With so much focus on the surge in investment demand for silver and the surrounding bullion shortages, it’s easy to forget that the metal remains a key component of a rapidly-expanding industry. A recent forecast by The Silver Institute placed the average annual target for silver at $30, a 46% climb compared to last year that will be driven not only by investment and jewelry demand but also the growth of the photovoltaics (PV) industry.
In a statement, the institute said that this year’s demand for silver is expected to reach 1.025 billion ounces, and that the metal will therefore shed any losses sustained last year. Talking to the magazine, The Silver Institute’s executive director Michael DiRienzo expanded upon some of the industry’s underpinnings, along with what it would take for the sector to create a supply glut similar to the one happening in the investment sphere.
How solar panel “thrifting” influences demand
The institute, as well as other experts in the field, have continuously singled out thrifting as one of the most important parts of industrial silver demand. The process refers to manufacturers’ efforts to reduce the amount of silver necessary in each solar cell due to the metal’s high price. This form of cost-cutting has brought the silver contents in an individual solar cell to an average of 111mg in 2019, and The Silver Institute expects the trend to lower the per-cell silver content to 80mg by 2030.
However, it has been repeatedly stated that thrifting is a process which peaked out in 2016, and that the sector can only spread the silver in a given cell so thin. On the flip side, DiRienzo noted that a growing number of countries are turning to solar panels, adding to a broader bid by global governments to look for green energy solutions.
With current technologies, silver accounts for about 6% of the total cost to produce a photovoltaic panel.
Despite thrifting, solar demand for silver grows
Keeping this in mind, DiRienzo said that the institute expects the PV industry to purchase 105 million ounces of silver this year, a significant increase compared to the 88 million ounces last year and 93 million ounces in 2019. As for price changes, DiRienzo said that silver could once again outperform gold due to its smaller market and higher volatility. The director went on to say that an average annual price of $40, or peak prices of $45, would create a problematic environment where the silver industry begins facing supply issues, especially due to the absence of further cost-cutting methods.
This is especially important considering the slow decline in global silver production over the last four years. Because nearly 75% of newly-mined silver comes from projects where it’s a by-product of the primary metal being mined (usually copper, lead, or zinc), silver supply isn’t elastic. If demand does reach a critical level, supply can’t be expected to increase quickly or at an equivalent magnitude.