Silver demand for PV manufacturing may have peaked in 2019

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The 100 million ounces of silver used by the solar manufacturing industry last year could mark a high water mark, according to industry body The Silver Institute.

The Washington DC-based organization made the prediction in its Silver’s Important Role in Solar Power report, which predicted a retreat in the amount of solar generation capacity to be rolled out worldwide up to 2023.

Demand from the solar sector amounted to 11% of the overall silver market last year but the PV industry is expected to require an average of 70-80 million ounces per year out to 2030, according to the institute.

The report, written by U.S.-based commodities advisor CRU Consulting, forecasts solar-related silver demand will decrease up to 2023 because of lower volumes of solar generation capacity being deployed and will subsequently be affected by technological advances aimed at reducing the amount of the material used in silver pastes.

Thrifting

The report’s authors noted the ability of PV manufacturers to bear down on silver content – a process referred to as ‘thrifting’ – has reduced since 2016 but they anticipated the average 111mg of the precious metal needed for each solar cell last year would nevertheless fall to 80mg by 2030.

“A key driver for this thrifting is the price of silver,” the report stated, “when it more than doubled between 2009 and 2011, the amount of silver in the average PV cell halved [sic] from 521mg to 327mg. The rate of thrifting then halved between 2012 and 2017 as the price of silver fell from $31 to $17 per ounce.”

With silver expected to rise in value from $16 to $20 per ounce up to 2024, it is anticipated the rate of thrifting will continue to reduce.

The authors of the study expect the push for more efficient solar panels will diminish the chances of copper or aluminum gaining market share as an alternative to silver this decade.

A report published by The Silver Institute in April predicted the metal’s price would decline only 3% this year, despite the impact of Covid-19 on demand. That study predicted solar manufacturing demand for silver would fall 3% from 98.7 million ounces last year to 96.1 million this year.