Heraeus nods to PV cost pressures with lower-silver pastes

Heraeus has introduced new silver pastes for thin-film and crystalline solar cell fabrication, focusing on lower silver content. Andy London of Heraeus discusses the rapid and continuing price drop for PV panels, and how PV makers can cope.

October 19, 2011 — At the EU PVSEC in early September, Heraeus introduced its SOL500 series of silver paste for both thin-film and c-Si solar cells. Also introduced was the SOL205 back-side silver paste for mono and multicrystalline solar cells.

In advance of Solar Power International (SPI), taking place this week in Dallas, TX, Andy London, global manager, Photovoltaic Business Unit at Heraeus, talks about the new products, and the astonishing drop in solar cell and panel prices that occurred not only throughout 2011, but during the time of the EU PVSEC event itself. The drop in prices is a trend that could very well continue not only during SPI, but long after.

A major impetus for the new products announced in September was cost reduction — specifically, reduction in silver content. In the podcast (listen below), London details the technical challenges that had to be overcome. In addition to the silver reduction effort, the company was also entering the thin-film market with the SOL500 series, a polymer material specifically developed for thin-film photovoltaics applications.

Quite intriguing were London?s observations about the ?buzz? heard at the European conference regarding the unusually rapid drop in the prices of solar cells and panels. ?We heard stories about customers negotiating contracts for cells and modules where pricing was dropping in the middle of conversations,? said London. ?We heard that by the end of the show, prices had dropped for cells and modules at ~15% — an unbelievable amount, one that you would expect to see in a one-year time frame.? He further observed that the price drop in total for the year up until the EU PVSEC event had been about 15%, so the additional 15% drop during the show was a major development.

Another observation from the European show that London believes will be just as noteworthy of discussion at SPI is the shake-out that?s going on in the industry. ?We?ve identified over 200 different cell manufacturers in the world — many of them small,? he said. ?There is no way the industry will be able to sustain that number of cell manufacturers — the ones who do not have good cost structures, and good technologies, and don?t have enough size, will probably either be purchased or will declare bankruptcy.?   

Last of all, London made the observation that China?s implementation of a feed-in-tariff (FiT) might actually be a good thing for the industry, observing that the country is expected to more than double its solar installations this year. ?This was a conscious effort on the part of the Chinese government to try to save some of the smaller companies that started in China,? said London. He also mentioned that with China having over a 100 cell manufacturers, the FiT is something that makes people think that as the industry grows, it is possible to produce cells and modules at a lower price and still make money. ?So seeing the Chinese government do this is a really good thing ?

While Europe is experimenting with different FiT schemes (and some are ending), the U.S. is focused on tax credits. ?The U.S., over the last two years, has doubled its installation over each of those years and that is expected to continue,? said London. The U.S. military project to put solar on top of all private and group housing on military installations is a large project that will further increase demand. ?The U.S. demand has continually increased and the forecast is for that to continue to double each year, it?s now reached over 1GW and if you start doubling that number, within 2-3 years, the U.S. could be #1 as far as installations and surpass Germany.? And with China now using the European FiT model, installations there are poised to double as well.    

London further observed that each of the three trends he outlined are very important to the industry and will probably take a year or more to play out.

Wrapping up the discussion, London said that if there were a level playing field between PV and fossil-based fuels (in terms of no subsidies to either), PV could hold its own right now. ?PV has achieved such tremendous price decreases over the last two years that grid parity — which some years ago was projected to be 2020, and then dropped to 2015 — in some locations, grid parity is here today.?

More interviews from SPI 2011:

Skyline Solar unveils CPV technology at SPI, chats about subsidies

Solar Power Technologies: Using the cloud to achieve ROI

Suniva adds BOS components to PV offering

Canadian Solar makes a play for re-engineering solar economics

Paula Mints on Solyndra, PV grid parity

CA’s solar leadership today and tomorrow

CPV ramps to utility status


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Follow Debra Vogler at twitter.com/dvogler_PV_semi.


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