Nanosolar, one of the more controversial thin-film PV players and the subject of some heavy-duty blogging from yours truly in 2010, has been back in the news in recent weeks. First, the printed copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide company updated recent conversion efficiency gains and manufacturing capacity plans, signed a panel warranty insurance policy with Munich Re, and joined PV Cycle as part of its sustainability efforts. Then, the San Jose-based firm said it had inked (pun intended) a significant module supply deal with three of its European-based partners—Belectric, EDF Energies Nouvelles, and Plain Energy—that calls for the provision of up to a gigawatt of utility-scale panels over the next three to six years. Although I reported some of what Nanosolar’s Geoff Tate and Brian Stone had to say in the PV-Tech news story about the supply agreement, here are some more nuggets from our lengthy phone conversation.
Most sector watchers believed it was not a question of “if,” but more one of “when,” “who” and “how much”: One big non-BP oil, er, energy company or another would make a serious acquisitional move into the solar space. The news that Total Group has signed a board-approved deal with SunPower to buy a majority stake in the PV cell/module and project development company answers all those questions—for the time being.
As we all try and pick ourselves back up from recent knockbacks in the UK’s renewable energy sector, it’s rather worrying to find out that we actually missed our renewable energy target for 2010 by 3.5%. As a result, the levels of confidence we have in reaching the much larger, more daunting target set for 2020 are plummeting by the second.
MIYAZAKI, JAPAN—As you drive through Kunitomi’s lush agricultural plain, a large white building comes into view on a distant hill. Its bright rectangular shape blocks out part of the spectacular backdrop of green-hued mountains, and as you edge closer, a distinctive red, blue, and white logo becomes visible, bearing the name “Solar Frontier.” After touring most of the company’s massive brand-new 900MW copper-indium-selenide factory, the sense of exploration and discovery that the corporate branding connotes has taken on a whole new meaning. This is not your everyday thin-film production facility, but the largest of its kind, representing an all-in billion-dollar investment bet by parent company Showa Shell Sekiyu.
The company touting the top NREL-validated III-V multijunction solar cell conversion efficiency results—Solar Junction—kept a low profile at the recent CPV-7 conference, while just about every other cell developer and manufacturer made oral and poster presentations at the event. The newcomer’s news that its “production-ready” 5.5 X 5.5mm spectrally adjustable cell hit a record-breaking 43.5% at >400 suns comes on the heels of most of the other CPV cell players announcing that they are—or soon will be—at 40% efficiencies in manufacturing. Although Solar Junction deserves kudos for cracking 43% and then some, there’s a difference between what the start-up calls “production-ready” cells and other companies’ cells that are actually in production and scaling.
A few dozen miles outside of the reality-bending gaud-opulence of Las Vegas dwell two separate portions of one of the largest non-colocated concentrations of renewable energy generating facilities on the planet. To the east of Sin City, that massive testament to public works projects, Hoover Dam, has been cranking out terawatts of old-school clean hydropowered electricity for decades as well as supplying water to the burgeoning populace of the US southwest from its location on the depleted Colorado River astride the Nevada-Arizona border. Far from the Strip’s bright lights out in the expanse of the Eldorado Valley some 30 miles southwest of the dam, a pair of sizeable solar farms—the Nevada Solar One CSP plant and the recently energized Copper Mountain Solar 1 project—pull in sun juice within spitting distance of each other.
There are still a lot of “ifs” when it comes to concentrator photovoltaics, but it’s starting to look like the question of “when” the technology will start to gain serious market traction may be sooner than some think—at least if one is to believe the 400-plus CPV faithful attending the CPV-7 conference in Las Vegas. The onslaught of technical presentations coupled with ample time for networking and schmoozing make the event one of the sector’s group hugs (or shrugs) of the year. Two major systems companies, Amonix and Energy Innovations, are among those leading the way.
Although the sun’s power can be harvested on most days in the Central Valley of California, pistachios must be picked when they’re ready. In the case of Nichols Farms, the timing of the fall harvest meant that the construction of the 1MW SolFocus concentrator PV power plant had to be delayed until those bushels of green-fleshed nuts were reaped. Plus, the half-dozen acres selected for the installation (chosen because of their proximity to the grid-interconnect point and easy road access) included plantings of young trees, which had to be relocated to another part of the farm before the site was prepped. As a result, the first shovel of the project, which was originally scheduled to break ground in late September, was pushed back to the second week of November, according to SolFocus’ Nancy Hartsoch.
The idea of an industry roadmap for photovoltaic technology and manufacturing, along the lines of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), came to fruition a few years ago in the form of, you guessed it, the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics (ITRPV). The second edition of the solar effort has just been published by the Crystalline Silicon PV Technology and Manufacturing Group (CTM) in conjunction with SEMI’s PV Group, and a summary of its contents presented at the recent PV Fab Managers Forum in Berlin. Just one problem though: with nary a single non-European cell or module manufacturer participating, the very name of the effort is misleading, since it is anything but international.
Since the fast track review bombshell was dropped last week I have been thinking about what kind of implications this will have on the UK solar industry as a whole—not just how it will affect the large-scale market. As we all know, one of the many things this country’s renewable energy industry lacks is experience, which is why it was so encouraging to see some of the world’s largest and most influential solar players step onto British soil.