Solar Technology Became Less Expensive and Improved During the Decade of the 2010’s – Here’s What is in Store for the 2020’s and Beyond
No other power generation technology could keep up with solar’s rapid decline in price in the 2010s. Once again, the game is changing for the better in the 2020s.
From $2 per watt to just over $0.20 per watt, the cost of multi-silicon solar modules fell during the decade the 2010s.
A considerable boom occurred in photovoltaic (PV) technology in the 2010s. In the last decade, annual solar installations have increased more than sixfold, from 16 gigawatts in 2010 to 105 gigawatts in 2019. This is according to Wood Mackenzie.
In the meantime, the price of multi-silicon solar modules dropped from over $2 per watt to just over $0.20 per watt in Q3 of 2019. One of the most critical factors driving the global expansion of solar is the 90 percent price reduction.
Over this period, no other electricity generation technology has been able to match the rate of cost reductions achieved by solar technology.
Between 2010 and 2018, the overnight capital cost of new onshore wind and conventional natural gas combined-cycle power plants in the United States decreased by 38 percent and 2 percent, respectively, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The cost of building a combustion turbine plant has risen by 11 percent. Coal plant construction has been severely curtailed in the decade’s second half due to the same unfavorable economic conditions.
Scale and supply-chain development lowered the cost of solar technology
For solar modules to become more cost-competitive, the entire supply chain must benefit from economies of scale. During the last decade, polysilicon production capacity has more than quadrupled, while the price of polysilicon, the primary feedstock for solar module production, has dropped from over $80 in 2010 to just $8.40 in 2019.
It was also accompanied by a fivefold increase in module production capacity worldwide. Growth in wafer and solar cell production capacity was also tremendous over the past decade.
It was the result of this supply-chain-wide development that the solar market became a robust and competitive one. Most successful companies continue to produce at scale while developing new business models and technological solutions.
As well as cost-effective
Additionally, solar panel technology has advanced significantly over the past decade.
In 2010, a standard 72-cell multi-silicon module’s nameplate power output was approximately 290 watts. Consumers today can expect at least 345 watts of power at a tenth of the price they would have paid in 2010. Isn’t it like you’re getting the newest iPhone at a 90% discount? The solar industry has been seeing better and more affordable products for the past decade.
Several other improvements to solar modules were made in the 2010s, including:
Mono silicon-based modules have overtaken multi silicon modules to become the industry’s most common type of module.
More and more modules use advanced cell architectures such as PERC, IBC, IBC with a thin intrinsic layer, and bifacial cell technology (passivated emitter and rear contact).
Wafers with n-type semiconductors (158 mm or larger) are gaining market share.
Half-cuts and shingles, two cutting-edge module techniques, are gaining market share.
By 2020, technological advancements are expected to lower the lifetime cost of ownership for solar energy systems
As renewable energy becomes more affordable, solar power is a shining example. There is a dramatic shift in the solar industry’s focus from capital expenditures to the Levelized energy cost at the beginning of the new millennium. This mission requires solar modules with high power output and low degradation rates.
Increased power output without increasing manufacturing costs will result in lower dollar-per-watt module costs and savings in the balance-of-system (BOS) cost of solar panels due to current innovations in solar wafers, cells, and modules.
It’s possible to get 5 to 15 percent more power out of bifocal solar modules for only an additional 2% to 3% in price. Since fewer modules are needed to produce an equal amount of electricity, the BOS cost could be reduced by 3% to 7%.
Large wafers are used in module photoelectronic reactions to increase electricity generation per panel while decreasing the need for wiring, junction boxes, and other BOS components.
Modules with better hot spot performance and lower degradation due to light and temperature throughout a project’s lifespan will produce more electricity and lower LCOE.
As a final step, more and more modules are coming with warranties of up to 30 years, bringing the lifespan of solar power plants on par with that of natural gas combined-cycle units. Additionally, the additional electricity generation at the end of a solar project’s life cycle would further reduce the LCOE and increase competitiveness in the marketplace.
Solar energy projects worldwide will benefit from new technologies in the new millennium that will improve long-term performance while lowering the cost of systems.