April 3, 2007 2:00 PM PDT
Getting the price right for solar
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Solar panel makers are also reducing the amount of silicon they have to put in their cells. In the first quarter of 2005, SunPower's cells contained between 12 and 14 grams of silicon. They now contain about 7 grams, said SunPower president and chief technical officer Richard Swanson, who believes it can get to 5 grams over time.Meeting demand
Meanwhile, about half the cost of purchasing solar panels is tied up in installation, according to industry executives.
Speaking at the MIT solar power panel, Swanson said the company expects to reduce the total cost of buying panels by 60 percent by 2016. About half of those savings will come by lowering installation costs, he said.
"The low hanging fruit is the cost of putting panels on the roof," he said. "The costs have been coming down to the point where we're close to grid parity, but we're still a factor of two away."
One technique for reducing the installation cost comes in integrating solar cells into roofing materials or tiles, so the solar components are installed at the same time as the roof. PowerLight, which SunPower bought last year, has already signed deals with home developers to build homes with its tiles.
Financing can go a long way to making solar power more attractive as well. Although they eventually pay for themselves, a solar PV system for a home can cost $20,000 to $40,000 before rebates.
"We're cutting the net cost in kilowatts per hour by 35 percent just by financial innovation, and we get another 15 percent in delivery innovation," said
SunPower's Swanson said the industry could make big mistakes if it tries grow too fast, which could result in disillusioned customers.
"The question is, what is a sustainable and realistic growth rate? It's been around 30 to 40 percent and that's at the upper end of what makes sense," he said. "The trick is maintaining the right balance between policy and capital."
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