Solar Manufacturing Investment To Catch Up to Chips In Just 2 Years

Investment in solar cell production will equal investment in semiconductor manufacturing by 2010, research firm iSuppli said this week. If that’s not a meaningful milestone to convince those that cut their teeth in infotech that the solar boom is upon us, well, then I don’t know what is.

According to iSuppli’s report, the worldwide production of solar photovoltaic cells will rise four-fold over the next two years to reach 12 GW by 2010 — or 400 production lines each producing 1 MW of cells per year. And further in the future that could be 1 GW per factory per year. That’s in comparison to the 3.5 GW, or 90 to 100 production lines, in 2007. In terms of company revenues, the solar PV makers are expecting to increase their sales 40 to 50 percent over the next few years.

iSuppli analyst Henning Wicht said massive solar PV factories will be on par with the huge chip fabs that have become standard to support the IT industry: Each solar factory will require $500 million of investment, provide 1,000 jobs and bring in $1 billion in annual revenue.

With all this investment into solar production, the goal is that solar cells will become significantly cheaper over the years; iSuppli predicts as early as 2012 solar could cost the same as electricity from the power grid (“reach grid parity” in industry parlance) in sunny nations. And for less sunny places, it could be closer to 2018, which is still just a decade away.