Forecasting new order intake from PV capacity expansions and technology inflection points remains a challenge for the PV equipment supply-chain. As many of the leading, public-listed, tool suppliers prepare to report results for Q3 2011, the focus will be firmly on guidance for 2012 and the revenues that may emerge for new products recently launched.
Recurring themes and odd juxtapositions permeated Solar Power International, with multiple examples of AC modules integrated with microinverters or other distributed electronics, “easier, lighter, cheaper” balance-of-system innovations, frameless thin-film panels, and booths of Chinese companies most attendees had never heard of. In the outside exhibit area, vanilla cupcakes were piled up in celebration of Hemlock Semiconductor’s corporate birthday. Wait a second: hemlock cupcakes? Halloween was indeed just around the corner for an industry that seems to embody the trick-or-treat duality of late, the cost or benefit depending on which part of the market stream one swims.
While BYD’s Solar Power International exhibit-hall booth might have been modest in size and the company’s reputation may not be as well-established as its Chinese PV industry counterparts, there are few enterprises that can match the scope of its vertically integrated and potentially synergistic business platform in the renewable and cleantech space. Building around what it calls “three green dreams”—solar power, energy storage, and electric vehicles (with some solid state lighting thrown in for good measure)—the Shenzhen-based, Berkshire Hathaway-backed, $7 billion company just opened its new North American HQ near downtown Los Angeles and signed a deal to provide EV shuttle buses and cars to rental giant Hertz. At SPI though, the emphasis was on BYD’s solar division, a group that has quietly built up more than a gigawatt in crystalline-silicon wafer and cell production capacity and 800MW of module manufacturing capability since 2008.
After four consecutive years of filling – and outgrowing – every major exposition venue in Southern California, the Solar Power International show is taking it on the road to the larger Lone Star confines of the Dallas Convention Center. Rich in wind farms, Texas is not the first, second, or tenth state that comes to mind when one thinks of the solar power industry in the US, though it does boast excellent irradiation, a growing base of companies and installations, and a climate-change denier as governor. Since the 2010 SPI event took place in Los Angeles, the industry barometer has become decidedly more unsettled. Despite the sector’s stormy weather, here’s what I’ve seen with my own eyes during roadtrips over the past few months: things are lively across the US solar PV value chain.
The deserts of southwestern Arizona include a whole lot of empty terrain, interrupted occasionally by one of a handful of small towns, both alive and ghostly, as well as patches of irrigated farmland and mineral excavation sites. The rugged, scrubby landscape stretches for miles on either side of Interstate 8, the main west-east artery in that part of the US. The scale of the vast expanse swallows up thousand-acre parcels like a rattlesnake gobbling up a baby field mouse. But something impressive and historic is rapidly taking shape on 2,400 acres of former agricultural lands and military proving grounds up the road a piece from the tiny burg of Dateland in Yuma County. Agua Caliente Solar Project, the largest utility-scale photovoltaic power plant currently in advanced construction, soon will be generating electricity from an area nearly three times the size of New York’s Central Park.
TSMC Solar’s YC Chao didn’t want to give the wrong impression about the company he runs — the wholly owned subsidiary of the mighty semiconductor foundry is, after all, a start-up. “But there are areas where we are not like a start-up,” he explained “I do not go out and raise money. And I do not brag about the future. We certainly have our own vision how the future is going to be and what we need to do in order to be successful, but we walk our talk, and we do not talk very much.” The company president did talk at length from Taiwan via a video teleconferencing link at TSMC’s North America headquarters recently, in advance of the unit’s regional coming-out party at Solar Power International 2011 in Dallas
It’s almost one year since the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and rumours are beginning to fly around the UK solar industry as to what the upcoming Comprehensive Consultation on the feed-in tariff (FiT) holds. I decided it was time to investigate what people are actually saying, and to find out how much of what is being said matches the facts around budgets, pricing and deployment.
Suniva’s 170MW solar cell fab may not have the most ideal process flow, but it is a classic example of how much manufacturing capacity can be squeezed out of available floor space. Analogous to cramming 10 pounds of a certain something into a 5-pound bag, in the case of the company’s facility, three production lines have been inserted into an area originally designed for two. By running four shifts around the clock seven days a week (as it currently is) and fully using the double-tracked printing capability of some equipment—effectively turning those three lines into five—the fab can churn out a run rate of ~100,000 high-efficiency, low-cost monocrystalline-silicon cells per day, while boasting yields in the mid-90s.
Despite the muddy swirl of controversy surrounding that certain “you know who” CIGS company, many of the “survivors” in the most up-and-coming sector of the thin-film PV community just keep going about their business, driving up efficiencies, pushing down costs, closing deals, ramping production, and shipping products. Two Silicon Valley-based outfits, Nanosolar and Stion, have recently announced National Renewable Energy Lab-certified record conversion efficiencies and are both actively ramping production to feed their pipeline of orders. Here’s the latest from two of those left standing.
Early warning signals were emitted from Germany yesterday that suggested that under-pressure Chancellor Angela Merkel could be losing the plot. It could, however, be just the start of another campaign to pre-warn the German public that the January 2012 feed-in tariff cuts could be deeper than many anticipate.