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subsidies “have been fantastic in bringing new people to our organization and our industry.” He attributed some key patents issued in the last few years largely to new members of BP’s research effort. He said that the company had filed for many patents, and suggested that “anything we might do to speed up and assist our friends at the patent office” would be extremely important. “This is a fast-paced industry.”

A second goal of importance, Mr. Daniels said, was to gain a better understanding of module lifetimes. All solar cells have a tendency to degrade under the sun’s rays, with thin-film panels degrading more rapidly than crystalline panels. The systems BP was installing in the field were assumed to last a minimum of 20 years in most cases and warranted accordingly. BP Solar is one of the only companies that have had products in the field for periods longer than their warranty. Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) modeling tools use assumptions regarding projected long term performance for solar products in order to predict the cost of solar energy for solar power systems. Actual history is available for some technologies, “but we really need to understand this better,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking at design models, and there’s an enormous amount of work ahead of us to get more precise about that.”

Mr. Daniels also commented on the continuing need for lower costs. He said that much of the U.S. industry’s progress had depended on the development of foreign markets. Most manufacturers, he said, have a multinational presence in site locations. “Were it not for that international competition,” he said, “our prices today would not be where they are. We are now in some cases at grid parity. We can do more to continue to drive costs down.”

Mark Pinto
Applied Materials

Mr. Pinto suggested that one of the most important lessons about PV development is to “remember the learning curve. We’re on one. This technology continues to get cheaper. It comes from innovation; it’s technology based. It’s not just using bigger glass; there’s real technology down to the fundamental level.”

Having said that, however, he agreed with the consensus that “it’s still driven by initiatives that need to happen on the demand level.” For the time being, he said “a lot of creative ideas,” such as those presented by Mr. O’Rourke, were needed to navigate the difficult currents of demand. But as time goes by, he said, “some of those things will go away, and the learning curve will take us where we need to go.”

In terms of manufacturing, Mr. Pinto again referred to the ideas presented by Mr. O’Rourke, including some of the disadvantages for manufacturers. “We’ve just made an initial start at addressing that here in Washington. But it is a difficult challenge for our customers, which is one reason so many manufacturers have built factories outside the United States.”

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