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The Exponential View of Solar Energy

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The Exponential View of Solar Energy, and Why the Cost of Solar has Plummeted

The Exponential View of Solar Energy

The human brain is terrible at comprehending exponential growth.

Much like the power of compound interest is a magical force for investors, it is also possible for innovations and technological breakthroughs to build off each other in the physical world, creating a similar compounding effect.

In this chart, we look at how solar technology has surpassed all expectations from an economics perspective, including those initially set by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Then later, we’ll also look at a new set of predictions for solar energy economics over the next 30 years.

Solar Energy: The Technological Overachiever

Back in 2010, the cost of utility-scale solar power ranged between $0.25-$0.37 per kWh. This meant it was at least three times as expensive as fossil fuels, and that solar was highly cost-inefficient at the time.

Going forward, most organizations projected a linear path for whittling down the cost of solar.

The IEA, for example, forecast that the global cost of solar would drop to roughly $0.22 per kWh by 2020. In reality, however, the price dropped to about one-fifth of that at $0.04 per kWh.

YearActual (BNEF Global) - $ per kWh2010 Forecast (IEA) - $ per kWh
2010$0.28$0.36
2020$0.04$0.22
Change-85.7%-38.9%

Almost all industry forecasters, including the IEA itself, missed the exponential factors at play.

Wright’s Law

Ramez Naam, the co-chair for energy and the environment at Singularity University, points out in his blog that the exponential decrease in solar costs stem from Wright’s Law:

For most technologies, every doubling of cumulative scale of production will lead to a fixed percentage decline in cost of the technology.
-Wright’s Law

Professor Naam says this occurs through “learning-by-doing”, and more specifically:

  1. Innovation that improves the technology itself
  2. Innovation that reduces the amount of labor, time, energy, and materials needed to produce the tech

Put another way, the more solar panels we make and the more we install—the better we get at the whole process over time. And once we’re making thousands or millions of panels, the costs come down exponentially, much like with lithium-ion batteries.

The Future of Solar Costs

Over the years, Naam has taken his own stab at forecasting the cost of solar energy into the future, leveraging the idea of Wright’s Law.

Here’s what he sees coming, based on using a 30% learning rate* for solar:
Future cost of solar based on 30% learning rate Wright's Law

*The learning rate is the fixed percentage decline that occurs with every doubling of the scale of production.

Based on these projections, even the costliest of solar installations will be more economical than the cheapest of utility-scale fossil fuel plants. This means solar can basically go anywhere, and make sense from a cost perspective.

Underestimate Solar No More?

For fun, here’s a final look at how IEA projections have constantly underestimated solar installations, which are one of the key factors dictating the “learning rate” under Wright’s Law:

missed iea solar capacity forecasts

With solar energy costs plummeting to record lows and global installations continuing to ramp, it’s possible that solar forecasters may no longer forget about the exponential nature of solar production.

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Electrification

Charted: 4 Reasons Why Lithium Could Be the Next Gold Rush

Visual Capitalist has partnered with EnergyX to show why drops in prices and growing demand may make now the right time to invest in lithium.

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The teaser image shows a bubble chart showing that the price of a Tesla is similar to that of other major auto manufacturers.

4 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Lithium

Lithium’s importance in powering EVs makes it a linchpin of the clean energy transition and one of the world’s most precious minerals.

In this graphic, Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to explore why now may be the time to invest in lithium.

1. Lithium Prices Have Dropped

One of the most critical aspects of evaluating an investment is ensuring that the asset’s value is higher than its price would indicate. Lithium is integral to powering EVs, and, prices have fallen fast over the last year:

DateLiOH·H₂O*Li₂CO₃**
Feb 2023$76$71
March 2023$71$61
Apr 2023$43$33
May 2023$43$33
June 2023$47$45
July 2023$44$40
Aug 2023$35$35
Sept 2023$28$27
Oct 2023$24$23
Nov 2023$21$21
Dec 2023$17$16
Jan 2024$14$15
Feb 2024$13$14

Note: Monthly spot prices were taken as close to the 14th of each month as possible.
*Lithium hydroxide monohydrate (MB-LI-0033)
**Lithium carbonate (MB-LI-0029)

2. Lithium-Ion Battery Prices Are Also Falling

The drop in lithium prices is just one reason to invest in the metal. Increasing economies of scale, coupled with low commodity prices, have caused the cost of lithium-ion batteries to drop significantly as well.

In fact, BNEF reports that between 2013 and 2023, the price of a Li-ion battery dropped by 82%.

YearPrice per KWh
2023$139
2022$161
2021$150
2020$160
2019$183
2018$211
2017$258
2016$345
2015$448
2014$692
2013$780

3. EV Adoption is Sustainable

One of the best reasons to invest in lithium is that EVs, one of the main drivers behind the demand for lithium, have reached a price point similar to that of traditional vehicle.

According to the Kelly Blue Book, Tesla’s average transaction price dropped by 25% between 2022 and 2023, bringing it in line with many other major manufacturers and showing that EVs are a realistic transport option from a consumer price perspective.

ManufacturerSeptember 2022September 2023
BMW$69,000$72,000
Ford$54,000$56,000
Volkswagon$54,000$56,000
General Motors$52,000$53,000
Tesla$68,000$51,000

4. Electricity Demand in Transport is Growing

As EVs become an accessible transport option, there’s an investment opportunity in lithium. But possibly the best reason to invest in lithium is that the IEA reports global demand for the electricity in transport could grow dramatically by 2030:

Transport Type202220252030
Buses 🚌23,000 GWh50,000 GWh130,000 GWh
Cars 🚙65,000 GWh200,000 GWh570,000 GWh
Trucks 🛻4,000 GWh15,000 GWh94,000 GWh
Vans 🚐6,000 GWh16,000 GWh72,000 GWh

The Lithium Investment Opportunity

Lithium presents a potentially classic investment opportunity. Lithium and battery prices have dropped significantly, and recently, EVs have reached a price point similar to other vehicles. By 2030, the demand for clean energy, especially in transport, will grow dramatically.

With prices dropping and demand skyrocketing, now is the time to invest in lithium.

EnergyX is poised to exploit lithium demand with cutting-edge lithium extraction technology capable of extracting 300% more lithium than current processes.

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Ranked: The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2023

Asia dominates this ranking of the world’s largest EV battery manufacturers in 2023.

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A treemap showing the top 10 EV battery manufacturers in 2023

The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Despite efforts from the U.S. and EU to secure local domestic supply, all major EV battery manufacturers remain based in Asia.

In this graphic we rank the top 10 EV battery manufacturers by total battery deployment (measured in megawatt-hours) in 2023. The data is from EV Volumes.

Chinese Dominance

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) has swiftly risen in less than a decade to claim the title of the largest global battery group.

The Chinese company now has a 34% share of the market and supplies batteries to a range of made-in-China vehicles, including the Tesla Model Y, SAIC’s MG4/Mulan, and Li Auto models.

CompanyCountry2023 Production
(megawatt-hour)
Share of Total
Production
CATL🇨🇳China242,70034%
BYD🇨🇳China115,91716%
LG Energy Solution🇰🇷Korea108,48715%
Panasonic🇯🇵Japan56,5608%
SK On🇰🇷Korea40,7116%
Samsung SDI🇰🇷Korea35,7035%
CALB🇨🇳China23,4933%
Farasis Energy🇨🇳China16,5272%
Envision AESC🇨🇳China8,3421%
Sunwoda🇨🇳China6,9791%
Other-56,0408%

In 2023, BYD surpassed LG Energy Solution to claim second place. This was driven by demand from its own models and growth in third-party deals, including providing batteries for the made-in-Germany Tesla Model Y, Toyota bZ3, Changan UNI-V, Venucia V-Online, as well as several Haval and FAW models.

The top three battery makers (CATL, BYD, LG) collectively account for two-thirds (66%) of total battery deployment.

Once a leader in the EV battery business, Panasonic now holds the fourth position with an 8% market share, down from 9% last year. With its main client, Tesla, now effectively sourcing batteries from multiple suppliers, the Japanese battery maker seems to be losing its competitive edge in the industry.

Overall, the global EV battery market size is projected to grow from $49 billion in 2022 to $98 billion by 2029, according to Fortune Business Insights.

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