Hollywood is both a physical location within L.A.’s city limits as well as a state of mind (or mindlessness, in some cases) and catch-all phrase for what we Los Angelenos call “the industry.” In the solar community, when we say “the industry,” we mean something altogether different, although sometimes the worlds of entertainment and photovoltaics do come into contact. SolarWorld, the company who pulled Larry “JR Ewing” Hagman out of Hollywood exile and turned him loose as a celebrity spokesman, will be making its branding mark Sunday, Sept. 18, on one of the entertainment crowd’s marquee events: the Primetime Emmy Awards. A 49.5KW (DC) PV power system equipped with 225 of the company’s 220W polycrystalline-silicon modules will provide a “solar awning” over the red carpet as the glitterati stroll into the show at the Nokia Theater in downtown L.A.
Racking and mounting may not be the sexiest parts of a photovoltaic installation, but the slickest high-performance modules would be all form and no function without the structural bones of the array to keep them in line with the sun. In the US, these balance-of-systems mainstays also turn out to be the hardware components with the largest percentage of domestic value creation among US installations in 2010, according to the recently released “US Solar Energy Trade Assessment,” produced by GTM Research for SEIA—a real “Made in the USA” story on the solarscape. Although a familiar face in Germany, mounting system firm Renusol is hoping to make an impact on the US BOS market.
Still smarting from the wounds of loan guarantee recipient Solyndra’s shutdown and imminent Chapter 11 filing, the US Department of Energy kept its eyes on the SunShot Initiative prize last week, announcing more than $145 million in awards to be spread across 69 projects run by companies, national and private labs, and universities. The efforts encompass a half-dozen categories, including big R, little d and little r, big D accelerants on the cell, module, and inverter technology, balance of system cost reduction (actually, cost reduction is a recurring theme among all categories), grid integration schemes, building integrated PV, and a chunk of change for IT-laden moves to cut nonhardware costs down significantly. Here’s a closer look at some of the players, numbers, and threads that emerge from the latest DOE innovation seed-corn distribution.
Imagine you left work one evening, excited and exhausted by a job where everything was gung-ho and thumbs-up, moving forward at a 24/7 clip, only to report to work the very next morning and be told the company is closing down, so clear out your desks, get your unemployment packet, and see ya later. You and your coworkers had seen no warning signs, no hint of trouble, and certainly had no inkling that a full and total shutdown was imminent. If you work(ed) for Solyndra, you don’t have to use your imagination to fill in this scenario—it is your new reality.
The data giveth and the data taketh away. In the case of a new study conducted by GTM Research for SEIA, the data giveth a surprising, seemingly counterintuitive view of the US solar industry: The United States was a net solar exporter by a far piece in 2010—including in trade with China—and nearly three-quarters of the direct value of solar systems installed here last year accrued to the US economy, to the tune of more than $4.4 billion. The report factors in the entire value chain—from raw materials to finished products to balance of systems and installation to permitting and other soft costs—and demonstrates that there is a lot more to the total market picture than where solar modules are manufactured and how much they cost. The research also provides a jumping-off point to check in on a commercial project developer/builder, Ra Power & Light, which offers a snapshot of current module pricing, in the first installment of a two-part blog.
A few hours’ drive south of Atlanta, Georgia—and thousands of miles from Ireland—the town of Dublin hosts another German solar company seeking to plow the green fields of the burgeoning US PV marketscape: Mage Solar. In addition to its North American HQ and new crystalline-silicon module line located in a former Rockwell Automation plant, the firm has set up an intriguing educational center called the Mage Solar Academy. Although the company’s brand may be part of the fledgling institute’s name, the effort goes far beyond any parochial corporate intent. By training new installers, potential solar entrepreneurs, and other interested parties in the boot-camp and PV101 basics as well as NABCEP certification essentials, the academy—as well as via collaborations with local technical community colleges and talks at regional town-hall meetings—may be the start of something critical to the market development and growth of photovoltaics in the southeast US. As I toured the Mage campus, several photo opps presented themselves, which I share in this graphically oriented blog.
One of the largest photovoltaic power plants in the world started officially sending electricity to the grid earlier this month—and hardly anyone seemed to notice. The commissioning of the 45MW (AC) Avenal Solar Generating Facility in rural Kings County, CA, was drowned out among the buzz of First Solar’s gigawatt-scale PR burst around the Agua Caliente, Topaz, Desert Sunlight, and Copper Mountain Solar II installations and SunPower’s imminent kickoff of construction on the California Valley Solar Ranch site. After all, what’s a mere 45MW compared to the nearly 1.8GW represented by those megaprojects? In Avenal’s case, not only has it joined the cast of the current top 10 largest operational PV plants, the site stands as what may be the biggest silicon thin-film-based solar generating station on the planet. A closer look at Avenal also provides an opportunity to examine two of the solar industry’s trickier metrics: AC:DC conversion ratios and kilowatt-hour output.
As attention focuses on Evergreen Solar’s bankruptcy filing and ongoing slow-motion train wreck, another story about a failed US-based solar manufacturing enterprise remained a smaller blip on the edge of the industry’s radar screen. German-based Solon has decided to shut down its crystalline-silicon module production line in Tucson, AZ, as part of company management taking a hard look at the cost effectiveness of its manufacturing and making a painful yet necessary restructuring in its business operations strategy to compete in the North American market. In Solon’s case though, the move from fighting a losing battle as a commodity module supplier to becoming a differentiated product supplier, conjoined with a healthy project development/power plant business, may allow the firm to remain competitive.
Anyone who’s driven around Phoenix on a hot August day knows the drill. Park your car in the shade or in a covered structure if you can, but prepare to suffer the consequences if you have to settle for a spot in an exposed black-asphalt lot. For those inclined to see solar power opportunities all around, here’s an application that seems an especially low-hanging piece of summer fruit: to blanket parking and other exposed areas with PV-integrated structures, providing shade and generating power in one package. Although a growing number of such installations have sprouted up, Strategic Solar Energy cofounders Tom Headley and Bob Boscamp along with architect Jack DeBartolo have come up with a fresh, aesthetically enhanced variation on the solar canopy concept—the PowerParasol—the first of which will be erected and interconnected by year’s end on the Arizona State University campus.
Our coverage of Veeco’s exit from the CIGS systems business has generated strong interest in the photovoltaic manufacturing community. Although I covered alot of ground in the original blog as did Solarbuzz’s Finlay Colville in his follow-on piece about the equipment sector, certain aspects of the developing story were left untold. For one, I was unable to get a formal response from CNSE and/or Sematech. Also missing from the first round of objective commentary was any input from one of the other equipment companies that ply their wares to the CIGS manufacturers. This postscript blog covers both of those gaps.