REW has an article by Charlie Gay of Applied Materials on the future of solar pv power - Accelerating Solar: A Look at the Next Decade. I like the note about Chinese utilities producing aluminium as a way of leveling load - remember that next time some nuclear power zealot starts raving away about the need for "baseload power"...
There is a lot of price pressure and cost pressure in the photovoltaics industry. Much of that is coming from the scale that’s happened and the capacity that’s been installed. We’ve seen costs come down fairly rapidly in addition to those prices coming down and that’s helping make this technology evolve and grow even faster. (Many) of the markets are geographically significant — Germany and Europe more broadly — but what we’re seeing is also a lot of change and growth happening in China, in India, in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Many parts of the world already have electricity rates that are over $0.40/kWhr. Solar today averages $0.25/kWhr. In almost all of Africa, Pakistan, Hawaii, Italy and large portions of Japan, the price of electricity is already in excess of what the cost of electricity is coming from solar. Solar can make a difference and what’s exciting is that the markets can grow as the industry grows. We’ve had a lot of different opportunities to be able to scale this industry in an organic and continuous fashion.
Of the changes that are happening, we see a lot coming from China. We see utilities in China where there are basically less than 10 major utilities already getting actively engaged in solar and becoming vertically integrated. A utility in China is very different than a utility in the U.S. so those utilities are able to bring the market along with the manufacturing. Many of them today make their own aluminum, for example, as part of how they do load leveling. Rather than worrying about pumping water uphill for storage, they use that nighttime power to create other products. Several utilities have already taken large steps toward getting to large-scale manufacturing. Many of them are becoming significant players, able to bring down the total costs across the value chain.