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The Solar Cell Corner
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    Before 2008, my interest in the sun was limited to preventing the inevitable sunburn on the first summer beach day and observing sun spots when handed my first telescope. Several decades later and after nearly twenty years in the semiconductor industry, a new solar interest has arisen. Last year I realized, with the prodding and assistance of many colleagues, that today’s solar cell technology is green. Not just the environmental kind of green, but the engineering kind with many opportunities for improvement in both performance and cost. Welcome to The Solar Cell Corner: a forum for discussing the motivation, techniques, ideas and prospects for improving solar cell performance and cost. Send in your comments and share in the adventure.

    - Ricardo Borges

Recapping 2008 and launching into 2009

Posted by ricardo borges on February 2nd, 2009

Welcome to the Solar Cell corner.

In this inaugural post, it seems appropriate to reflect on the developments in the photovoltaic industry in 2008 and the prospects for 2009 and beyond, bracketed, on the one hand, by an insidious financial crisis that is curbing investment in many sectors of the economy and, on the other hand, by a continuous awareness and inertia to pursue renewable energy sources. Walking the halls of the Intersolar show in San Francisco this past July, which according to the organizers welcomed 13,000 visitors, the mood was decidedly optimistic. Shortly after, the full brunt of the banking crisis hit. As Congress debated emergency measures to rescue our banking system, Congressional Leaders provided the solar industry with a long sought impetus by extending the solar investment tax credits (ITC). When H.R. 1424, apply named the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, was signed into law in October, it contained an 8 year extension of a 30-percent tax credit for commercial and residential solar installations. It also abolished the previous 2,000 USD cap on residential installations, allowing individual taxpayers to take full advantage of the 30-percent tax credit. This point is crucial because with typical residential installations costing 15,000 USD or more, a 30-percent credit is substantially more than the previous cap of 2,000 USD. These provisions in H.R. 1424 were duly recognized by the keynote speakers at the Solar Power International held in San Diego at the end of October. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s emphatic “… the prospects for solar energy have never been brighter,” was matched by other speakers, among them General Wesley Clark who expounded on the now pervasive theme of the need for greater energy independence for the United States.

Yet market incentives, widely viewed as critical for an industry with production costs still several times higher than its carbon-based competitors, and technical progress, with innovative solutions for higher conversion efficiency and lower manufacturing costs reported every week, are but two components of the proverbial three-legged stool needed for mainstream deployment of solar generated power. The third leg is the refurbishing of our national electric grid to allow efficient electricity flow from the geographically blessed Sunbelt – Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, etc – to the rest of the country. For this third leg, Washington’s largess may once again play the critical role as President Obama has called repeatedly for large scale infrastructural fixes to the electric grid as part of the currently debated economic recovery package.

And so, while it is always wise to keep in mind Niels Bohr’s adage “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” conditions for the furtherance of solar energy have never been better, due not only to all the steady technical progressed achieved in the last three decades but, perhaps most importantly, because of the growing awareness of the urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions.

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One Response to “Recapping 2008 and launching into 2009”

  1. Max Maier says:

    Hello Ricardo,

    Thank you very much for starting this interesting blog.
    I fully agree with your statement about solar energy and its importance for the future.

    Here are some interesting market data:
    According to VLSI Research PV Solar Cell and Module Manufacturing Equipment demand passed $5.6B in 2008 and is set to reach $7.3B in 2009. Despite the world wide economic situation and despite falling oil prices it is expected to grow to $7.3B in 2009!

    Another set of interesting data comes from iSupply:
    According to them there was an installation of solar panels worth of 3.8GWp power in 2008 which is expected to grow to 4.2GWp power in 2009. Although this will probably come with a drop in revenues, mainly driven by oversupply. iSupply anticipates a drop down to $2,50 to $2,75 per watt range by the end of 2009, down from the current level of $4,20 per watt.
    It should be interesting to note that this drop in prices will probably spur demand so that there is an expectation that in the second half of 2010, the revenues for photovoltaic panel revenue may return to strong growth as the demand improves. By this time probably demand will be fuelled by additional installation capacity, improved rates of return due to low panel prices and renewed and extended government incentives to combat the economic slowdown.
    Therefore iSuppli predicts photovoltaic panel revenue will rebound in 2010 and rise to $17,8 billion, up 38,2% from 2009. Revenue will rise by another 11,1% in 2011 and by 29,1% in 2012.

    All in all this means the photovoltaic market represents already significant business with really impressive growth rates.

    Best regards

    Max