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Solar Industry Demands Silver

Nobel Laureate economist, Milton Friedman, famously quipped, “The major monetary metal in history is Silver, not Gold.” The past 50 years or so have seen the demonetization of Silver by governments and central banks, but it remains an invaluable Precious Metal to all of mankind. Whether for jewelry, investment purposes or crucial-but-unseen industrial applications, Silver touches our lives and our bodies every day.

Silver Supply Around the World

Silver has more, and more varied, uses and applications than any other limited resource, excepting perhaps fresh water and oil. Over half of the world’s annual Silver supply is used not for personal adornment or investment products, but in an industrial capacity.

Silver is unique because it is not only the most reflective of all known metals, it is also the most electrically and thermally conductive of all known metals. Without Silver, solar energy wouldn’t work as we know it. Silver’s natural properties contribute to the functioning of photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells.

A Silver paste is a critical element in both photovoltaic cells and crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells. Due to the crucial importance of humankind pursuing more sustainable, non-fossil fuel-based energy sources, the future of solar cell production and the implementation of solar power is bright! 

How Does a Solar Panel Work?

When sunlight shines on a silicon cell it generates electrons. The solar PV cell contains a Silver paste that collects these electrons which form an electrical current. Silver, with its great conductivity, helps guide the gathered electricity out of the cell so it can be used or stored for later. The great electrical resistivity of Silver increases how much sunlight it may capture, how much energy conduct it may conduct, and the total power that is ultimately collected in a solar cell. This fact means that any possible Silver substitutes, like Copper or nickel phosphide, are totally inferior to Silver for use in solar panels. Without silver, solar panels could not turn sunlight into usable energy with the same efficiency, and when one is making electricity out of thin air, efficiency counts for a lot.

How Much Silver Does a Solar Panel Use?

The average solar panel uses about 20 grams, or 0.643 troy ounces, of Silver. That doesn’t sound like much, but we must think about volume and proportion. Silver’s cost contributes to the price of solar panels disproportionally when compared to virtually any other technological application. The average cell phone, for example, contains just 200 to 300 milligrams of Silver. That’s somewhere between 0.006 and 0.009 of an ounce. An average computer holds about 1 gram of Silver, or about 0.032 of an ounce.

How Much Silver is Used by the Solar Industry?

In 2015, just over 7% of the world’s annual Silver supply went to the solar industry worldwide. That may not seem like a significant percentage, but the demand for solar power is increasing exponentially, especially in the world’s most densely populated countries like China and India. Industry experts foresee massive growth in solar demand. Some experts believe that yearly consumption of Silver for solar PV cells could nearly double to 148 million ounces by the end of the year.

The skyrocketing global demand for solar panels may contribute to the escalating Silver market in the near future. It is possible that Silver spot price increases could have a detrimental impact both on the production costs of solar panels and the burgeoning solar industry worldwide, though experts believe that is a long way off.


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