21 Sep 2013
Chinese solar-power success studied
The success of China’s solar-panel industry is not solely attributable to cheap labour and government support, according to a new study. Published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy & Environmental Science, the study concludes that China is out-performing the US solar-power sector due to larger-scale manufacturing and the resulting supply-chain benefits.
Al Goodrich, senior cost analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and lead author of the study, said: “For solar power, there’s a ‘chicken and egg’ problem: consistent demand is needed to give manufacturers access to the capital required to achieve large-scale production, but large-scale production will be necessary for solar power to compete as an energy source without subsidies.”
Mr Goodrich said that “a balance could be achieved through future innovations in silicon solar panels, which have the potential to reduce key investment risks for manufacturers. This would enable manufacturing on an equivalent scale across most regions, bringing the benefits of high-volume production to them all.”
Professor Tonio Buonassisi, associate professor at MIT and co-author of the study, said: “The ‘holy grail’ of the industry is a photo-voltaic module that has high efficiency, lower material costs, streamlined and scale-able manufacturing and high reliability — features that no current module has been able to combine.
“The glass industry underwent innovations between the 1880s and the 1950s that streamlined the process to one integrated tool, where you put feedstock in one end and get one product out at the other. We envisage a similar evolution for solar-panel manufacturing. Practical innovations in PV technologies will accelerate the convergence of solar power and traditional energy sources in the future, in terms of both price and scale. This common goal is an opportunity for international co-operation that leverages our complementary strengths.”