Vertically integrated Chinese solar manufacturer JinkoSolar announced its “third straight quarter of profitability” and a Q4 gross margin of 24.7 percent.  The company’s Q4 showcased a strong margin aided by impressive cost containment and geographical diversification.  Shyam Mehta, Senior Solar Analyst at GTM Research, notes, “I believe this is the first time in human history that a module company has recorded cost under 50 cents per watt . . .”

The U.S. DOE SunShot Initiative, which has the aim of reducing the all-in cost of solar power to less than $1 per watt, counts on module costs of less than 50 cents per watt.  First Solar recently reduced the cost of its cadmium telluride-based PV panels to 63 cents per watt, falling to 53 cents per watt in Q4 of 2013 on its best line (excluding underutilization and upgrades).

A forecast from GTM Research shows top Chinese manufacturers making solar modules for 36 cents per watt by 2017.  However, there are skeptics that silicon can achieve these costs.  Prof. Mike McGehee of Stanford University suggested that the true cost of silicon solar cells, when stripped of Chinese subsidies, is 85 cents per watt. Brad Mattson, the CEO of Siva Power, claims that the prices put forth by Mehta are unsustainable.  Mattson’s estimates of silicon solar costs are close to those of McGehee.  Further, SolarWorld is making the case that Chinese solar module manufacturers receive unfair subsidies and sell product below cost in the U.S.