One of the longest-running gold standards in the high-end photovoltaics game has been the attainment of 40% conversion efficiencies on production-scale III-V solar cells. Not champion efficiencies, achieved on custom-made devices produced in a laboratory setting, but real-world conversion numbers reached on terrestrial-market cells running through an actual manufacturing line. With the news that Spectrolab has hit 39.2% with its new C3MJ+ cells, that 40% benchmark may be only several months away. In the wake of the recent announcement, I spoke with Russ Jones, the Boeing Defense, Space and Security unit’s CPV business development director, who provided more details on the new cells as well as the venerable solar company’s technology and production status, progress, and roadmap.
Thanks to First Solar, cadmium telluride has made thin-film PV a market force to be reckoned with. A small handful of second-generation CdTe players have started their commercial pushes, led by Abound Solar, which is shipping megawatts of modules monthly, and followed by GE-backed PrimeStar Solar, scheduled to begin early volume production in the first half of 2011. Another CadTel wannabe contender that has been staying quiet recently is Calyxo, the German-based manufacturer ramping its first line and girding itself for life after Q-Cells ownership.
Southern California Edison’s solar PV project continues to gather momentum, as the third rooftop system, a 1MW array equipped with more than 16,000 First Solar CdTe panels and Satcon inverters, is sending juice to its friendly neighborhood distribution circuit from the top of a Rialto warehouse. The program now kicks into high gear, as 11 more installations—10 on various rooftops in San Bernardino County and one ground-mounted PV plant in Portervillle—will come online with dispatchable electricity by early next year, according to the utility. Included among the list of distributed-generation solar stations is one particular site that will become the largest rooftop system in North America when it’s plugged in.
A Yingli Solar spokesperson has denied reports that it plans to site a PV production facility in South Africa, contradicting a recent Reuters story claiming the company had decided to spend US$435 million to build a solar manufacturing plant in the country.
The recent news about XsunX achieving 15.1% conversion efficiencies on its small-area coevaporated copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide (CIGS) 125mm-square cells has made its way unscathed around most of the usual-suspect solar, renewable, and clean-green websites, including ours. The noisy trumpeting of the “record” efficiencies generated a fair amount of interest, but it was not in tune with standard reporting practices for the important metric of solar PV’s ability to convert photons to electrons—independent verification, something missing from the announcement, makes all the difference.
In reporting its fourth-quarter earnings, Applied Materials (AMAT) announced net sales within its Energy & Environmental Services (EES) segment (which includes PV tool revenues) of US$606 million. Accordingly, Solarbuzz equipment supplier analysis reveals that AMAT has just reached a significant landmark: the first equipment supplier to reach and exceed the US$1 billion barrier for PV-specific trended ttm tool revenues. Certainly, this achievement offers comfort to tool suppliers that the PV segment has grown to an appreciable level. However, while every other PV tool supplier would welcome reaching this milestone, AMAT’s road taken to the US$1 billion PV revenue mark has been far from incident free.
The solar photovoltaic industry swings both ways when it comes to power ratings. For modules or manufacturing output and capacities, the numbers used are consistently stated as DC. It’s a 250W (DC STC-rated) panel or the production line has a 50MW annual capacity or run rate. On the project side, residential and small commercial systems seem pretty uniformly pegged in DC wattage, but the same can’t be said for larger, utility-scale PV power plants. The heftier the installation, the less uniform seems the reporting, with some companies choosing AC, while others take the direct (current) approach—if they bother to clarify the rating type at all.
The solar photovoltaic industry swings both ways when it comes to power ratings. For modules or manufacturing output and capacities, the numbers used are consistently stated as DC. It’s a 250W (DC STC-rated) panel or the production line has a 50MW annual capacity or run rate. On the project side, residential and small commercial systems seem pretty uniformly pegged in DC wattage, but the same can’t be said for larger, utility-scale PV power plants. The heftier the installation, the less uniform seems the reporting, with some companies choosing AC, while others take the direct (current) approach—if they bother to clarify the rating type at all. This lack of standardization fosters confusion in the sector (and the media reporting on it) and has led to false bravado about this or that big PV farm being the largest of its kind. Isn’t it time that all the inhabitants of Planet PV get on the same page?
One of the busiest of the couple-dozen solar manufacturing factory floors I’ve seen this year belonged to ECD Uni-Solar, at its Auburn Hills 2 (AH2) facility just up the road from the Palace where the NBA’s Detroit Pistons play hoops. When I toured the plant in late July, the three production areas—cell deposition, cell finishing, and module stringing/lamination/final assembly—were humming, as the 1.5-mile-long rolls of flexible stainless-steel starting material were transformed into triple-junction amorphous-silicon thin-film PV laminates. The company’s latest quarterly results confirm those observations at the factory, as production output grew some 58% over the previous period—from 21.2MW to 33.6MW—pushing capacity utilization to about 90%.
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.