Vincent Le

Posted by Vincent Le on 13 Feb 2024

Silver: The New Oil of the Photovoltaic Era?


Known for its unparalleled reliability and electrical conductivity, silver plays a pivotal role in the efficiency and effectiveness of solar panels, making it an indispensable resource in the race towards a sustainable future.

In our previous analysis, Surging Solar Panel Installations are Draining Silver Supplies, we break down how the exponential growth in photovoltaic (PV) technology has put immense pressure on silver supplies.

Is silver really the “new oil” of the photovoltaic revolution?

Watch my newest interview with SBTV's Patrick Vierra to find out. I made a case that silver is transcending its monetary value and can facilitate the global transition away from fossil fuels.

The Rise of Photovoltaic Technology

The ascent of photovoltaic (PV) technology in recent years marks a significant shift in global energy dynamics. Once considered a niche market, solar energy has rapidly expanded, driven by technological advancements that have enhanced efficiency and reduced costs.

Today, solar power stands at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution, offering a viable and increasingly preferred alternative to fossil fuels.

The current state of PV technology is characterized by unprecedented efficiency and declining production costs. Innovations in material science and manufacturing processes have led to a dramatic decrease in the price of solar panels, making solar power the most cost-effective form of electricity generation in many regions around the globe.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the cost of electricity from solar PV fell by 82% between 2010 and 2019, reaching as low as $0.068 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in some areas. This trend of falling costs is set to continue, driven by ongoing improvements in panel efficiency and economies of scale in production.

The shift towards solar energy also carries profound geopolitical implications, particularly in reducing global dependency on fossil fuel resources concentrated in geopolitically sensitive regions.

Solar power offers countries the opportunity to diversify their energy sources, enhancing energy security and independence. This transition away from fossil fuels also aligns with global efforts to combat climate change, as solar power produces energy without direct emissions of greenhouse gases or pollutants.

Silver's Pivotal Role in Solar Panels

Despite ongoing research into alternative materials that could potentially replace silver in solar panels, several challenges persist.

Electrical Conductivity

Silver's exceptional electrical conductivity makes it an irreplaceable component in the manufacturing of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Within these panels, silver is primarily used in the form of a paste that is applied to the silicon cells.

This silver paste forms conductive lines that collect and transport the electricity generated by the silicon cells when exposed to sunlight. The efficiency and effectiveness of this energy conversion process are significantly enhanced by silver's conductivity, which is the highest among all metals. This ensures that the maximum amount of generated electricity is captured and utilized, making silver crucial for the optimal performance of solar panels.

Unparalleled Reliability

Alternatives such as copper, while cheaper, fall short in terms of conductivity and durability. Copper's tendency to oxidize can lead to a degradation of the conductive grid, compromising the solar panel's efficiency and lifespan.

The risk of reduced performance and the consequent impact on the warranty and reliability of solar panels makes manufacturers hesitant to move away from silver. The longevity and efficiency of solar panels are critical factors for both manufacturers and consumers, given the expected operational life of over 25 years for most panels.

Thus, despite its cost, silver remains the material of choice for ensuring the long-term performance and durability of photovoltaic technology.

China's Dominance in Photovoltaic Production

China's strategic investment in the photovoltaic (PV) sector, particularly in polysilicon—the key raw material for solar panel manufacturing—has positioned it as the global leader in solar technology.

Through substantial financial support and fostering large-scale production facilities, China has achieved significant overcapacity, driving down the costs of solar panels worldwide. This aggressive expansion into polysilicon production has not only made solar power more accessible globally but also solidified China's competitive edge in the renewable energy market.

China's dominance in the solar panel market carries profound geopolitical implications. By controlling a major share of the global supply chain for solar panels, China influences energy policies and energy security dynamics worldwide.

Countries increasingly reliant on solar energy may find themselves dependent on Chinese-manufactured panels, giving China considerable leverage in international relations.

Furthermore, China's lead in this critical sector of renewable energy underscores a shift in global energy leadership towards Asia, challenging traditional energy powerhouses and reshaping global energy governance.

The Inexorable Demand for Silver

Despite ongoing research aimed at reducing the quantity of silver required per panel through technological advancements, the overall demand for silver is anticipated to grow.

These advancements in solar panel efficiency, while optimizing the use of silver, paradoxically increase the appeal and deployment of solar solutions, thus expanding the volume of silver needed to meet the production demands of an ever-growing solar market.

Consequently, silver's role in the renewable energy sector is poised to become more critical than ever, highlighting the need for sustainable silver mining practices and exploration for new reserves to secure its supply chain.

The Economic & Political Landscape

As countries vie for access to this precious metal essential for renewable energy technologies, silver's strategic importance is elevated, influencing international trade relations and resource diplomacy. This scenario may lead to new alliances and conflicts, as nations seek to secure their energy futures and economic interests.

In the United States, federal elections and subsequent policies play a pivotal role in shaping the renewable energy sector's trajectory. Changes in administration often bring shifts in energy policy, directly affecting investments in solar energy and, by extension, the demand for silver.

Initiatives aimed at promoting green energy can accelerate the growth of the solar industry, thereby increasing silver consumption. Conversely, policies that favor fossil fuels over renewable resources may temporarily dampen the sector's expansion but cannot halt the global trend towards sustainable energy solutions.

Thus, political decisions in the U.S. have far-reaching implications, not only for domestic energy strategies but also for the global silver market and the renewable energy landscape at large.

A Response to Silver Demand

Anticipating a surge in silver demand, The Reserve enables investors to securely own physical silver for generations. With the capacity to store up to 50% of the global annual supply, it provides a secure and transparent way for investors to buy, store, and manage their precious metals and other assets.

As of February 2024


Gregor J. Gregersen 
Founder, Silver Bullion Pte Ltd