Issue 6, 2016

Economically sustainable scaling of photovoltaics to meet climate targets


To meet climate targets, power generation capacity from photovoltaics (PV) in 2030 will have to be much greater than is predicted from either steady state growth using today's manufacturing capacity or industry roadmaps. Analysis of whether current technology can scale, in an economically sustainable way, to sufficient levels to meet these targets has not yet been undertaken, nor have tools to perform this analysis been presented. Here, we use bottom-up cost modeling to predict cumulative capacity as a function of technological and economic variables. We find that today’s technology falls short in two ways: profits are too small relative to upfront factory costs to grow manufacturing capacity rapidly enough to meet climate targets, and costs are too high to generate enough demand to meet climate targets. We show that decreasing the capital intensity (capex) of PV manufacturing to increase manufacturing capacity and effectively reducing cost (e.g., through higher efficiency) to increase demand are the most effective and least risky ways to address these barriers to scale. We also assess the effects of variations in demand due to hard-to-predict factors, like public policy, on the necessary reductions in cost. Finally, we review examples of redundant technology pathways for crystalline silicon PV to achieve the necessary innovations in capex, performance, and price.

Graphical abstract: Economically sustainable scaling of photovoltaics to meet climate targets

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Article information

Article type
16 Feb 2016
11 Apr 2016
First published
21 Apr 2016
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Energy Environ. Sci., 2016,9, 2122-2129

Economically sustainable scaling of photovoltaics to meet climate targets

D. B. Needleman, J. R. Poindexter, R. C. Kurchin, I. Marius Peters, G. Wilson and T. Buonassisi, Energy Environ. Sci., 2016, 9, 2122 DOI: 10.1039/C6EE00484A

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