Brien Lundin: Solar power soon may not need silver, but then people will need it as money


By Brien Lundin
Gold Newsletter Alert 792
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't blame me!

That's what I've been telling the silver bugs who have assailed me after my solar research and development company, Natcore Technology (NXT.V), announced a new, high-efficiency solar cell structure that eliminates high-cost silver.

Natcore's scientists were able to use the company's proprietary laser-processing techniques to manufacture a proven high-efficiency cell design that had been impractical to manufacture in mass quantities. This would allow for very significant improvements in cost per watt for solar energy.

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That was dramatic enough. But then, in August, Natcore announced that they were able to take the design and process an important step further by eliminating silver. This took the improvements to yet another important level. It also created a mini-firestorm among silver bugs.

David Morgan, an authority on silver and the co-author of the just-published book "The Silver Manifesto," called me to tell me about some emails he had gotten from his readers asking if the discovery was real. As the chairman of Natcore, a co-founder, and its largest investor, I can tell you it is. And yes, it will have an important impact on the silver market.

According to our research, solar energy accounted for about 60 million ounces of silver demand in 2014, or about 6 percent of total demand. And that number was expected to rise to 15 percent of the total demand by 2018. Eventually, that demand will be removed from the market if and when Natcore's technology is adopted by industry -- and the adoption could be very swift, as Natcore has no interest in manufacturing solar cells and entering that ultra-competitive battleground for market share. Rather, the company's business model revolves around licensing the technology to any and all comers, earning a royalty on manufacturing equipment, materials, and -- most important -- each solar cell produced.

The royalty on solar cells will be very small for the manufacturers, giving them little incentive to try to innovate around Natcore's patented technology. But in the aggregate the revenue would be quite extraordinary for a small company like Natcore.

The good news for silver investors is that, even under this hopefully accelerated timeframe for adoption, the impact on the silver market won't likely come for at least a couple of years. And by that time, I expect the monetary factors underlying the precious metals markets will have the silver price far, far higher in any case.

Also, I can tell you from personal experience that silver is a truly exceptional element. Until Natcore's big breakthrough, an inestimable amount of time and money had been expended over decades in trying to remove silver from the cost equation for solar cells. The metal's many unique attributes, including high conductivity, had made it essential for the grid lines in these cells. I won't go into the details of Natcore's revolutionary new design at this point, but I can reveal that it is only the company's laser capability that allowed it to avoid silver entirely at last.

The point is that there will be other high-tech uses for silver. I can remember back in the early 1990s, when many experts insisted that digital photography was very limited in its capability and wouldn't replace silver use in photography. I took the other side of the argument, maintaining that, within 10 years, photographic demand for silver would be essentially eliminated as technology marched on.

But then came solar, replacing photographic demand. So some other new application will rear its head to replace solar demand. Silver is just too remarkable an element and its utility will find other uses. Most likely, it will be the metal's utility as money, because that really can't be replaced.

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