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Current State of Solar Power August 2, 2006

Posted by Unreasonable in Energy Matters, Matters Architectural.

Dr. Richard Swanson, one of the cofounders of Sunpower did a presentation a the Palo Alto Research Center PARC Forum:

Link to Video

Key points (from memory, so I may be off a little):

  • Sunpower and Sanyo make the most efficient solar cells at 23%. Most manufacturers are in the 15-20% range.
  • Theoretical maximum efficiency is 33%.
  • This year the photovoltaic industry passed the computer chip industry in use of silicon.
  • Like all commodities, there’s currently a shortage raw silicon because the silicon “refineries” haven’t kept pace with the growth of the PV industry. However, they are currently building more capacity.
  • In 1979 PV cost was $30/watt
  • Now cost is $3/watt
  • Cost has had a linear relationship with the number of cells produced. Every time we double the number of cells produced, the cost drops by 18% (I think – the important thing is: its linear).
  • That projects $1/watt in 2012, which makes photovoltaics located on a roof used to power a house cost competitive (without any govt subsidies) with traditional fossil fuel generated electicity from the grid.
  • At $0.67/watt PV will be cost competitive in megawatt scale solar farms to replace fossil fuel fired power plants.
  • The embedded energy also falls in the same linear relationship. It currently takes 3 years for a solar panel to generate the amount of energy that it took to get the silicon and make the solar panel.
  • The largest PV markets are currently Germany (#1) and Japan (#2).
  • Sunpower sells panels to Japan’s largest home builder, who offers solar as an upgrade. Last year 1/2 of the houses they built p had solar power.
  • As with everything else, China will be a huge market pretty soon.
  • When we get to the point that somewhere between 3 and 30% of power on the grid is from solar, storage will be a big problem to deal with.
  • Solar cells don’t fail. The soldering that connects the individual silicon wafers does. Most solar panels have 25 year warranties.
  • In solar systems, the inverter that converts the power from DC to AC is what fails 95% of the time (because they have electrolytic capacitors in them). The mean failure rate has been 5 years. Newer versions should be around 10 years.
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