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Students showcasing research posters at the 2015 GCEP Symposium

Solar Energy Mini-Series: The Silicon Photovoltaic Roadmap

November 14, 2011 - 4:15pm to 5:15pm
NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center
Free and Open to All
A decades-long learning curve has guided PV panel prices inexorably downward by about 19% every time the number of panels installed globally doubles, Swanson explained Monday at the weekly Energy Seminar. The number of solar panels in the world more than doubled in 2010, accelerating the learning curve’s impact on prices. Panel prices this year are expected to average $1.32 per watt of capacity, compared with a 2002 forecast of about $2.00 a watt in 2011. Government subsidies in Europe, China and the U.S. have fueled solar’s expansion – and annual price decline – more quickly than anticipated.

However, in about five years many such subsidies are set to expire, and solar increasingly will have to make it on its own. Swanson, who remains a consulting professor at Stanford, is confident it will.

“It’s very obvious that you’re going to have a $1.12 panel by 2016, which is all that’s needed to make power in California without subsidies,” he said. “It’s very doable. It will happen.”

Swanson is not so confident that the solar industry can reach the Department of Energy’s target of $0.50-per-watt panels by 2017 to become the world’s cheapest source of electricity. “You’re just not going to march down that low that fast. It will require a major breakthrough,” he said. “And that’s what they’re trying to do with the program – to precipitate a major breakthrough.”

Thinner silicon wafers and better efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity will help drive panel prices even lower, but the costs of installation and other system parts, like wiring and inverters, must fall as well. Meanwhile, the number of panels installed this year slowed greatly from the torrid pace of 2010. Swanson expects total installations to grow about 20% annually, which means panel prices will not drop as much year to year.

Still, he expects solar power to play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. “I think we’ll be at 40% wind, 40% PV and 20% natural gas by 2050.”


Speaker's Abstract: This talk will cover the issues facing crystalline silicon PV technology as it continues to mature into a large-scale renewable energy source. In order to finally eliminate the need for government support, as well as to compete with emerging thin-film technologies, it will be important to bring module manufacturing costs well below $1/W, and at the same time continue to improve module efficiency. Balance-of-system costs likewise need large cost reduction. As part of the cost reduction strategy, it seems likely that wafer thickness will continue to decrease into the sub-50 micrometer range. The biggest uncertainty is whether one of the kerfless wafering technologies will mature to the point of widespread commercialization. Whether sawn or kerfless, however, it is clear that efficiencies will continue to improve and that advanced processes will substantially reduce processing cost for a given efficiency. This presentation will discuss various approaches for achieving module efficiencies over 20% at costs well below $1.00 per watt.  Brief Bio:

Dr. Richard Swanson was born in Davenport, Iowa in 1945. He received his BSEE and MSEE from Ohio State University in 1969 and the PhD in Electrical Engineering from Sanford University in 1975. After completing his PhD, Richard joined the Electrical Engineering faculty at Stanford. His research investigated the semiconductor properties of silicon relevant for better understanding the operation of silicon solar cells. These studies have helped pave the way for steady improvement in silicon solar cell performance. In 1991 Richard resigned from his faculty position to devote full time to SunPower Corporation, a company he founded to develop and commercialize cost-effective photovoltaic power systems. Today, SunPower produces the highest performance photovoltaic panels available.

Richard has received widespread recognition for his work. In 2002, he was awarded the William R. Cherry award by the IEEE for outstanding contributions to the photovoltaic field, and in 2006 the Becquerel Prize in Photovoltaics from the European Communities. He was elected a Fellow of the IEEE in 2008 and a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2009. He received the 2009 Economist Magazine Energy Innovator Award. In 2010 he was awarded the IEEE Jin-ichi Nishizawa Medal for the conception and commercialization of high-efficiency point-contact solar cell technology, and in 2011 the Karl Boer Solar Energy Medal of Merit Award.



Speaker Slides