The Outlook for 2011

In this issue, we’ve assembled a collection of viewpoints from industry analysts and technologists on what the coming year might bring in the world of photovoltaics and solar power. I found two comments particularly noteworthy.

 

Pete Singer
Editor-in-Chief
psinger@pennwell.com

In this issue, we’ve assembled a collection of viewpoints from industry analysts and technologists on what the coming year might bring in the world of photovoltaics and solar power. I found two comments particularly noteworthy.

One comes from Sarah Kurtz, the Reliability Group Manager at NREL. Her belief is that a key differentiator between PV and most other electronic products is that the efficiencies available in the future will be only slightly better than those of today (20% for flat plate and 30% for CPV). “A world that has grown accustomed to replacing computers every few years naturally expects to replace PV panels with the latest and greatest. But why replace your modules if the new product is lower in cost, but similar in efficiency?” she asks. High efficiencies have already been achieved, so the opportunity for the greatest improvement in performance may be related to reliability, she notes. Along the same lines, in last month’s issue, contributing editor Jennifer Kho notes in her article “What’s Behind Record-Breaking Solar Cell Efficiencies,” that while lower panel prices may be a driver for efficiency, they also could limit the amount that efficiencies can grow. “Companies will only take steps to raise efficiencies if those steps cost less than it would cost a developer to simply add more panels to achieve the same result.”

Mark Thirsk of Linx Consulting makes a similar observation. “The technological conservatism means that grid parity will be reached with essentially the same technology that is available today. In general, c-Si cells and modules will be variations on the current theme, with few significant changes that have not already been tried, and a few twists on processes and materials that enhance performance, made on well understood toolsets. ”

Surely, there’s still hope for dramatic increases in efficiencies, for who knows what leaps in technology are possible through advanced research. However, as Thirsk rightfully notes, while the industry has made great strides in reducing the cost of modules, more remains to be done to supply economically viable power from large scale or distributed PV installations.

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