2010 Crystalline Solar Predictions

c-Si panels
c-Si panels
My unofficial 2010 Solar Predictions. Before we start, an author’s safe harbor statement: these predictions are necessarily forward-looking statements and, since the future can be temperamental, any prediction that does not exactly match can and will be graciously excused. With this out of the way, let’s take a look at some 2010 predictions for crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar: End Market, Materials, Technology, Scale and Factory Automation.

End Market
Predict the big end market movers for 2010 to include Japan, China and the U.S.  The recent Japan legislation targeted for zero-energy homes may triple solar installations from 2009. Given the inherent constraints in Japan’s market, it is expected that approximately 90% will be c-Si based solar. China’s continued domestic market emergence (with both rooftop and utility-scale incentives) and the recent U.S. EPA position on green-house gases has set the stage for quantum growth increases in these regions. China has overtaken the U.S. as the world's biggest market for automobiles, the first time any other country has bought more vehicles than the U.S. (~13M vs. 10M).  Just a few years ago, the predictions called for China to pass the U.S. in the year 2025, …surprise. Expect China to accelerate solar adoption and move more quickly than anticipated to offset this additional environmental load.

In general the large changes in these end markets are driven by legislation, though it should be pointed out that this is also due to our proximity to solar energy’s tipping point for grid parity. As a matter of fact, grid parity has already been achieved for peak power. With peak power exceeding 40c/kwh in some areas, the non-subsidized balanced cost of electricity (BCOE) has been reported to already be solidly below 20c/kwh. Recent prediction by Yingli has stated China will break the 1RMB/Kwh in 2010 (~13c/Kwh).

Materials
Expect continued strong poly price reductions with more Chinese sources coming on-line.  Coupled with the continued improvement in wafer thickness and kerf loss, the price for the silicon (Si) will be solidly below 30c.  In the 2008 bubble, the Si cost alone was in excess of $3 (poly cost ~$400, 200um wafer and 180um kerf loss). This drastic order-of-magnitude reduction is nothing short of a revolution. Somewhat countering this trend is the upward commodity price of silver; it has moved from below $9/oz at the start of the year and is threatening to exceed $20/oz in 2010. This will be an additional catalyst to drive alternative non-silver metallization schemes. Getting back to the changing Si source dynamic, to differentiate in this brutally competitive Si market, suppliers will attempt to differentiate on overall quality. With this higher quality push, there will be less material variations and lower overall impurity concentration. As a result, another prediction here for 2010 will be much greater interest in n-type material which is a higher quality wafer type with less impurity recombination centers that provides a significant gain in efficiency. 

Technology
To continue the march for higher efficiency cells and modules, there will be a number of evolutionary adoptions and revolutionary announcements. On the evolutionary side, double print will hit mainstream while selective emitter adoption may have a challenge with the relative metallization competition. In particular, from the improved ability of the advanced metal pastes to form viable contacts to higher performance (lower doped) emitters.  The back-contact developments using back passivation with a highly-reflective back metal (sputtered or evaporated), will gain momentum and will be the precursor towards greater adoption of the more revolutionary all back contact structures. Another 2010 prediction in the revolutionary category will include greater interest in HIT (Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer) cell technology to achieve efficiencies >22%. 

Scale and Factory Automation
The industry will make major strides toward what is referred to as the solar fab of the future in c-Si. Just as the largest wafer fabrication facilities (fabs) increased in the IC industry from 10,000 or 20,000 wafer starts per month (WSPM) to well over 100,000 WSPM, the scale of typical solar fabs will continue to increase from the typical 100MW/year sizes. Look for several announcements in 2010 for greater than 1000MW (>1GW) fabrication expansions. The average wafer production speed per system within these fabs will increase from 1200-1400 wafers per hour to routinely exceed 3000 WPH. With the increasing complexity from improved efficiency processes, predict greater adoption of cost-effective smart metrology — and the associated communications network — will be incorporated to better optimize both work-flow as well as process control. Given the favorable economy of scale, expect additional consolidation. 

With the significantly accelerated pull of the end-market, the overall favorable trend in materials costs, the technology adoptions for improved efficiencies and the production cost improvements offered by the scale & production speed of “the solar fab of the future” …all add up toward marching significantly down the path to breaking the $1/Wp barrier toward achieving grid parity.

 Have a Bright & Sunny Happy New Year

Ken

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