Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Monkeysign On Polysilicon Feedstock Shortages

I forgot to mention this in yesterday's roundup of new blogs, but Monkeysign has several articles worth mentioning about the shortage of polysilicon, the raw material used to make modern solar panels, afflicting the solar industry. (Monocrystalline solar panels are also manufactured, but they are much more expensive because of the even higher energy inputs needed to grow them.) First, this article in Photon International about ASiMI's electronics-grade polycrystalline factory in Montana, which Komatsu recently bought a controlling interest in.

Second, upon researching the industry projections, he posits a looming polysilicon shortage, caused in part by the industry's failure to invest in long-term contracts with its manufacturers. Some of this the industry believe there are other ways around this -- "recycling, inventory drawdowns, and silicon rerouted from the electronics sector." But given demand volatility, the industry wasn't going to create spare capacity when it wasn't immediately needed, so the result for solar manufacturers is steady or increasing prices for their principle raw feedstock, which will no doubt be passed on to end users.

Finally, he passes on this Wired article about the polysilicon shortage. It mentions that the polysilicon shortage could last until 2008, which would be how long it takes to build a new plant. In addition, we get the oftentimes standard wisdom that without federal subsidies, the solar industry is doomed.