Opportunities for investing in solar technology
July 15, 2009, 2:39pm PDT | Length: 00:05:50
At the Intersolar Conference in San Francisco, Scott Stephens, Photovoltaic Specialist for the U.S. Department of Energy, explains why he's optimistic about the future. He expects the market to stabilize and manufacturing to begin to consolidate. In addition, he says, the DOE is always searching for solar technology that improves on efficiency, scalability, and durability.
>> I'll finish with just sort of an overview of why I still am optimistic across a lot of technologies. You hear a lot of polarizing arguments, I think, in the company's specific presentations this week. And I'd like to just highlight some of the opportunities that I still see moving forward across the three main areas crystal and silicon comes in concentrators. The first is in crystal and silicon, there's been a lot of talk about polysilicon and a lot of relief that the prices have finally come down. But I think that, you know, obviously the capital intensity of that segment of the value chain will ensure that there might be future volatility in that area, something that some companies that we hear from like CaliSol phonetic yesterday have certainly bought into that concept, and they've subscribed to upgrade inaudible stock as opposed to this poly, which is much more difficult to produce. But there's another avenue, which I think is very promising, particularly because I've seen such diversity in the ideas and the proposals around it, and that is to develop a silicon process that is curfulous phonetic. And at first glance, you could see that it's maybe a 2X production in the intensity of polysilicon consumption. But actually, if you're able to make thinner wafers and still retain a light capture, you can actually realize something more like a 3 to 10X production with polysilicon intensity. And I can say almost completely confidently that if there was ever a 10X reduction in polysilicon consumption intensity for a process and that process gained a lot of market share, then it would really be difficult to envision future polysilicon shortages. You get to the point where polysilicon would be such a small driver of the cost structure of those technologies that you might be crazy looking at me that he still doesn't believe it, but I think that if anything, it would make that a small enough driver that the volatility in the polysilicon industry might have less of a signature on pricing. And then I think the last piece of this is that although it hasn't been realized to date in more traditional processes like the Evergreen or Evergreen String Ribbon approach, there's a potential for significant manufacturing consolidation or compression of making a step that goes either from something like polysilicon to wafers without having some inaudible step in between or even proposals that take sialine gas, Trichlorosilanes or something and ends up with something that looks a lot like a cell in a single process. And, of course, there's an enormous capex production in control of the value chain, if you're able to do something like that. And this chart that I've shown at the bottom here is really, it's something that I drew up based upon a couple of projects that I've--technologies that I have been exposed to. But I think that ultimately it's more exemplary. The particular strengths and weaknesses across any of those technologies directs inaudible are going to be particular to that process. So another, just a discussion, I guess, of thin films. In our funding opportunities, particularly the incubator program, we encounter a lot of thin film technologies. And I wanted to just summarize really the skepticism of the hierarchy of criteria that we look through when we're evaluating whether or not we want to fund a company. Certainly, efficiency is a big driver. And although they're only demonstrating on a laboratory scale, that's usually seen as the potential of that technology. And so that's probably the first and foremost requirement for being interested in a new thin film technology or a new thin film process, I could say. Stability obviously matters. And this is sort of initial stability. So what is the sensitivity to light, heat? What is the thermodynamics of the reaction? Scaleability is a key issue that we've seen being a stumbling point for a number of thin film companies in the United States. So what is the width and uniformity of the deposition? And much more importantly, actually, or as important, I should say, is the dollars per watt cost. What is the capex? And in particular, what is the capex at modularities less than a hundred megawatts? If this technology offers you 30 cents a watt that's predicated upon gigawatt scale manufacturing levels or hundreds of megawatts scale in several of years, two or three years of field testing to validate that technology, it's still going to be enormously difficult, even with that low dollars per watt cost structure. And then in replication, it sounds kind of silly. You're building a vacuum chamber or some sort of controlled process environment. But it does matter. They have to have some explanation as to how they can rapidly copy this technology so that they can scale. Finally, durability. And it's both actual and perceived, right? So even if you have full confidence in the durability of this product, if the financial community doesn't, then you need to have a plan to convince those investors to buy into this technology. And then finally CPV, which is, I think, people are increasingly growing pessimistic on this space. But I'd like to just highlight for you the diversity of let's say the breath of the design space that still exists in concentrators, and use that as evidence that this concept is not going to just go away anytime soon. You can read the sort of different aspects, your tracker tolerances, modularity, concentration, optics, manufacturing. But there's also this big bogey of everything being influx. They're currently the only sale technology that's increasing efficiency dramatically. And then there's room for disruptive process innovations, for new materials, automation, deployment, those type of things that I assure you makes sure that this technology is continually revisited and looked at.
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