102 countries adopts solar power, up from just 18, two years back

The recent fall in prices of solar panels is only accelerating the push to solar. ET spoke to Charlie Gay, president, Applied Solar, Applied Materials Inc, a supplier of manufacturing components to solar industry on the outlook for solar power. Edited excerpts:

How is the market for solar power?

Market for solar continue to grow. It is 20% larger than last year – it was 27 GW in 2011. besides the market is shifting from Germany, Italy to new regions. India, China, US, Japan are all adopting solar power. In Japan the push to solar was post the earthquake-tsunami in 2011. abput a month back the Japanese government shut down last nuclear reactor and are opting for renewable sources of power. As far as manufacturing is concerned, there’s lot of scaling up in China and economies of scale are driving down costs. Solar today is $85 cents per watt, one year back it was $1.2 per watt. This is the cost of solar modules. About 102 countries installing solar, from just 18, two years back.

Given that there is a glut in the market for solar cells, should companies shift focus to setting up solar power generation plants rather than manufacturing cells?

It is up to individual entrepreneur to choose what to do. Technology is a major driver in solar energy. Downstream opportunity is in sales, marketing, branding – it is better than manufacturing. India can shine in marketing, creating packging and products.

There’s lot of innovation happening in technology and manufacturers could focus on high-end part of the market, that is, cells that have high efficiency.

How is efficiency (the rate at which solar panel converts sun light into electricity) of solar modules changing?

Average module is 15% efficient and the highest is 20%. Crystalline silicon solar module gives more than 20% efficiency. Three years ago the efficiencies were in the range of 13% to 17%. About $5 billion is being spent annually in solar R&D. and this spend is 30% more than three years back. In the next few years we will have cells with more than 21% efficiency.