Solar Panels for Home
Start Up Cost
The solar industry has high barriers of entry due to the large sunk-in cost required in setting up the manufacturing plant. The predominant material used in the manufacturing of PV modules (photo-voltaic) is silicon based poly-silicon. The production of silicon is a concentrated market which primarily supplies the electronics industry. Major US firms such as First Solar are dependent on these producers, which are not prone to vertical integration, without long-term contracts.
The solar panel producers use these long term contracts to limit their risk to the downstream volatility of price parity kwh to fossil fuels. Polysilicon manufacturers can sell silicon with less purity than silicon required for silicon requirements in electronics devices. But the Silicon based modules still present the best conversion rate of photons (sunlight) to wattage( electricity).
Competition from China
One of the major PV manufacturers based in China Trina Ltd. uses a version of this polysilicon method. This technology is the dominant method because it provides the highest conversion rate. First Solar uses a similar method but based on thin-film cells made of Cadium Telluride (CdTe). It can provide greater watts (power) per wafer/ module but requires greater surface area which may be a space constraint.
Investments and Financing
One of the major influences finance plays in the solar industry is its capital requirements and the speed at which the cashflow returns to its investors. Investors are looking for quick returns on their investment on the average 3-5 year outlook, where the company can be either sold or placed in an IPO on the public market. Many web site social networking sites fall into this category.
Europe, China and the US Government
The solar industry is heavily dependent on the US market as well as the Euro zone which falls to the will of the people to support subsidy parity with fossil fuels (equal pricing for a kwh generated by burning oil, coal vs. wind, solar or nuclear power etc.). If government does not provide a market at this critical juncture of growth, the solar industry could be shelved.
China is leading the way as far as manufacturing but has yet to fully encompass its own alternative energy market. While it has been focused on supporting its manufacturers for exports to Europe and establishing a market in the US for its module exports.
First Solar signed a memorandum deal in Ordos, China in 2009 with President Obama promoting trade relations imports into China while supporting US jobs. Unfortunately this has not progressed very far, not surprisingly with in the province there are many well established PV module manufacturers who contested the project. The Province of Ordos has recently reopened bids for the project and First Solar is welcome to submit bids also.