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Solar Modules Production Costs Fall as Low as $0.48/W in 2017

Lux Research

CIGS modules fall the most, nearly matching crystalline silicon, but CdTe remains the low-cost leader, as manufacturers push to profitability, says Lux Research

BOSTON, MA – December 12, 2012 – The solar industry is reeling from overcapacity and supply outstrips demand by two to one. It needs to drive costs lower in order to overcome diminished subsidies and regain profitability – and the cost reductions it needs are at hand, according to Lux Research.

Module prices have fallen precipitously over the past four years to a low of $0.70/W but the cost of goods sold (COGS) for modules has not reached this level, resulting in massive losses for most module manufacturers.

“With pressure from competitors, customers, and policy-makers to drop prices even further, manufacturers need to drive costs down to survive and thrive during the coming years of growth in the demand market,” said Ed Cahill, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, “Module Cost Structure Update: Path to Profitability.”

Lux Research conducted a cost and sensitivity analysis, examining the impacts of drivers like low-cost manufacturing locations, high efficiency, increased capacity utilization, and higher production yields on module COGS. Among their findings:

  • CIGS has the greatest potential to cut cost. COGS will fall across the board between 2012 and 2017, but the rate of decline will be the steepest for copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) thin-film modules, which can shave $0.14/W off the cost to $0.64/W.

  • Cadmium  telluride (CdTe) remains the low cost leader. Despite the travails of its main champion, First Solar, CdTe thin-film modules will remain the cheapest solar option in 2017, at $0.48/W, down from the current $0.67/W.

  • Efficiencies are the key driver. Manufacturing location has the greatest potential influence on COGS but overcapacity makes opening new facilities in low-cost countries unlikely. Consequently, increasing module efficiencies will make the most difference, up to $0.09/W for mc-Si and $0.21/W for CIGS.

The report, titled “Module Cost Structure Update: Path to Profitability,” is part of the Lux Research Solar Components Intelligence service.