Solar cells are becoming less expensive

Solar cells are becoming less expensive

"The future, according to MiaSolé, a Californian start-up, is unrolling at one centimetre a second in a bland-looking building in Silicon Valley. Despite the location, and the fact that most other solar cells are made from silicon, MiaSolé's cells are not. Ribbons of steel a metre wide and half a hair's width thick spool through vacuum chambers in which they are sputtered with copper, indium, gallium and selenium-collectively known as CIGS. Out of the end comes a new type of solar cell which promises to be both efficient and cheap.

MiaSolé's current cells turn 10.5% of the light that hits them into electricity. A tweaked version that manages 13% should go into production early next year. Further tweaks have produced cells with an efficiency of 15.7%. This is as good as the best silicon cells and much better than those of First Solar, an American company which uses another cheap technology and is the biggest maker of solar cells in the world. MiaSolé says its manufacturing costs work out at less than $1 per watt of generating capacity. This is better than all silicon-cell-makers and far less than the $3 per watt of Solyndra, a rival CIGS firm that won a large loan guarantee from the American government to build a big factory...

American utilities are signing up for renewable energy mainly because their regulators insist on it. But solar's improving economics are making this imposition less onerous. Travis Bradford of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago says that taking into account all the costs of construction including its finance, a state-of-the-art solar plant in a sunny state is broadly competitive, over its life, with a new 'peaker' gas-fired station. Gas peakers, turned on only when demand is at its highest, are the most expensive fossil-fuel plants. Even so, getting to this level of competitiveness is a big step forward for solar."

For the balance of this review from The Economist, see http://www.economist.com/node/17676032?story_id=17676032.