less of it in advanced thin film PV plants in conjunction with new advanced coverings and diffraction gratings combined with a global effort to combine our computers into a giant super computer is beginning to sound like we're getting serious about changing the way we make energy.

And if we are serious, we'll make it

through thick and thin.

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