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Global PV industry revenues are also projected to continue rising. The current level of revenues across the PV supply chain was about $30 billion in 2008. He said this level of revenues places the PV industry where the semiconductor industry was in the early 1980s. “So maybe this is the perfect time to discuss whether SEMATECH is the right model. The industry is getting to a similar scale of production to where the semiconductor industry was in the early 1980s, and going forward we’re talking about billions of dollars of investment in new PV ‘fab’ facilities.”

Next, Dr. Margolis turned to the Department of Energy’s Solar Program, which received steady funding of about $80 million from FY2001 to FY2006. Then, in FY2007, the Solar Program’s budget increased substantially, under the Solar America Initiative, to about $160 million per year. This is expected to increase again under the new Obama administration, with new resources to leverage private sector investments through a host of collaborative mechanisms.

The DoE solar R&D pipeline, he went on, is not really a linear process, but one with feedbacks and interactions. He focused on one piece, the Technology Pathway Partnerships (TPPs). The whole pipeline supports many early-stage partnerships between universities and other parts of the supply chain. The TPPs started in 1997 with a three-year grant of $168 million in DoE funds, and a total of $357 million including industry matching funds. This represented a shift from the prior focus on the device and module level to an emphasis on total system costs, including installation, inverters, and balance of system components. The partnerships, some of them with over a dozen members, included more than 50 companies, 14 universities, three nonprofits, and two national labs. Dr. Margolis suggested that this experiment might be a model for how to foster collaboration across different actors in the PV industry.


FIGURE 3 DoE solar program funding FY2001-FY2008.
SOURCE: Robert Margolis, Presentation at April 23, 2009, National Academies Symposium on “The Future of Photovoltaics Manufacturing in the United States.”

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