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A Silver Lining In Solar Energy Demand?

Solar energy is seen as an important step towards cleaning up human society.  The process works by using radiant light and heat from the sun harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies like solar heating, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture and artificial photosynthesis.

The development of solar energy is so important that, in 2011, The International Energy Agency said that “the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared.” 

One aspect of silver, which many people do not know about, is the amount of silver needed in order to create solar panels. Silver has long been needed in industrial applications.

Back in the days of analogue photography, film was coated with a minute layer of silver chloride, silver bromide or silver iodide.  Silver has also been important for the production of motion pictures, as movie screens were once covered in paint embedded with the most reflective metal – silver – thus resulting in the “silver screen.”

Obviously today things have become more digitized. Silver demand has fallen about 70% according to some sources. But that doesn’t mean silver today serves no purpose. Photovoltaic (PV) installation – otherwise termed solar energy – is a promising technology that could lead to sustained silver demand for the long term.


Each solar panel has between 15 and 20 grams of silver, which, assuming $15 silver, is about $20 per solar panel.

Solar is not the only industrial use for silver in the modern world. Cell phones, computers, automobiles and water-purification systems all require silver, and the so-called “devil’s metal” contains antibacterial properties, prompting its use in the manufacturing of surgical instruments, stethoscopes and other health care tools. Demand is worldwide, too, as China accounts for 30% of the market. Installed capacity has been increasing rapidly every year as costs decrease.

Solar photovoltaic system prices are declining steadily, having dropped by 12-19 percent nationwide in 2013, according to a report from the Energy Department and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

“These price drops are consistent with previous annual reductions achieved since 2010, when the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative was established,” NREL’s David Feldman, a lead author of the report said. “However, the report also indicates that there are significant variations in reported pricing both geographically and across market segments due to a variety of factors, including value-based pricing based on local competition within the marketplace and prevailing electric retail rates. Other factors include differences in specific system configurations such as panel efficiency, mounting structure, and geographic location; and the time lags between commitments and commercial operation for utility-scale systems.”

The report, entitled Photovoltaic (PV) Pricing Trends: Historical, Recent, and Near-Term Projections (2014 Edition), demonstrates a downward trajectory in PV system pricing continued in 2013, and it is expected to continue through 2016 and beyond. Some other findings in the report include:

  • Modeled utility-scale PV system prices dropped below $2 a watt in 2013, and continued their decline in 2014, reaching roughly $1.80 a watt, which is 59% below 2010 pricing.
  • PV is anticipated to reach widespread grid parity in the US without federal or state subsidies.

“There is still considerable uncertainty as to how low PV system prices will drop in the next five to 10 years,” according to Feldman. “However, there appears to be an emerging consensus that the SunShot’s price reduction targets are within reach and more and more likely to be realized. We see this reflected in the fact that many of the current projections are far lower than projections made in the recent past by the same sources.”


80 metric tons of silver are needed in order to generate one gigawatt, or 1 million kilowatts, of electricity, which could power about 90 average American homes annually. In 2016, experts anticipate nearly a million-and-half metric tons of silver are expected to be needed to meet solar demand in the US. Overall electricity generated by U.S. utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants has increased more than 100 percent in 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. Over the last 40 years, prices have dropped considerably for photovolatic cells.


Ikea has been a big investor in alternative energies and, as can be seen by the photo below, many of their stores are powered by solar.

An impressive 87 percent of IKEA's facilities here in the U.S. are powered by solar.

Solar’s future is looking bright as the average cost of city-provided energy increased 37%. Increasing numbers of homeowners are therefore looking to solar as a viable energy to power their homes.  Solar photovoltaic effect was first identified 175 years ago. It seems that, in the 21st century, it is poised to go mainstream.

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