Solar power continues to become more economical
with every passing month. The price of standard monocrystalline/polycrystalline 210W to 300W modules
has halved, from above $3/watt to below $1.70/watt in the past 12 months. The Canadian province of Ontario
has become the first location in North America to offer an aggressive feed-in tariff comparable to the feed-in tariffs in Germany
and Spain, paying above 80 cents/kWh for power generated by small rooftop photovoltaic installations. The US federal government is also offering
massive tax breaks for solar installations as part of the 2009 ARRA act.
The new Ontario feed-in tariff (PDF)
pays between 70 and 81 Canadian cents per kWh for rooftop power generated by photovoltaics. Payments are lower for power generated by ground mounted installations, and the payments decrease as the system size grows larger than 250kW. There is also a requirement that "Class 1" and "Class 2" high quality farm land must not be used for ground based PV installations. The Ontario FIT's domestic minimum 50% content requirement
means that installers will need to purchase Ontario-manufactured solar modules, source their cables and interconnects from Ontario sources, and perform the installation entirely with Ontario-based labor. Companies such as Canadian Solar
have announced plans to build 200MW+ of module assembly capacity in Ontario to meet this domestic-content requirement. In this arrangement, cells will be imported from the factory in China
and assembled into whole modules at the plant in Ontario.
Chinese based vertically integrated solar cell+module manufacturers such as Trina Solar
, JA Solar
and a vast oversupply in the global market
are driving costs even lower, past the $1.70 USD/watt mark. Dozens of smaller firms in China
are also sourcing 125mm or 156mm cells from 3rd parties to assemble modules in competition with the larger companies such as Suntech.
Big players in the US thin-film manufacturing market, First Solar
both both claim to have achieved and passed the magical $1/watt manufacturing mark. With 2009 revenues of $2 billion USD, First Solar is becoming the 500 pound gorilla in the thin-film market.
PV modules from reputable manufacturers are mostly all warranted for 80% of original power levels after 25 years of service life. Even without government subsidies, in the right climate a grid-tied residential solar system can now have a lifetime kWh cost below 15 US cents/kWh. This $0.15c figure also assumes that the system will have zero scrap or resale value after 20 or 25 years of service...