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Strategic Metals and Solar Energy Equal Opportunity

Around the world we are seeing an accelerating use of solar power.  Governments like China, India, Japan, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and the USA are heavily subsidizing the production of solar panels.  Yet China still controls over 95% of the strategic metals like indium, gallium, tellurium, molybdenum and cadmium.

Companies like Solar Frontier, a Tokyo based company which is partly owned by Showa Shell Sekiyu.  Solar Frontier specializes in CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium di-selenide) thin-film solar panels. Molybdenum is the layer between the glass substrate and the CIGS layer.  Recently Solar Frontier signed a huge deal in California to supply up to 150 megawatts of solar panels.  This solar power plant will be up and running by the end of 2012 with completion in 2013.  This power plant will supply electricity to 35,000 homes.  According to Lux Research out of Boston the CIGS PV installations could more than double by 2015 to $2.315 Billion.

The other technology impacting the strategic metals is CdTe (Cadmium Telluride) thin-film panels.  First Solar (FSLR) of Tempe, Az. is the main producer of this kind of solar panel utilizing cadmium and tellurium.  According to First Solar they are currently producing 300 megawatts of energy in the USA.  First Solar also has two 550 megawatt projects due to be completed in 2015 and a few more which you can find on their website.

A factor that will impact the solar market greatly is the 31% tariff that the USA plans to put on all imported Chinese solar panels.  China produces silicon based solar panels.  In the short term this may slow the solar industry, but in the long term installers will opt for the CIGS and CdTe thin film solar panels built in the USA.

The rare strategic metals have increased in value over 80% from 2009-2011.  These metals are the ones vital to our electronic age.  They are used in everything from your mobile phone to your laptop and of course solar panels.  Metals like indium, gallium, tellurium and tantalum have a rather limited supply.  China continues to restrict the export of these metals which further exacerbates the supply and price issues.

Annually tellurium is mined at a rate of 150-500t. The firms that produce cadmium telluride panels will need 80-100t of tellurium per gigawatt of solar panels. You may think that we could just mine more tellurium, according to NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) the maximum amount that could be mined would be 1,600t per year. Tellurium like most rare strategic metals is mined as a byproduct of minor metals like copper and zinc.  Mining companies have no financial incentive to focus their efforts on producing these metals. The market for rare strategic metals is just too small.

Unlike the metals copper, zinc and nickel which are traded on the LME. The rare strategic metals are not traded in London on the exchange. This offers investors the rare ability to put their money into a market free of hedge fund and large institutional investor speculation. If you would like to buy these metals and store in Switzerland and soon Panama please contact the team at Swiss Metal Assets.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

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