It’s not a new story: A high-tech manufacturing company decides to shutter an older, less-efficient manufacturing plant and concentrate its production efforts in a purpose-built, highly efficient facility, thus getting economies of scale and cost reductions impossible to achieve in the more mature factory. Such decisions are often seen as exemplifying pragmatic, hard-nosed corner-office leadership in the face of a highly competitive market sector.
The supply and market dynamics of the PV inverter sector continue to play-out this year as this guest blog by Ash Sharma, Renewable Energy Research Director at IMS Research, highlights the next expected supply/demand scenario.Whilst in the first three quarters of 2010 inverter suppliers enjoyed tremendously high demand, tight supply and stable prices, a drastic reversal in their fortunes may quickly be seen as demand wanes, supply massively grows and inventory builds.
With Solar Power International 2010 growing more distant in the rear-view mirror, one of the takeaways about the ongoing state of photovoltaic technology remains clear: there’s plenty of innovation headroom left in crystalline silicon. Exhibit A: one company’s novel module design that features 10,000 ultrathin, bifacial monocrystalline cells (one of which is shown below). The still-media-shy entity responsible for this potentially game-changing technology may be new to the PV scene, but its 50:50 partners should be familiar to those in the know about the energy and micro/nanochip sectors: Transform Solar, the fully funded corporate love-child of Australian utility giant Origin and redoubtable semiconductor survivor Micron.
At the end of October, the Czech government approved special measures against the ongoing solar boom in the country. Many of these measures are being abruptly negotiated and passed by the Czech Parliament so that they can take effect starting in January 2010. One of these measures will be a brand-new retroactive ‘solar tax’ imposed on producers of solar energy.
It seems such an obvious thing that solar PV should be ubiquitous within ±35° latitude around the equator—otherwise know as the Sunbelt. It also has 75% of the world’s population and 40% of the global electricity demand. Yet few actual installations to date are within this region.
PASADENA, CA—While the VIP-laden groundbreaking on the humongous Ivanpah concentrated solar thermal power tower-based project was taking place deep in the Mojave Desert, a more modest, photovoltaically inclined dedication celebration was held under the shade of a framework-style array on the top deck of a parking structure at the California Institute of Technology campus. BrightSource’s 392MW CSP mega-plant may generate a serious amount of centralized-generation solar electricity for the grid when/if it comes online in a few years, but Caltech’s seven separate rooftop systems—totaling 1.176MW (DC) in distributed-generation capacity—have been grabbing photons since late September.
It’s almost like clockwork: First Solar announces quarterly earnings, First Solar nails it again, with more profits and growth. Sure, there are warning signs this time—eroded margins caused by lower module ASPs and foreign exchange issues, the shrinking German market, process pains bringing its Series 3 CdTe panels into production as evidenced by a slight hiccup in its relentless drive to reduce manufacturing costs—but the company saw net sales rise to $798 million, a whopping 36% pop compared to the previous quarter. Net income also went up, to $176.9 million, a more modest 11% hike over the previous period. Few other PV companies come close to these kinds of results, especially in terms of profit margin.
Canadian Solar’s Shawn Qu has come a long way since he matriculated to the University of Manitoba from China in 1989 as a grad student named Xiaohua. He fondly recalls that “cold, cold Winnipeg winter,” walking alone on the icy streets, listening to that “New World music” on his Walkman. These days, he says he doesn’t have much time for music (although he’s putting a good sound system into his new house), since his obligations as chairman/president/CEO of the solar company named after his sometimes-chilly adopted country consume most of his waking hours. I caught up with Qu at Solar Power International; although he was fighting a scratchy throat during our chat, he enjoyed a nice, harmonized view of a booth wall’s worth of photos of Canadian Solar modules deployed in various projects.
While photovoltaics’ crucial role in the renewables revolution is indisputable, that wonderful conversion of photons into useable electricity provides only part of the solution set. What about utilizing much more of that solar energy (as in 80-90%) that isn’t converted by the panels into homegrown juice? Taking a step outside my usual pure-play PV box at the recent Solar Power International show, I met with several innovative companies, including PVT Solar, which hopes to become an all-star player in the hybrid solar technology arena.
The ongoing saga of copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide photovoltaics provided one of the talking-point touchstones of this year’s Solar Power International show. Will solar historians look back to 2010 as the beginning of the Production Age of CIGS? That may be presumptuous and premature, since the thin-film PV’s slice of the overall solar shipment/deployment pie remains small.