Parity means cost parity with other forms of energy. There are many ways to calculate it. But you can expect a lot more talk about from manufacturers this year.
For instance, Sunpreme, a new early-stage company in California. They're off-shoring manufacturing to China, emphasizing support from a local government near Shanghai as if to twist the knife in those who are making political hay out of Solyndra. (Want to damn solar? We'll go to China instead. How you like them apples?)
The company uses the brand SmartSilicon, which is pretty stupid given how many other companies use similar marks. In this case, it refers to a process that uses current equipment to deliver a cell at lower cost. A private sector arm of the World Bank is leading the latest $50 million funding round.
Lowering raw manufacturing costs is just one way to lower total costs of ownership, of course. Another way is to integrate inverters with the cell, making them much easier to install. This is the route both Hanwha Energy and Canadian Solar (which despite its name is Chinese) are using.
Now here's a trick question. Given the names of the three companies above -- Sunpreme, Hanwha, Canadian -- where should an American be placing his bets?
Wrong. It's Hanwha, which is using inverters from Enphase Corp., based in Petaluma. Canadian is making its own gear, meaning Chinese gear.
Expect a lot more announcements over this line in the months to come. Just remember those two words -- parity and integration. And note that, while both concepts are fun, they don't begin to compare to an assurance of long-term sales on a production run.
That's what I'll be looking for in 2012 -- contracts. Show me the money.