An article from last week’s Economist highlights the trend of cheaper solar cells, just as subsidies begin to expire. The Economist highlights solar cells produced not from the traditional silicon, but from a combination of “copper, indium, gallium and selenium,” also known as CIGS.
The efficiency achieved from these cells has become competitive with the best silicon-based cells and has the potential to go even further. Perhaps even more promising, California-based “MiaSolé says its manufacturing costs work out at less than $1 per watt of generating capacity. This is better than all silicon-cellmakers and far less than the $3 per watt of Solyndra, a rival CIGS firm that won a large loan guarantee from the American government to build a big factory.”
Up to this point, much of the solar industry has relied on subsidies to compete. Part of the argument for subsidies was that as the technology improved, costs would decline. But we’ve only recently begun to see this downward shift. In fact, “since January 2009, according to pvXchange, an online marketplace, the wholesale price of solar modules in Europe has dropped by 43%.”
As the price of manufacturing solar cells continues to decline, we’re going to see demand rise even without subsidies and mandates on renewable power generation. Developing nations like China and India are poised to add to the production and – more importantly for the U.S. – consumption of solar power. I believe that as costs fall, it may become just as cheap to go solar in some places as it is to use fossil fuels, and low prices will subvert the need for a “green justification,” creating development driven by economics rather than politics.
With world class innovation resources like Georgia Tech’s Photovoltaics Center and leading solar companies like Suniva, Enfinity and Mage Solar, Georgia is well positioned to capture the expanding market for the increased manufacturing of solar cells.
Tom Croteau is Director of Food, Energy, Logistics and Agribusiness Projects for the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). Tom’s project management team is responsible for working with companies within these vertical industries interested in opening or expanding operations into the Southeast, with the objective of locating new facilities in Georgia.