Red Herring reports on a US Department of Energy initiative to bring down the cost of solar energy – it needs to be below 10 cents per kilowatt hour to be competitive and current technologies cost around double that. The usual nanotech suspects crop up, with $20 million to Nanosolar and another chunk to Konarka.
One of the reasons that solar power has not taken off is the cost of the polysilicon substrates that most cells are based upon. Polysilicon prices have leapt from $30 to $72 a kilo with spot prices going as high as $300. The semiconductor industry can live with this, as there is the opportunity to add much more value during the processing of the silicon into devices, whereas the economics of solar fabs are being squeezed until their pips squeak. The good news is that supplies should get back to normal over the next few years, although prices won’t ease off for a while, giving a nice window of opportunity for thin film solar manufacturers.