Getting the price right for solar

To be competitive, solar-panel makers are ramping up manufacturing, betting that economies of scale will translate to lower costs.

The solar industry is finding that size matters.

Suppliers of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are in the midst of a multiyear investment boom, with an eye toward producing electricity as cheaply as the entrenched standard: fossil-fuel power generation.

Electricity from PV panels now costs substantially more than power from conventional fossil-fuel sources. Industry executives say, however, that ramping up the volume of panel production--regardless of any solar cell technology improvements--will bring solar closer in line with today's power rates.

"We have to cut the cost in half of where we are today, and we can do that with a lot of the technologies and solutions available to us today," said Charlie Gay, vice president and general manager of Applied Material's solar business group, while speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's

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