China has surprised everyone, including I suspect, themselves. The trigger for the growth was probably the sudden drop in module prices to $0.30/W from over $0.50W last year, combined with higher than expected FIT subsidies. China has been building significant new manufacturing capacity (exceeding 100GW) and much of this has been the latest mono/PERC technology that has improved efficiency from the 15% of multi-crystalline to around 20%. The evidence is that the low Chinese module pricing is not due to dumping below cost, but is a profitable and sustainable business for the biggest manufacturers who are consolidating control over the Chinese PV business and given their scale, the world PV business.
For the PV business $0.30/W module costs mean that a $1.00/W system cost for utility scale systems is now common worldwide. This has long been the goal for PV to become competitive with fossil fuels. It also means that PV in many markets is competitive with wind power. At these prices, it makes sense for China to increase their scale of PV deployment and utilize their manufacturing capacity.
For StratoSolar, $1.0/W system cost translates to $0.02/kWh electricity cost, far below fossil fuels and ground PV and low enough to make electricity from storage affordable and synthetic fuels affordable. The fundamental driver of energy markets is economics. PV becoming market competitive should substantially increase its growth rate over the current low predictions by the EIA and others. This growth should soon expose the limits to solar PV growth and the benefits StratoSolar brings to PV.
By Edmund Kelly