In order to forecast when photovoltaics will become competitive with fossil fuels as an energy source its important to look at historical prices for photovoltaics. I'm going to make posts about renewable energy cost trends as I find the data.
The US Department of Energy is the major funder of US photovoltaics research. In this paper from January 2001 Status and Recent Progress in Photovoltaic Manufacturing in the USA there is data on recent cost trends in photovoltaics from 1992 to 1999:
Module Manufacturing Costs and Capacities PV module costs are usually given in "dollars per watt," with the watt value defined in terms of the module power rating under specific conditions. Figure 1 shows total manufacturing capacity versus average direct costs for modules manufactured by participants in the PVMaT Project. The plot is based on 1999 data from 12 industrial participants, each of which has active production lines. The "average module manufacturing cost" is a weighted average based on the manufacturing capacity of each of these participants. As seen for the 12 manufacturers, PV manufacturing capacity has increased by more than a factor of seven since 1992, from 13.6 to 99.3 megawatts. Additionally, the weighted-average cost for manufacturing PV modules has been reduced by 36%, from $4.23 to $2.73 per peak watt. Projections through 2005 indicate a steady decline, to an average module manufacturing cost of $1.16 per peak watt at just over 865 megawatts of capacity.
Note that the reference to capacity is for manufacturing capacity for making photovoltaic cells. It is not installed capacity of photovoltaic cells. The decline in price from 1992 to the projected price for 2005 is less than a factor of 3. The decline in the price of photovoltaics was much more rapid in its earlier years. Says Greenpeace:
From 1972 to 1992, photovoltaic module costs have dropped one hundred fold.
Also, see the Figure 7.3 here for historical cost trends thru 1994. Cost decline appears to have slowed in percentage terms per year. Note that in figure 7.4 they show the potential for a more rapid decline in photovoltaics costs if thin film photovoltaics turn out to be workable. They comment:
Even sharper module cost reductions can be expected in the case of thin film PV cells, irrespective of the basic semiconductor employed (amorphous silicon, CdTe, CIS, or others). First, this is due to the use of a much smaller amount of semiconductor material and to much lower energy consumption rates. Secondly, thin-film manufacturing techniques (direct deposition) allow the direct manufacturing of 1,000 cm2 integrated solar modules (i.e. a-St) and are particularly well suited for mass production.
You can go here for a report on current capacity of each type of renewable energy source. Click on the Standard Report button for "Operating Capacity (kW) by Technology and Fuel". Note that while hydro (ie hydroelectric dams) provide the largest source of renewable the ranking after that are biomass, geothermal, wind, thermal, and then photovoltaic. Photovoltaic is almost 4 orders of magnitude less than biomass as an energy source and hydro is over 4 times greater an energy source than biomass. Photovoltaics have a long way to go.
To put that into larger perspective, total US generating capacity in 2000 was 825 GW of peak capacity. US photovoltaics capacity was only 75 MW which is less than one hundredth of one percent of the total. The US DOE National Center for Photovoltaics projects:
Our expectation for industry growth is 25% per year — a level that should be achievable according to recent market data.² At this level of growth, domestic PV capacity will approach 10% of U.S. peak generation by 2030.
Unless the rate of advance in thin film photovoltaics is accelerated we face rather distant prospects for use of photovoltaics as a way to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2002 September 15 06:21 PM Energy Solar|