18 May 2009


First Solar Sharp

Interview: Travis Bradford, President, Prometheus Institute

When do you expect that the current 'oversupply' situation might end? And what module price development do you expect for this and next year?

With over 17 gigawatts of manufacturing capacity on-line by the end of 2009 and ample polysilicon supplies, it will be a few years before oversupply can be remedied through both growth in demand and supply elimination. Given the tough markets conditions and 30% capacity utilization worldwide, our module price forecast for 2009 is $2.35 per Watt over the whole year, using a weighted average of both crystalline and thin film module. Prices should fall below $2.00 per Watt on average in 2010.

What is your vision for thin-film technology and the numerous new manufacturers?

Among the analysts worldwide, we are perhaps among the most bullish about thin film prospects. Despite the reality that most thin film producers will not succeed, a small handful that can meet or beat the price and performance of First Solar will come to market soon and scale very quickly.

What will be your response to companies claiming to sell (thin-film) modules at $ 1/Wp next year?

Most will not meet that target, but some may. The question is can anyone "profitably" sell at that price. As surprising as that may seem, we think a few companies will be able to get there.

Do you foresee improvements in polysilicon supply and thus the potential for further cost reductions of solar modules in 2010?

Yes, but not enough for all the manufacturers to still compete. Price competition, dwindling margins, and feedstock contract renegotiations will be brutal for a few years. The strongest will survive and eventually thrive, but some companies will not succeed and follow strategies including outsourcing production to China (BP, GE), diversifying technology pathways (Sharp and Q-cells), or exiting the business (???).

Where and when do you expect to see major grid parity markets first?

The Us will be the first and largest grid parity market. 15 percent of the country is already at grid parity at today's reduced system prices, rising to half over the next decade.

Why do you expect thin-film to become the dominant solar PV technology in a few years' time?

Three fundamental reasons - 1) lowest levelized cost of electricity (low module and system cost per Watt), 2) high capital efficiency (low capital expenditure per Watt) 3) well suited to temperature and light conditions of high-growth markets (utility and commercial customers in Europe, Japan, and non-southwest US).

Do you expect countries such as China and India to become the world's major markets within 5 years?

No. They won't even be in the top 3 - maybe not in the top 5. Beyond 5 years, they have great potential, but fixing pricing and supporting policy for the rollout with be the responsibility of the governments involved. The Chinese government does not yet fundamentally believe that solar is a cheap and widely applicable option for electricity generation. The Indian government may be more inclined, but faces a bureaucratic and local-national divide that complicates making a strong show of support for the rapid deployment.

How will the solar industry look in 5 years from now? Isn't the solar industry likely to follow the wind-energy industry soon with more than 90% of the market shared by only 10 major manufacturers?

Consolidation is definitely going to occur, but perhaps not to that degree. Historically 80% of the productions was handled by the top 20 companies. I would not be surprised to see it persist in that range, due to the many different technologies deployed and markets served.

What do you expect to learn at The Solar Future conference?

The same cutting edge insights I learn there every year. I am really looking forward to it.


Travis will be one of the experts speaking at The Solar Future conference.

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