SOLAR WILL POWER AHEAD TO OFFER 20% MORE OUTPUT FOR 25%
LOWER MODULE COSTS WITHIN 15 MONTHS
PV industry veteran Karl-Heinz Remmers recalls the trajectory of solar power this decade and predicts stronger than expected development for the ten years ahead.
The following years were heavy for the solar industry in Germany and the EU. Anti-dumping tariffs introduced in 2013 massively damaged the entire supply chain as governments were no longer prepared to subsidize what they considered excessively expensive solar power. Only the elimination of useless duties applied on solar modules and cells – pro tariff company Solarworld went insolvent twice despite massive duties in the U.S. and EU – in 2018 brought the start of a rapid and broad recovery. The first solar projects without government funding became possible.
Global markets and production capacity have been growing every year since 2012, and since 2016 we have seen a leap in efficiency and cost reductions. Despite the current weak demand in China, a market volume of significantly more than 100 GW is expected worldwide this year. By 2023, analysts at PV InfoLink expect global production capacities to grow to almost 250 GW.
Simultaneously, further increases in efficiency and cost reductions will be achieved in connection with a series of technical innovations which will go into mass production. The long dominance of polycrystalline modules has quickly come to an end – mono is the new normal. Tomorrow bifacial panels should become standard, with some manufacturers already offering them with transparent backsheets at almost the same prices as conventional products. That will further reduce solar prices and thus open more new markets almost automatically. The result is a good chance of 300 GW of new solar per year in 2025.
By the autumn of last year, the EU was disconnected from the largest and most efficient global solar manufacturing operations and tariffs excluded the region from large volumes of technical innovation. Since the beginning of this year, however, the picture has been changing.
For example, the price of “mainstream modules” – produced in large quantities – has dropped from just under €0.30/Wp to €0.23 and, as things stand, it will probably fall even further next year. Mainstream mono PERC modules are bringing significantly more power per module than the rapidly aging poly module.
By switching from poly to mono PERC modules, performance per square meter has grown rapidly, bringing more and more power to the same footprint.
It is clear cables, mounting structures and labor costs will not become more expensive so an extra 15-20% more power on the roof from each module will bring about a price fall per watt or kilowatt installed. The complete conversion to 1500 V in the field for ground-mounted facilities, which is almost upon us, will further reduce costs. New wafer formats and the use of larger modules – an idea which is finally starting to take hold in the EU as the 72-for-60-cell upgrade of the past makes way for 120-to-144 cell options, or even more – are rapidly reducing the costs of large scale PV even further.
At the same time, power electronics are becoming more efficient and cheaper and progress here is unabated.
Globally, there are more and more tenders for ever larger solar-plus-storage projects. In September, a tender in California caught the eye with 200 MW of solar and storage for four hours for just $0.039/kWh (€0.035). The storage unit was offered for $0.0133/kWh. In energy storage too, the signs are also of much cheaper large systems, provided there are suitable conditions for use and solar and wind resources.
Cheaper electricity means a cheaper energy transition. The increases in solar equipment efficiency are making better and better use of space. The area devoted to hosting around 50 GW of installed generation capacity in Germany today could hold almost 100 GW in the coming decades. “We’ve already achieved 100 GW”, one could say.
For today’s net power requirement, only around 2% of the agricultural land of Germany would be needed and those areas would become a paradise for biodiversity and the soil underneath the panels. New products will be created based on cheap cells and new concepts for both standardized and bespoke building-integrated PV (BIPV), offering even better use of solar’s enormous potential. This will take a little more time but it will certainly come because the advantages of using BIPV combined with local energy production are all too clear.
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