Recently, Natcore Technology announced that its black silicon process could reduce the reflectivity of solar cells from today's ~6% to under 1.5%. This will enable the transformation of today's texture etching to black silicon etching and improve the light absorption of solar cells. Natcore claims this process can reduce production costs by 23.5%
Crystal Solar is a start-up that recently announced that it plans to bring its epi thin-silicon technology to market by 2014. Crystal Solar claims that their process can reduce costs to well below 50 cents per watt. The epi thin-silicon process suggests possibilities for re-inventing the way manufacturers make solar cells by transforming the manufacturing process itself. As the solar industry isn't ready to handle wafers that are 50 micron thick, Crystal Solar claims it has developed equipment for handling and packaging the ultra-thin cells as well.
As the cost of labor in China is constantly on the rise, more automated factories can bring labor costs down.
Electricity storage is one of the big problems the solar industry faces. First, let's take a look at current methods of storing energy.
Compressed Air: A method of using renewable energy to compress air whenever there is excess energy generation. When there is a demand for that energy, the compressed air is heated and flows into a turbine, where electricity is generated.
Liquid Air: A method of compressing and cooling air to liquefy it (air at extremely low temperatures). When energy is needed, the liquid air is expanded to spin a turbine, thus producing electricity.
Batteries: A method of storing energy in the form of electrochemical cells, which generate energy from chemical reactions, used as batteries.
Flywheel: A method of storing energy as kinetic energy through a device that holds a disc in a very low-friction environment. The disc spins faster when energy is pumped into the device. When energy flows out of the device, the disc spins slower. This suits applications that need very brief bursts of energy.
Hydrogen: A method of using electricity to electrolyze water, which this process turns into hydrogen and oxygen. The gas is stored in separate tanks, and then the hydrogen is used to produce electricity by various methods (fuel cells, turbine, combustion, others).
Electric Vehicle: A method of using the fleet of electric cars, as they already have built-in batteries, as grid-level storage. When energy is needed, the car battery pumps electricity back to the grid; when energy is no longer needed, the battery is charged. This is called "Vehicle-to-Grid" storage.
Pumped Water: A method of using the excess electricity to pump water uphill and then, when demand is present, using gravity to get the water downhill and use it for hydroelectric generation. This is the most common and low cost way of storing energy today.
The combined Market for integrated Solar and Storage will reach 2,8 Billions in 2018
Lux Research predicts that solar energy systems with an integrated storage will rise to $2.8B by 2018, up from less than $200M this year. What future technologies can drive that growth?
Liquid metal battery (LMB) technology such as that developed by Ambri. This LMB has the potential of delivering a cost of $100/KWh.
Hydrogen technology combined with revolutionary fuel cells such as the Energy Server offered by Bloom Energy.
Because the need for new energy storage devices, utility scale and residential scale alike, is rising, I expect that costs will go down gradually until you will be able to purchase an energy storage device for your home just like any other appliance. It is unclear yet what technology will dominate this area.
By 2030, I predict that the attractiveness of stand-alone solar systems will be very high. Those are systems that can store enough energy to enable consumers to be almost 100% dependent on renewable energy. The value proposition for such a product will be substantial and consumers' demand will increase rapidly. Somewhere around the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the world will cross the 1TW cumulative installed capacity mark.
...the future looks very bright. When you know the big picture, you understand what factors affect the industry and, thus, the companies working in it. I believe that the solar industry is still very young, and just now the financial side of the industry is starting to make sense. Going forward, given the facts that we know today, and carefully predicting the way this market develops, I think that if you do your due diligence and pick this industry's winners, you're in for a hell of a ride.