Disruptive Discoveries Journal

pv

Enough To Go Around? Raw Materials and Limits To Growth in Solar

Chris BerryComment

 

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

For a PDF version of this note, click here.

The growth in the adoption and deployment of solar power since silicon solar cells were first discovered by Bell Labs in 1954 has been nothing short of staggering. The globally installed PV market stands at 140GW and added over 38GW in 2013 alone. In the United States in the first half of 2014, 53% of all new electric capacity came from solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. While still small relative to the overall global energy mix, the rate of solar growth is what to focus on and it is indeed taking off.

 

As to the question of whether that growth can be sustained, the politically sensitive issue of subsidies seems to get all of the press. To me, there are other, larger, and perhaps more immediate issues regarding PV growth.

 

One concerns reliable access to the raw materials necessary to build and supply global PV supply chains. Specifically, I’m referring to the copper, silver, silicon, indium, etc. vital to produce existing and future solar technologies. How much do you as an investor, industry watcher, or company representative really know about the origins and supply reliability of the metals and minerals used in PV manufacture? Another issue to be watched is the changes in PV technologies and also the rate at which the technology is adopted. This also has implications for global supply chains. 

Disruption Is On its Way To Solar Panel Manufacturing: A Case Study of Aurora Control Technologies (ACU:TSXV, AACTF:OTCBB)

Chris Berry

By Chris Berry

 

Introduction

After a recent slump, solar power has shown tremendous growth. Global photovoltaic (PV) capacity is 139 Gigawatts (GW) as of the end of 2013 and another 44.5 GW is forecast to be added in 2014. One GW is enough electricity to power between 750,000 and 1,000,000 US homes. The 44.5 GW mentioned above is almost a 21% increase y-o-y and equals the output of 10 nuclear reactors, according to Bloomberg. 

Overcapacity has resulted from government subsidies and has served to push panel prices down, helping to make solar more cost competitive with other fossil-fuel based sources of electricity. Dozens of panel makers still exist which implies further consolidation in the industry despite the projections mentioned above.

We are focused on finding value along supply chains across an entire industry and to that end the solar panel manufacturing business offers an interesting case study in finding value in a global “low growth” or “slow growth” environment. One of the key questions for market participants is “how will a panel manufacturer compete and thrive in a hyper competitive industry despite the rosy growth prospects?” Price declines and competition will hurt margins which in turn have the potential to impact investment returns.

The key is solar cell efficiency.