March 9, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Solar industry chases a cheaper kilowatt
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Even as the industry chases a cheaper kilowatt hour, demand for solar PV systems is on the rise from both business and consumers, analysts say. Clean Edge forecasts that the total solar industry is poised to expand from $11.2 billion last year to $51.1 billion in 2015.
Government subsidies and incentives are an important part of the demand picture, say industry executives and analysts. Germany has perhaps the most aggressive solar incentive program in the world and a large solar market. California has earmarked about $3 billion over the next 10 years to build 3,000 megawatts of capacity in its "million roofs" solar initiative.
The financial community has taken note. Three solar companies went public last year--Q-Cells, SunPower and Suntech Power--raising a combined $800 million.
Because the solar PV industry is so dependent on silicon, many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists can transfer their skills from the semiconductor and IT industries, according to industry experts.
For example, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the company that funded IT industry mainstays Sun Microsystems, Google and Amazon.com, recently launched a $100 million "greentech" fund. One company in its portfolio is thin-film producer Miasole.
The spike of investment dollars reflects the growing maturity of the solar PV industry, said Clean Edge's Pernick, who expects competition among solar companies and among countries promoting solar power to go up.
"We're not going to have a future where there is just renewable energy. It's going to be a mix for some time and rightly so," he said. "But people are moving the needle forward very aggressively."
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