In Depth

  • Intersolar NA: Can the industry achieve 2020 challenge of $1/W system cost, 200GW installed capacity

    Editors' Blog | By Syanne Olson - 18 July 2011, 22:41

    During the CEO panel following the “Future of PV—A Market and Technology Outlook” conference session at Intersolar North America, Meyer Burger CTO Patrick Hofer-Noser posed a simple but telling question, “How many people here have solar installed on their home?”. In a perfect world, more than half of the attendees’ hands would have shot up, declaring that they support the very industry they work in by running a solar system on their own home.  However, only a handful of people raised their hands, while the rest of us dealt with mixed emotions of shame and disbelief that in an industry that touts constant growth, the very people pushing solar energy forward, were nowhere near using it themselves.

  • Intersolar NA 2011: PV Fab Managers Forum finds reasons for cautious thin-film optimism in the USA

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 12 July 2011, 00:22 | 1

    Does thin film represent the last, best hope for the future of US-based PV manufacturing? Given the country’s large market share of polysilicon production, the growth in crystalline-silicon module making, and the emergence of a nascent concentrator PV sector, that might be an overstatement. But the thin stuff does make up a large chunk of current domestic production (plus the US is number-two globally in that category, behind Malaysia and its First Solar capacity), and a few gigawatts of CdTe, CIGS, and possibly silicon thin film are set to come online in the next few years.  With this in mind, the 2nd North American PV Fab Managers Forum, presented by SEMI in conjunction with Intersolar North America, had a distinctly TFPV focus. Here’s a smattering of factoids, newsy bits, and other gleanings from the conference.

  • IEEE PVSC at 50, Part III: Final short takes on this year’s photovoltaic techs-travaganza

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 07 July 2011, 23:32

    The 37th edition of the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference shattered previous records for participation and presentations, with more than 1800 attendees from 40 different countries and over 1000 oral and poster papers—more information and networking opportunities than any person with half a life could possibly digest. In the final blog on the annual PV techs-travaganza and inadvertent celebration of the summer solstice, I wrap things up with some solar short takes from the voluminous program offerings and the small-but-mighty exhibit hall.

  • Patrick Lasswell, 1945-2011: Remembering an unsung hero of solar PV engineering

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 01 July 2011, 19:12 | 4

    The photovoltaic community lost one of its “unsung heroes” this week, with the passing of Patrick “Pat” Lasswell. The industry veteran died June 28 in a Phoenix, AZ, hospice, of complications from “an anterior communicating artery aneurysm, which had burst and caused massive bleeding into his brain,” suffered four weeks earlier, according to his daughter, Elizabeth Lasswell. He was 65. Here’s a remembrance of the master engineer.

  • IEEE PVSC at 50, Part II: Astrowatt bets on exfoliation in ultrathin-silicon cell stakes

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 30 June 2011, 05:55

    A persistent theme at this year’s IEEE PVSC—and frankly every such conference—was that solar photovoltaic technology exists in a material world. The discovery of new materials, the concoction of better versions of existing materials, the manipulation and processing of materials, and the deployment and measurement of finished, manufactured materials in modular form in a power system all underscore PV’s essential materiality. One young company’s disruptive approach to getting more out of the industry’s über-material—crystalline silicon—garnered a fair amount of attention at the conference.

  • IEEE PVSC at 50, Sidebar: Emerald City’s event center gets the solar rooftop treatment

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 27 June 2011, 18:41

    As the technical elite of the photovoltaics research community shared their latest findings at the IEEE PVSC in Seattle last week, a commercial-scale symbol of the fruits of their labors was taking shape a few miles away. On top of the newly rebranded CenturyLink (ex-Qwest) Event Center nestled between the city’s football/soccer and baseball stadiums, a 787KW (DC) PV power system equipped with 3750 panels featuring Solyndra’s tubular CIGS technology is just weeks away from commissioning. During a lunch break at the conference, I visited the site, which will be the largest rooftop array in the state of Washington when it’s activated in mid-July.

  • IEEE PVSC at 50, Part I: Alta Devices’ dark-current mitigation scheme comes out into the light

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 21 June 2011, 18:44 | 2

    The venue for Alta Devices’ first public presentation about its potentially game-changing single-crystal gallium arsenide thin-film PV could not be more appropriate. The first IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference took place in 1961, and this year’s 37th convocation marks the event’s 50-year anniversary. The Silicon Valley startup’s coming-out party actually transpired in three courses: an appetizing plenary keynote from company cofounder and Caltech professor Harry Atwater, the main course from Alta’s Brendan Kayes, and a rich dessert helping from cofounder and UC Berkeley prof Eli Yablonovitch about the concepts of intense internal and external fluorescence—a key to the “new” device physics behind the firm’s technology.

  • Team Solar’s loan guarantee bonanza: Catching one’s breath after dizzying week of DOE announcements

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 17 June 2011, 22:32

    Four days, five announcements, and more than $2.66 billion later, it’s time to catch one’s breath and reflect on the recent flurry of US Department of Energy conditional loan guarantee awards. As the program approaches its sell-by date of Sept. 30, with the future of the amply-distributed Section 1703 plan in doubt, the latest winners have one thing in common—they all play for Team Solar.

  • SunFab, reanimated: AMAT thin-film PV customers T-Solar, Masdar PV show signs of life

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 16 June 2011, 12:31 | 1

    I first heard about Applied Materials’ exit from its SunFab amorphous-silicon turnkey-line business from Xunming Deng, head of Xunlight, whose Toledo, OH-area company I was visiting that July day. That a silicon thin-film guy delivered the news (and one running an outfit having its own “issues,” to boot) made the moment memorable and poignant. The following evening, when I had time to reflect and some liquid solace in my system, I realized that not only did I have a journalistic response to AMAT’s expensive failed endeavor—it was a HUGE story—but I had an emotional reaction as well: it felt like a gut-punch from a company I’d been covering for 20-plus years, which made me sad, disappointed, and yes, angry. Nearly a year later, recent announcements by AMAT thin-film customers T-Solar, Masdar PV, and Best Solar, companies actually manufacturing and deploying those almost six-meter-square modules, have compelled a fresh look at a technology and toolset that I’d given up for comatose, but is apparently conscious.

  • Rooftop to test lab: SCE adds rooftop PV power, works on figuring out how to smartly distribute it

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 15 June 2011, 05:54

    The intersection of Southern California Edison’s efforts to come up with smarter electrical distribution circuit technologies and its ongoing neighborhood commercial-rooftop solar power push could be seen symbolically in the guts of an open Satcon inverter box at the utility’s testing labs in Pomona, an eastern suburb of Los Angeles. The inverter is one of twenty-some units of various makes, types, and sizes being run through their paces with grid-simulation gear, addressing low-voltage ride-through, fault current, transient overvoltages, and other challenges that must be dealt with in order for inverters to become more than just passive components and help regulate voltage on the future, more renewably powered grid. Satcon is also the brand of choice so far for SCE’s deployment of small utility-scale, distributed PV generators mostly on top of warehouses in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

Publications

  • Photovoltaics International 27th Edition

    Now that the PV industry has unquestionably entered a new growth phase, all eyes are on which technologies will win through into the mainstream of PV manufacturing. PERC, n-type, p-type bifacial, heterojunction – all have become familiar terms in the ever-growing constellation of solar cell technologies. The question is which will offer manufacturers what they are looking for in improving efficiencies and cutting costs.

  • Manufacturing The Solar Future: The 2014 Production Annual

    Although the past few years have proved extremely testing for PV equipment manufacturers, falling module prices have driven solar end-market demand to previously unseen levels. That demand is now starting to be felt by manufacturers, to the extent that leading companies are starting to talk about serious capacity expansions later this year and into 2015. This means that the next 12 months will be a critical period if companies throughout the supply chain are to take full advantage of the PV industry’s next growth phase.

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Acknowledgements

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