PV technology forecast: Crystalline, crystalline, and more crystalline

As long as crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar PV is cheap, less-efficient thin-film solar cells will remain in the small minority. Navigant Consulting’s Paula Mints shows that c-Si looks to be cheap for quite a while yet.

October 7, 2011 — This could be a short article: as long as crystalline silicon (c-Si) technologies remain cheap, lower efficiency thin-film photovoltaics must be at least 10% less expensive per watt. Over time, thin-film solar cells have traditionally been 7-24% less expensive than crystalline technologies. The reason for the price differential is the area penalty that thin film technologies pay; in simple terms, it takes more to do the same in terms of land and hardware. Currently, there are market concerns — valid or not — about thin film reliability in the field. Today?s price spread between thin film solar panels and crystalline solar panels is not wide enough to encourage buying.

In October 2011, when this article was written, the market conditions do not favor thin film technologies. Frankly, the market conditions do not favor any technology manufacturers. Soft markets, high levels of manufacturing capacity, high levels of inventory on the demand side, and changes in incentive programs are pressuring PV prices down. Political unrest, unstable governments in Europe on the risk of default, the anti-subsidy mood in the US (a situation stoked by the upcoming presidential election, continuing high unemployment and several bankruptcies of solar companies) contribute to a bleak market picture. New and lower prices are announced weekly. End-year buying in the US as the grant in lieu of ITC threatens to time out (and probably will) is a bright spot in the market. Demand will surely rise near the end of the year, but if PV manufacturers lose money on every watt, this will be meaningless, and if these modules are resold next year then the situation will worsen — if this is possible. Currently, crystalline product can be found from <$1.00/Wp to $1.50/Wp, with some high-efficiency holdouts at >$3.00/Wp. In October 2011, the global average for c-Si is $1.32/Wp. Thin film technologies are selling for $0.50/Wp to $1.50/Wp.

With manufacturing capacity at ~37.5-GWp for all technologies, it may be a very unpleasant 2012 for all, yet, building will continue. In solar, the risk of missing the market remains a stronger motivator than the risk of holding idle capacity. With the current market changes, the likelihood is that prices will remain low and margins constrained on the supplier side for some time. The table offers a technology forecast from a conservative and accelerated scenario. The table indicates a continued dominance by c-Si technologies. As long as c-Si remains significantly cheaper than the price point for thin films, this picture will not change.

Table. Technology history and forecast, 2007 to 2015. Data based on shipments to the first point of sale in the market.

Conservative Shipments & history

Total Shipments MWp

c-Si Shipments MWp

Thin Film Shipments MWp

c-Si Capacity MWp

TF Capacity MWp

Total Cap MWp

TTL Cap Ut.

2007

3073.0

2743.7

329.3

4880.1

562.5

5442.6

56%

2008

5491.8

4737.1

754.7

8585.7

1289.5

9875.2

56%

2009

7913.3

6571.6

1341.7

11043.0

2545.5

13588.5

58%

2010

17402.3

15089.7

2312.6

19210.5

3299.0

22509.5

77%

2011

18089.0

15647.0

2442.0

33900.0

3600.0

37500.0

48%

2012

18982.0

16324.6

2657.5

45802.7

4822.3

50625.0

37%

2013

19559.7

16625.8

2934.0

51536.4

5306.8

56843.2

34%

2014

20348.2

17092.5

3255.7

51966.6

6633.5

58600.1

35%

2015

21374.0

17954.2

3419.8

51700.0

6800.0

58500.0

37%

Accelerated Shipments

Total Shipments MWp

c-Si Shipments MWp

Thin Film Shipments MWp

c-Si Capacity MWp

TF Capacity MWp

Total Cap MWp

TTL Cap Ut.

2010

17402.3

15089.7

2312.6

19210.5

3299.0

22509.5

77%

2011

22029.3

19496.0

2533.4

33900.0

3600.0

37500.0

59%

2012

25079.8

22070.3

3009.6

45802.7

4822.3

50625.0

50%

2013

28823.3

25076.2

3747.0

53416.3

5306.8

58723.1

49%

2014

35980.8

30943.5

5037.3

58466.7

6633.5

65100.2

55%

2015

46708.7

41103.6

5605.0

74284.2

7250.0

81534.2

57%

Paula Mints is principal analyst, PV Services Program, and director in the energy practice at Navigant Consulting. E-mail: pmints@navigantconsulting.com.

Read Mints’ recent articles:

No posts to display