A Silicon Solar Module For Just Over $1?

It’s finally happened. You can buy a solar modulefor less than the price of a king-sized Twix bar.

A company recently offered to sell polycrystalline silicon solarpanels for a utility scale solar project for $1.11 a watt, said DavidMiles, Consulting Vice President, Project & Business Development for the Americas division of SunCarrier, a project developer. Miles willspeak next week at Greentech Media’s 2010 Solar Summit, taking place in Arizona.

"And that’s poly," he emphasized.

The module comes from a company that’s "un-financible," he added. Inother words, it comes from a company that isn’t BP Solar, Suntech PowerHoldings, First Solar or one of the limited number of establishedbrands. Banks generally only consider giving loans to projects withname-brand panels; thus, project developers may not be snapping up those bargain panels. (Projects with BP panels can get loans for around sixpercent, while Suntech projects get around 7 to 7.5 percent, he added.)

But still, it was a polysilicon module for a little over $1. It’s the industrial equivalent of the Taco Bell value meal.

"That’s ridiculously low," said Shyam Mehta, senior analyst atGreentech Media. Right now, the lowest-of-the-low modules hover ataround $1.60 a watt, Mehta said.

Miles said he has heard rumors — rumors, mind you — that anengineering and procurement company says it can deliver turnkey solarsystems for $3.14 a watt. The usual bargain-basement price hovers around $5.

What’s going on here? Although the solar industry has recovered fromthe doldrums of 2009, panel supplies remain healthy and thereforecontinue to decline. To top it off, banks remain incredibly reluctant to finance utility projects at the moment. As a result, independent powerproviders are signing contracts with utilities but often can’t moveforward because of bureaucratic inertia, a lack of money and otherissues.

"The bulldozers aren’t moving," Miles said.

In this environment, desperation creeps in. In contrast, someresidential solar specialists like Sungevity say business has been accelerating.

What will break the logjam in utility-scale projects? It’s hard tosay, but one large module maker from China is contemplating setting up a group to finance developers that choose the company’s panels.



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