SolarCity chief says solar growth will be ‘infinite’ once grid parity is reached

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive has forecast ‘infinite’ growth in the global solar market, as soon as unsubsidised solar PV is able to generate energy at a lower cost than traditional fossil fuels.

Rive – who co-founded the US solar leasing juggernaut with his brother, Peter, and cousin, Tesla founder Elon Musk – made the comments in a conference call, after it was revealed SolarCity was buying solar panel start-up, Silevo.

“Being fully vertically integrated allows us to control the cost of solar per kilowatt-hour installed, which ultimately is the metric that matters,” said CEO Lyndon Rive in a conference call.

That would allow the company to provide energy lower than the grid without subsidies, he said. And if you do that, “potentially the market is infinite for the next 30 or 40 years.”

Rive and Musk have both suggested that plans like theirs, to produce and install solar at scale, would soon drive the cost of solar down far enough to beat the grid and disrupt the electric utilty industry status quo. In a statement on the company’s blog, they said they “absolutely believed” solar power could and would become the world’s predominant source of energy “within our lifetimes.”

But they also conceded that “a lot of panels” would have to be manufactured and installed for that to happen. “The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context,” the SolarCity trio said.

“The path to ultimately having solar power way cheaper than coal or fracked gases is to combine huge economies of scale with the most advanced technologies,” said Musk in the same conference call.

The company already owns a mounting rack company called Zep Solar and will look for other acquisitions in the future to wring costs from delivering solar, executives said.

At this stage, the company’s plans for its newest acquisition are to start shipping Silevo’s super efficient (21%) silicon solar panels from a huge 1GW factory in upstate New York (powered largely by hydro power) within the next two years.

“Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry,” said the Rive brother and Musk on the company blog.

“What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing.

“Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.

Top image via Wikipedia

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson