Solar needs a new Metric

I just read a very interesting article from Motley Fool on the oversupply of solar in the marketplace that is predicted in 2011. The article went on to try to compare the competitive position of the thin-film mfg and the crystalline mfg based on $/Wdc. Of course for those of us in the industry we know that this has no meaning given the widening efficiency gaps, but like Moore’s law the $/Wdc is followed by investors like a hawk. The more important metrics are:

1) $/kWh delivered – this includes the installed cost of the system plus the energy production per rated W. First Solar thin-film often performs well here even though their BOS costs are higher because they produce about 7% more energy than normal crystalline panels. The BOS penalty for First Solar is about $0.20/Wdc, less than the price delta today
2) $/sqft of net profits – this is where First Solar has a bigger problem. Crystalline systems that are installed as a fixed tilt system could easily produce about 20-30% more electricity per unit area than CdTe. The reason this is important is that land is almost always a constraint. The developer tends to overestimate how much of their pipeline is ready to build and so taking the projects that are ready and putting more Watts on the ground can be very important.

In any case, solar is coming down in cost and the race is fun to watch. Today over 10% of global electricity sales can be more cost effectively served by solar PV — without subsidies. This is mainly in high cost electric utility areas or places that use diesel power. This number is expected to grow to over 20% within 2 years. These represent Trillions of dollars in cost effective markets. It looks like solar is on its way to continue its rapid growth rate to reach a gigaton of carbon savings by 2020 — 1,000 GWs of cumulative solar installed!

Jigar Shah
Carbon War Room