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If you're making something in a laboratory, it's not cheap, even if it could conceivably be cheap in mass production. Even once something is in mass production — like silicon PV has been for the last 40 years — it can take a long time to bring the cost down. Silicon PV cells have fallen in cost by a factor of 10 in the last 10 years, in part due to much higher volumes, in part because the production lines no longer need to be staffed by Ph.D.s. Who could have predicted in 1980 that that would take until 2015?

In a lab you can demonstrate how much material something uses, how long it lasts under given conditions, and, say, how sensitive it is to contamination. But you can't predict, you know, the late-oughties polysilicon price bubble, the ensuing long-term purchase agreements made by companies like Evergreen, and the subsequent polysilicon price collapse that sunk those companies. (I'm still not sure where modern PV cell companies source their silicon! Is it UMG?)

"How cheap?" is a question about international trade, mining, and management, not a question about materials science. Don't expect materials scientists to be able to answer it.






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