Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Bo Varga > Nano Solar News: Global Warming & 2015 Cost Trends

Bo Varga
Managing Director
Silicon Valley Nano Ventures

The fundamental driver for solar PV & solar thermal is the efficiency & cost of conversion of sunlight to electricity or to heat. The competition is either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Nuclear is high risk due to terrorism, waste products, "not in my backyard". Fossil fuels depend on the "carbon subsidy" - current prices do not including payment for global warming & the destruction of the biosphere. Solar growth at 20% per year for 50 years can replace fossil fuels & nuclear and remove the causes of global warming.

March 14th, 2007

Nano Solar News: Global Warming & 2015 Cost Trends

Nanotechnology & Solar Power News: February 2007

This column is published monthly, usually in the middle of the following month to allow time to evaluate new information.

My focus is on nano & clean technology conferences, commercialization of nano technology in solar applications, companies, fundings, solar power policy issues, and other areas of interest to the solar power community. The focus for this column is the cost structure of solar photovoltaic & what can be "reasonably" projected over the next few years. I believe that solar is a more realistic solution to global warming than carbon sequestration and other "magic" technologies. All quotations and sources are referenced. All opinions are the opinions of the columnist & not of Nanotechnology-Now.

The fundamental driver for solar PV & solar thermal is the efficiency & cost of conversion of sunlight to electricity or to heat. The competition is either fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

Nuclear has three basic problems with no solutions in sight: (i) the nuclear industry only exists because the promoters do not have to pay for the billions to trillions of dollars of damage that will be caused from a large scale accident - check out the Price Anderson act which limits damage claims in the US to $500 million - the nuclear industry is basically uninsurable because the upside of a major accident is incalculable by actuarial tables, despite all the "media fog" put out by nuclear advocates(ii)the nuclear fuel cycle enables the production of nuclear weapons - see North Korea, Iran, etc.(iii) nobody wants a nuclear reactor and especially the long term waste products in their back yard.

Fossil fuels all depend on the "carbon subsidy" for current pricing - current coal, oil, gas prices depend on not having to pay for the destruction of the global environment upon which all life (including humans) depends by the mechanism of global warming. We need to get a grip on greenhouse gases before the industrialization of Brazil, China, India, Russia gets anywhere close to US, Japanese, or Western European levels.

Some possible consequences if we do not halt rising CO2 include the increasing acidification of the oceans - with the reduction of the domain where most conversion of CO2 to O2 occurs, the rise in sea temperatures to the point where methane gas stored in ice formations called clathrates (potentially leading to a spike in CO2 levels last seen when forests grew in the artic & antartic regions), and the total destruction of the ozone layer. Please note that clathyrates in the Alaskan, Canadian, and Siberian permafrost alone "is on the order of hundreds of gigatons, not much smaller than the total amount of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere". The melting of the permafrost alone would therefore be undesirable, assuming we want to maintain the current global economy and human population and biosphere and high tech civilization. The release of ocean bound clathrates would lead to even more drastic effects, see:

"A plan to keep Carbon in Check" by Robert H. Socolow & Stephen W. Pacaa, Scientific American, September 2006, page 50 is must reading for people (like myself) who have children & grandchildren & are concerned about their future.

Two 50 years futures from 2006 are contrasted, one in which CO2 emissions grow at the same rate as the past 30 years, another in which emissions are frozen at 2006 levels for the next 50 years (while industrialization proceeds globally) and then is halved in the following 50 years. The second scenario (improving conditions for human beings on our planet) requires the reduction of 175 billion tons of carbon from current growth rates over the next 50 years. The authors present 15 possible ways to remove 25 billion tons of carbon of which 7 need to be implemented to enable the most desirable growth path - survival of the oceans, the biosphere, life on earth as we know it, etc.

"Holding carbon emissions constant fo 50 years, without choking of economic growth is within our grasp" page 53 op.cit. and see page 54 for the 15 wedges.

13 wedges can be enabled by nanotechnology: Alternative Energy Sources, Carbon Capture & Sequestration, Power Generation,and End-User Efficiency & Conservation. Our specific focus is on wedge 11 "Increase solar power by 700x to displace coal".

If we take a growth rate of 20% per annum in solar photovoltaic production then production doubles every 3.5 years leading to a 1,000x growth by 2041 from the 2006 baseline. And a 16,000x growth by 2056, that is, all 7 wedges of the required reduction in carbon emissions could be enabled by solar photovoltaic, assuming a 20% growth rate can be maintained for 50 years!

What are the limits on the growth of photovoltaic? One major limit is cost, affordability.

Today, even with tax subsidies, a minimum of $20,000 is required to provide base line power to a house in CA, that is 4 - 5 KW. In the January column I presented the estimate by Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), where REC targeted a 46% reduction in c-Si PV modules by 2010. The industry consensus is that PV modules represent about ½ the cost of installed solar modules, which suggests a 2011 price in CA (with tax subsidies held constant) about 20% or so lower than in 2006, or around $16,000.

Clearly this affordable only to upper middle & upper class people in the US & the industrialized world and not at all to most of the population of the planet.

While thin film & nano technologies hold great promise to reduce cost per watt, today at least 90% of current sales & manufacturing is c-Si based. So a significant reduction in c-Si costs would have the most immediate impact on the adoption of solar PV. Such reductions can be accomplished by the scale up of c-Si manufacturing plants to the GW annual level - see the NREL 2004 Study of Potential Cost Reductions Resulting from Super-Large-Scale Manufacturing of PV Modules

"We have studied the design for "A Solar City Factory" that will produce 2 - 3.5 GWp of solar panels per year—100x the volume of a typical, thin-film, solar panel manufacturer in 2003, and more than 4x the volume of the entire solar panel industry in 2003. With a reasonable selection of materials, and conservative assumptions, this "Solar City Factory" can hit a price target of $1.00 per watt as the total price for a complete, installed solar energy system (6.5x - 8.5x lower than prices in 2003). This breakthrough in the price of solar energy comes without the need for any significant new innovation. It comes entirely from the design of a very large, dedicated and optimized factory, the design of manufacturing equipment for a very large factory and the cost savings resulting from operating at such a large manufacturing scale."

Following up on this report is the very interesting news in & many other sources re SolarWorld AG's (Germany) 500MW Wafer and Cell Plant in United States. "SolarWorld AG said today that it is beginning to establish an integrated solar silicon wafer and solar cell production facility in Hillsboro, Oregon. It will reach a capacity of 500 MW by 2009. This would make the plant the largest solar manufacturing facility on the American continent . . . . Together with the expansion of the silicon wafer production at Freiberg/Saxony to also 500 MW, the SolarWorld Group will have a total global production capacity in excess of one Gigawatt."

"Now that we will soon have exceeded the threshold of 1,000 staff in Freiberg the Group will also create a large number of new jobs at Hillsboro", announces Dipl.-Ing. Frank H. Asbeck, Chairman and CEO of SolarWorld AG.

In the new wafer and cell factory the Group will produce highly efficient, mono-crystalline solar silicon products thus expanding its technological spectrum. The products from the integrated production in Freiberg are primarily based on high efficiency multi-crystalline silicon."

While this plant is not at the GW scale it will still have the capacity for major cost reductions in the highest efficiency solar cells - initially resulting in larger profits to SolarWorld but in the long run to lower prices.

To return to thin film, the two commercial technologies today are a-Si, where a-Si with nanostructured Si delivers a significant energy boost and CdTe, where the leading player is First Solar ( ) who reported yearly revenue growth of 388% on sales of low cost Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film solar modules, designed for large scale, grid-connected solar power plants. Manufacturing costs have been reduced to $1.25 per watt. First Solar will ship 100MW this year and has 100MW plants underway in Germany & Malaysia with the potential to ship 300MW in 2009.

It is interesting to note that Ken Zweibel who authored the Super Large Scale PV report at NREL joined a CdTe startup, Primestar, in December, 2006. Primestar had raised $6+ million by that time and was working to raise another $35+ million to build their first production line. In February 2007 announced an agreement to commercialize high efficiency photovoltaic (PV) technology developed by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory . The agreement is to transition NREL's record 16.5% efficiency cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology to commercial module production. (Inside Greentech; Feb. 28, 2007)

An overview of NREL's thin film CdTe PV is available at "CdTe thin-film technology is being actively commercialized. CdTe cell efficiencies are over 16% in the laboratory; commercial module efficiencies are likely to be in the 9% range in the first manufacturing plants. Companies have an array of inexpensive options to choose from in CdTe fabrication - 12+ ways to make 10%—efficient cells."

While CIS/CIGS has attracted many companies, Nanosolar for example has raised $100 million to build a factory in San Jose, CA., the technology is still "not proven" either for required efficiencies or for roll to roll manufacturing. Per NREL "With 19.5% efficiency under standard test conditions, the best CIS cell is about as efficient as the best polycrystalline-silicon cell. The potential for high module efficiencies and low cost has led to a large increase in private investment. However, the technology still has barriers to address before it will succeed in the marketplace."

As far as I know CdTe startups are all following in the path proven by First Solar and will deliver solar modules & panels on glass, essentially using flat panel display type technology. As generation 8.5 glass equipment sold by Applied Materials can deliver 5.7 square meters per panel, major efficiencies versus c-Si production from 6" wafers is possible.

It is interesting to note that Samsung has hired the Monitor Group to evaluate solar technologies & input to the business strategy that Samsung will pursue to become a major global player in solar PV. I expect Samsung will develop both a-Si and CdTe PV production lines.

Besides Primestar,another CdTe startup is working from the Colorado State University technology base as covered at: .

AVA Technologies LLC early this year hired a proven energy entrepreneur, Pascal Noronha, with strong ties to Warburg Pincus (investment bankers) and to the Reliance Group in India. I expect to see this company scale up to commercial production by 2009, raise funding as required, and establish a plant in India once the technology is proven in Colorado.

There are a number of other CdTe startup projects in the US & Europe in various stages of development, but Primestar and AVA look most likely to be in production by 2008 and 2009 respectively.

The two key drivers behind CdTe are (i) low cost - similar or less than a-Si and (ii) comparatively high efficiency versus a-Si, approximately 2x.

In terms of cost per Watt/Peak in 2015 I expect CdTe to be ½ the cost of a-Si or approaching $0.50 per Watt/Peak.

This is in line with projections by Innovalight of $0.40 per Watt/Peak referenced in my January column and with the targets for other nano particle based solar technologies.

In summary, if we look at either the scaling function for conventional c-Si solar technology for GW integrated manufacturing plants or at the promise of CdTe and nano particle based solar cells, a target of $0.50 per Watt/Peak seems achievable in the 2015 time framework.

As this target is approximately 1/5 of the average cost of manufacture per Watt/Peak in 2005 we are looking at an 80% cost reduction by 2015 for leading edge solar panel manufacturing.

As solar modules or panels are nominally only ½ of the rooftop installed cost, the impact of this cost reduction will be felt initially in solar farms on flat, desert lands, where the installation cost is minimal, then in Building Integrated Photo Voltaics (BIPV), and finally in rooftop installations.

Assuming no reduction in roof top installation costs, even in 2015 the cost of installation mentioned at the start of this article (and with tax benefits kept intact) would still be at $12,000. As BIPV in the form of roof tiles, windows, doors, siding, etc. reduces the 50% of cost that is currently installation based, my March column will cover this topic as well as March news.

Other solar + nano news includes an interesting report including Nano + Solar available at . "Nanotech & Cleantech: Reducing Carbon Emissions" includes a section on Thin Film Solar Cells that references Nanosolar, Konarka, & Heliovolt (US), Hydrogen Solar (UK), and Dyesol (Australia). I am not clear why the CIGS players (who have not proven technology) are referenced, while BP which has proven CIS and First Solar which will sell 100MW of CdTe solar panels this year are not referenced. Even more confusing is the lack of reference to the Silicon Valley nano particle thin film solar companies, of which Innovalight is the most "mature" while Stion (formerly NStructures) and Solexant are in start-up mode.

Possibly the free report does not include material that is covered in the commercial report.

A weekly report on Advanced Materials & Energy Technology is available from , the investment banking firm that launched on-line IPOs using the "Dutch Auction" method that delivers best value to the company going public. While the energy technology sector is up 11.5% as of 3/9/07 the solar sector is up 32.5% year-to-date (YTD).

As a heads-up the strong commitment to Clean Tech by at the upcoming Nanotechnology 2007 Conference this May - the world's largest & most comprehensive nano technology conference - is well worth noting. This annual conference is in Silicon Valley this year & is strongly recommended -the focus of this conference & exhibition increases year to year from technology to markets, applications, products - to new ventures and investors!

Please send your feedback, ideas, and suggestions to Bo Varga via

Bo has 28 years experience developing business strategy, funding, & strategic alliances for start-up and early stage companies in Silicon Valley & globally.

He has six years experience with the commercialization of nano technology & clean technology ventures.

He and his partners are always looking to help clean energy & clean technology water projects with funding, business strategy, and business development.

Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

The latest news from around the world, FREE

  Premium Products
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More

Nanotechnology Now Featured Books


The Hunger Project