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YASB (Yet Another Solar Breakthrough)
Jamais Cascio, 20 Jun 05

Solar electric company HelioVolt announced that it will be developing "building-integrated copper indium selenide" photovoltaic panels. Copper indium selenium (CIS) is considered the best-performing and most rugged "thin film" photovoltaic material, but has suffered from being far too difficult to produce. HelioVolt claims to have figured out a way to make the material relatively inexpensively and very quickly. CIS is able to be coated on building material for which silicon cells are unsuitable; if the HelioVolt claims are realized, this could be a big step forwards for greater application of building-integrated PV.

(Via @Monkeysign, which also links to a 1999 article from Siemens describing CIS in more detail.)

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Recent photovoltiac prices are quoted here:

They've been remarkably stable for the last five years, even with a number of optimistic press releases ;-). There has been slow but steady improvement.

It's interesting that PV prices have actually been trending up for the last year or so. I've heard of tight supply, and that could be it. It would be sad if they were responding to energy prices and/or inflation.

Posted by: odograph on 20 Jun 05

"It would be sad if they were responding to energy prices and/or inflation."

Yes it's abhorrent that solar companies should want to make a profit. Despicable.

Posted by: x on 25 Jun 05

odograph says:

"It would be sad if they were responding to energy prices and/or inflation."

x replies:

"Yes it's abhorrent that solar companies should want to make a profit. Despicable."

I think the point is that PVs are a great way to help clean up the planet, and making them too expensive renders them a non-solution... and we all suffer. Short term win for the PV companies, long term lose for everyone. Now THAT's despicable.

Posted by: Frank Shearar on 27 Jun 05

The price of solar panels (PV elements) is to a large extent determined by the price of silicium - the same material used in computer chips. It takes lots of energy and time to manufacture silicium in high purity. Since demand for computers is greater than the demand for solar panels, most of the silicium ends up in computer chip factories. Producing solar panels is not a great business. Bankruptcies are common. For instance, Astropower went out of business recently. Their facilities were bought by GE for pennies on the dollar. It is unlikely that any solar panel company is making serious money in this business. Oil companies like Shell and BP can afford to invest the necessary capital and to wait patiently until this business flourishes one day.

Despite high prices, there is presently a solar panel boom in Europe and in Japan. Lots of the US production ends up in Europe. In fact, there is a shortage of the better high efficiency panels on world markets. The problem is not so much pricing as is avaiability. It should not be overlooked that the cost of a complete solar installation is often twice as much as the cost of the panels. Human labor is still much less affordable than solar panels.

Solar panels are viewed by the market as pricey. This is not true if the pollution of the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the depletion of the non-renewable resources (represented by fossil fuels) is properly valued and accounted for. For instance, when looking at the cost of coal, we tend to ignore the cost of creating the coal. A coal company charges a power plant only the cost of mining and transporting the coal to the power plant - the cost of creating that stuff is completely ignored. With solar panels on the other hand, since these do not exist in nature, all costs are properly valued and accounted for. Of course the market does not like this and prefers electricity obtained from burning coal.

Posted by: Robert Sczech on 28 Jun 05



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