It's finally happened. You can buy a solar module for less than the price of a king-sized Twix bar.
A company recently offered to sell polycrystalline silicon solar panels for a utility scale solar project for $1.11 a watt, said David Miles, Consulting Vice President, Project & Business Development for the Americas division of SunCarrier, a project developer. Miles will speak 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. In other words, it comes from a company that isn't BP Solar, Suntech Power Holdings, First Solar or one of the limited number of established brands. Banks generally only consider giving loans to projects with name-brand panels; thus, project developers may not be snapping up those bargain panels. (Projects with BP panels can get loans for around six percent, 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 at Greentech Media. Right now, the lowest-of-the-low modules hover at around $1.60 a watt, Mehta said.
Miles said he has heard rumors -- rumors, mind you -- that an engineering and procurement company says it can deliver turnkey solar systems for $3.14 a watt. The usual bargain-basement price hovers around $5.
What's going on here? Although the solar industry has recovered from the doldrums of 2009, panel supplies remain healthy and therefore continue to decline. To top it off, banks remain incredibly reluctant to finance utility projects at the moment. As a result, independent power providers are signing contracts with utilities but often can't move forward because of bureaucratic inertia, a lack of money and other issues.
"The bulldozers aren't moving," Miles said.
In this environment, desperation creeps in. In contrast, some residential solar specialists like Sungevity say business has been accelerating.
What will break the logjam in utility-scale projects? It's hard to say, but one large module maker from China is contemplating setting up a group to finance developers that choose the company's panels.