In response to our post of October 20th, “The Photovoltaic Revolution,” a reader made the following comment: “It seems that there are dozens of companies announcing that they are about to produce megawatts of low cost solar cells. When they actually ship and with a warranty for ten or twenty years I will believe it. Until then they are just like the hundreds of other companies whose main output is press releases.”
This is absolutely true.
We have been watching photovoltaics very carefully for over ten years, and there have been a lot of false alarms.
It isn’t easy to find information about the commercial status of thin film photovoltaics. When we searched in Google, our investigation led us to the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration’s website, to a page entitled “Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic Collector Manufacturing Activities 2005.”
In this report, on table F-9 “Market Share of Thin Film Shipments, 1996-2005″ you can see that last year thin film accounted for 25% of U.S. photovoltaic manufacturing. This is up from only 12% in 2004, 10% in 2003, and around 5% for most of the preceding years.
A related statistic can be found from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report, with data through 2004, entitled “U.S. Market Share” (of worldwide photovoltaic manufacturing). In this report you can see that in 2004 1.2 gigawatts of photovoltaics were produced worldwide, and the U.S. only contributed about 140 megawatts, less than 12%, to that total. Moreover, ten years ago, the U.S. manufactured nearly 50% of the world’s photovoltaics, but as the world production went up by an order of magnitude, the U.S. production merely doubled.
It would be interesting, therefore, to see the thin-film share of world photovoltaic production. But it is safe to say that the growth in U.S. production, if it does take a great leap forward, will be in the thin film arena. And the fact that the U.S. is already commercially manufacturing 35 megawatts per year of thin film photovoltaics proves that claims of imminent increases to thin film production of orders of magnitude are not entirely unfounded. A commercial product does already exist.
By the way, in 2001 we covered the thin film manufacturer First Solar, in the story “First Solar – Production Line PVs.” Apparently they were within months of launching a 100 megawatt per year thin film production line. A false alarm? Perhaps, but that was then. Today First Solar did their IPO, as reported on the excellent website SolarBuzz, among other places.
Will the promises of thin film technology turn out to be hype? Another bubble, kind of like the fuel cell IPOs? You never know, but my money is on thin film photovoltaics to change the world.