Will the Cost of Silicon Keep PV Prices High?

I was wondering about the high cost of silicon and whether that will prevent the price drop in Solar residential systems that everyone is counting on. Given the high demand any significant price drop appears unlikely. Do you know of any research on material other than silicon that is promising? Jerry H South Carolina

Jerry, Today’s photovoltaics are made primarily from silicon, which in the 1990’s was derived only from the silicon waste that came from the silicon chip industry. In April, media reports surfaced from the biggest PV companies that solar-grade silicon leapt from $9 per kilo in 2000 to $25 last year, and $60 in 2005. These higher prices are a result of the fast growth rate of the global photovoltaics industry, which produced more than 1.2 Gigawatts in 2004, and the efficiencies in the traditional silicon chip industry, which leave less wastes from their process for solar-grade silicon. With the announcement of the Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) American Solar Power Industry Research and Investment in Technology collaborative the photovoltaics industry is working to build upon its earlier efforts for fair access to silicon. The industry-led collaborative is designed to reduce the cost, increase the efficiency, and improve the manufacturing of solar PV through novel breakthrough designs and processes, which should lead to low-cost manufacturing and new silicon production processes, among other goals. While there are some promising newer PV materials in the marketplace, such as thin films with Indium, Selenium and Gallium, and Cadmium Telluride, another emerging play will be through non-silicon nanotechnology, which uses light sensitive dyes. Konarka Technologies, a manufacturer of non-silicon nanotechnology, is setting up its pilot plant this year. With smart tactics for using traditional silicon efficiently, non-silicon materials already in the marketplace and soon-to-be others via nanotechnology, and other approaches – the silicon shortage issue should just be seen as growing pains in a fast-paced industry during its early adolescence. Scott