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Saturday, November 03, 2012

When competition gets hot

Solar panels Chinese manufacturers make about 50 million of them a year.
Ten years ago, solar panels were made mostly in the United States, Germany, and Japan.
They also have four of the world’s top five solar-panel manufacturers.
What makes this particularly impressive is that the industry elsewhere has been doubling in size every two years, and Chinese manufacturers have done even better, doubling their production roughly every year.
That isn’t due to cheap labor in Chinese factories: making solar cells requires such expensive equipment and materials that labor contributes just a small fraction of the overall cost.
The main reason is that it’s faster and cheaper for them to build factories, thanks to inexpensive, efficient construction crews and China’s streamlined permitting process.
But the solar market is rapidly evolving, and technological innovations are becoming increasingly essential.
Though demand for solar power continues to grow around the world, the market is flooded with photovoltaic panels.
For solar manufacturers today, that means inventing cells that are more efficient at converting light into electricity, keeping cost down while converting efficiency.
Gallium arsenide a competitor to crystalline silicon, can be made into films of material that can generate as much electricity as a typical silicon cell but are just a hundredth as thick, potentially reducing material costs.
Such thin films can also be fl exible: they could be rolled up, reducing packaging and shipping costs, and they could be built into roofi ng shingles to reduce installation costs.
Thin film technology will eventually challenge conventional solar panels, if that happens, Chinese makers of crystalline silicon solar cells may not dominate the market forever.
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