Why outdated industry metric found new victim in TSMC and CIGS technology

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Post-analysis of the announced exit of TSMC Solar from the sector has yet to touch on the real issue that confounds all thin-film technologies and a few in the high-performance end of the conventional crystalline silicon side of the business. 

The problem is an outdated adherence in all sectors of the industry, upstream and downstream, to providing data in watts and then attaching a price tag against it. 

Cost per watt (US$/W) remains the simple and supposedly correct approach when buying and selling PV modules. As a perceived commodity, what better way to make all products equal and differentiated or disadvantaged by using only the US$/W metric?

The biggest challenge for CdTe and CIGS technology from the thin-film sector, as it is for HJ and IBC on the silicon side, is that the technologies can offer greater kilowatt-hours produced than the mainstream commodity c-Si alternatives. 

Because CdTe and CIGS modules typically are smaller sized and have lower STC conversion efficiencies the use of the US$/W metric means they are forced to be priced at a discount to standard c-Si modules. 

The US$/W metric works in reverse for HJ and IBC modules as the higher production costs pushes upfront purchasing costs higher than standard c-Si modules, rendering them a niche market. 

Yet both technology classes often win hands down when judged against another more modern and justified but sadly less widely used metric – kWh of electricity produced. 

With CdTe and CIGS matching, and in certain conditions beating, standard c-Si modules on a module-to-module basis on kWh produced, the US$/W metric is unable to provide an accurate costing model. 

The higher US$/W price of HJ and IBC modules misses capturing the higher kWh produced and the ROI and higher earnings potential for users in markets that have a FiT system. 

Not surprisingly, producers of both technologies tirelessly promote the kWh produced metric and rightly so, yet the immaturity of the industry and continued perpetuation by the majority of the US$/W model has been the downfall of far too many companies in the last five years and foolishly propagates the notion that PV is a commodity business. 

TSMC Solar is just another victim of that perennial problem. 

Post analysis of the announced exit of TSMC Solar from the sector has yet to touch on the real issue that confounds all thin-film technologies and a few in the high-performance end of the conventional crystalline silicon side of the business. Image: Trina Solar
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