Applied Materials says it will be able to make its SunFab solar panel for less than $1 a watt over the next three years.

Applied’s energy and environmental solutions group chief technology officer and general manager Mark Pinto said the conversion efficiency of SunFab panels will further improve to 12% by 2012 a to 70¢ a watt.

The SunFab thin-film panels are less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than crystalline panels but are more economical to manufacture as they use less silicon.