The waiting game on new solar tech

A leading global solar conference saw plenty of great ideas on show, but they may take a while to reach the marketplace. Meanwhile, there's more than meets the eye to solar pricing.

The first day of conferences at the Intersolar Munich show was interesting, mainly because it ended with more questions than when it started. This was especially true for the sessions on materials and manufacturing, which were full of great ideas, new concepts, and plenty of reasons why technology should be changing. But when questions were raised as to when, and with what next generation concept the technologies would be implemented, the enthusiasm certainly waned.

The simple fact is that capital expenditures are off the table for 2013. Even the lucky producers that are above 90 per cent utilization just don’t have the confidence – or the balance sheets – to make that leap of faith. As such, new materials and process tools are held in limbo. Will 2014 be the year? Who will be the first mover? With what new cell concept? And will others follow suit?

The case for roadmap enactment is all the more pertinent. But as one attendee remarked, PV technologies look like the early days of the semiconductor industry in the 70s, when the landscape wasn’t defined clearly enough to merit having a roadmap. While most semi/solar analogies don’t have much substance, this one may turn out to be the exception.

But the enthusiasm of the tool suppliers appears to be holding up, despite the empty order books.

Day 2 – solar pricing

Day two at Intersolar Munich was dominated by an analyst roundtable that lasted over two hours and spanned the full spectrum of solar PV issues. Being on the panel allowed a great chance to point out that a fairly simple term – average selling price, or ASP – is not well understood, and how that is impacting any constructive debate on the effects of anti-dumping tariffs in Europe.

The background is that too many people are citing ASP as a single, one-dimensional figure and this simply fails to account for the fact that prices increase along the value chain. The way I tried to simplify and explain on the panel was to remind everyone that apples are not oranges. So the explanation went like this…

-- Apple 1: this is the lowest module ASP figure and is essentially ex-works, or factory-gate.

-- Orange 1: this is a CIF or FOB price, say at the shipping dock in Shanghai.

-- Apple 2: this could be FOB (ex-duties) at Rotterdam in Europe.

-- And lastly Orange 2: this is fully-loaded DDP at-site, at say a solar power plant in Cornwall, UK.

Each of these ASPs is different and has different indirect costs built in. So if the industry is citing the effect of duties, then the DDP ASP should be noted. So, anti-dumping duties ups the DDP, but the ex-works ASP can be fixed. In reality of course, the ex-works price might come down to partially offset any landed duties.

This article was originally published by SolarBuzz. Republished with permission.

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