Although some PV industry watchers would say the term “disruptive technology” does not belong in the same sentence with “crystalline silicon,” several start-up companies and a host of national labs and research groups in the US and elsewhere would beg to differ. In the most recent Department of Energy SunShot Initiative announcements, corporate and institutional participants pursuing the general topic area of thin crystalline silicon received millions in awards to explore various avenues of developing and manufacturing seriously skinny, often nanoscale wafers or cells out of the solar sector’s primary incumbent material. DOE won’t be cutting Ampulse one of those SunShot checks, but the venture-backed, national lab-connected start-up thinks that its technology, which facilitates the “on-the-cheap” fabrication of c-Si thin-film heteroepitaxial cells on flexible metal substrate “foils,” has a legitimate shot at upending the solar status quo.
The PV-Tech team weren’t the only ones that noticed the subdued atmosphere at EU PVSEC. Others with back-to-back meetings over the length and breadth of the show floors were some of the key financial analysts that cover the PV industry. In particular, Jesse Pichel at Jeffries raised important issues concerning the weak demand dynamics, despite continued pricing pressure.
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.
Feed-in-tariffs (FiT) as incentive mechanisms are increasingly gaining popularity. China recently announced a new feed-in tariff scheme for PV to complement its rapidly expanding module manufacturing capacity. Other countries such as Germany and Italy, which have established FiT schemes, nevertheless are continuously adjusting the FiTs to encourage balanced growth in the market. But in the future, will designing FiTs be the sole important factor affecting the growth of photovoltaics in the developed PV markets?
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.
Last Thursday, 31 of Europe’s finest football clubs, and Arsenal, entered the draw for the group stage of this season’s Champions League. Commonly regarded as the most prestigious football competition in the world, between now and next May it will be the battle ground for not just the finest footballers on the continent, but also some of the world’s leading commercial brands, including Yingli Green Energy, Q-Cells and JinkoSolar.
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.