For years, solar cell makers have made slow improvements in their products. Now, photovoltaic (PV) suppliers are not exactly moving at the pace of Moore's Law, but they are working hard to boost the efficiency of their products while also bringing down the overall costs.
Over time, suppliers of solar cells could be following Moore's Law to bring the technology into the mainstream. "PV watts have not come down like transistors," said Richard Swanson, president and CTO for solar-cell maker SunPower Corp. "But solar will reach price parity with the current electricity grid within the next 5-to-10 years."
Suppliers of solar cells are making improvements on several fronts to boost the price-per-watt of the technology, which is twice as expensive as the current electricity grid today.
First, solar-cell makers are pushing thin-film feature sizes from 350 to 220 microns. The eventual target among vendors is 100µm, he said.
Vendors are also looking to boost cell efficiency from about 14 percent now to 20 percent by 2012, he said.
Solar-cell providers are also in production or building next-generation 150- and 200-mm factories, which cost about $100 million. These factories are highly-automated "autolines" that produce from 200- to 500-megawatts per year, Swanson said.
Each factory could produce 70-to-180 million wafers a year, or roughly 8,000-to-20,000 wafers per hour. The capital cost for a solar-cell plant is projected to be around 50 cents-per-watt, although the industry is attempting to spend "half of that," he said.
- Mark LaPedus