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.
Polysilicon spot prices have fallen considerably over the last year as new capacity was introduced and weak demand in the first half of the year reduced demand, especially from Tier 2 and Tier 3 PV module manufacturers. There was a period of real concern from higher-cost producers as poly spot prices fell to the US$50/Kg range, with fear that they would fall further if demand didn’t pick up in Q2.
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.
As leading CIGS manufacturers and equipment suppliers in Europe prepare for quarterly and half-year reporting during August, the impact of Veeco’s parting comments may force a closer examination of existing market-share adoption rates and business-unit operating margins. The company’s rationale for exiting the CIGS systems business was based on its assessment that “the timeframe and cost to commercialization [of CIGS tooling] are not acceptable,” coupled with “the lower-than-expected end-market acceptance for CIGS technology.” Rather than speculating whether Veeco’s prepared remarks will—or will not—have any tangible effect on investor confidence levels across the CIGS community as a whole, it is perhaps more prudent to revisit the fortunes of other PV equipment suppliers that have been championing CIGS in support of dedicated product portfolios offered to the market.
The first day of August, which we have all been talking about since early March, is finally here. Marking the beginning of new, lower feed-in tariff rates for all photovoltaic installations over 50kW, today signifies the end of the UK’s solar industry as we know it.
Veeco’s decision to bail out of the copper indium gallium (di)selenide thin-film PV systems business may not have been a total shocker, but the OEM’s move still caught many in the industry off guard. The transformation from “integrated equipment provider to the rapidly growing CIGS solar market” to “don’t let the door hit you on the way out of the market” seems to have accelerated over the past quarter.
Canadian Solar may have exceeded expectations with the recent upward revision of its second-quarter module shipment guidance by 40-50MW, but its accomplishment still doesn’t quite match the exploits of one of the Major League Baseball teams that the PV company sponsors, the San Francisco Giants, who surpassed even the most die-hard fans’ hopes when it won the World Series last year. Noting the landing of another corporate sponsorship with an even more storied MLB franchise, the New York Yankees, chairman/CEO Shawn Qu told me during an Intersolar North America interview that the possibility of a Giants-Yankees matchup in the championship would be a “win-win” from Canadian Solar’s point of view, especially if the series were to go a full seven games. But baseball wasn’t the only thing on our minds: we also discussed solar cell and module technology, the collaborative elements of his “virtual” vertical integration strategy, and regional and sector market development.
My plan for this year’s Intersolar North America was deceptively simple: to cut a trail across the photovoltaic R&D, production, and balance-of-systems value-chain terrain showcased at the event and sample its eclecticism. The pathway took me from big-idea early stagers to gigawatt-scale global players, across the realms of crystalline silicon, thin film, and concentrator PV material sets, from solder masters to microinverter disruptors to tracking system aspirants. Was the journey worth it? Absolutely, even if I didn’t turn up any megatrends or bombshell scoops. Sometimes though, it’s the small discoveries that resonate.