Top 10 PV-Tech News stories of 2011

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Few would argue that 2011 has been a tumultuous year for the PV industry. The significant increase in news flow over what was already a record year for coverage at PV-Tech in 2010 reflects the significant events industry has experienced in 2011. Using Google Analytics as in past years, we find that readers generated over 9 million pageviews in 2011, via more than 2 million visits. The PV-Tech editorial team produced over 3,000 news stories in 2011, not including blogs, product reviews, video interviews and newscasts. The team effort was very much prevalent in the top news stories of 2011, as each member of the core daily news team contributed a story in this year’s Top 10 roundup.

The 10th most popular news story of 2011 was synonymous with what later generated a swathe of solar cell conversion efficiency records. In February, NREL verified that CPV cell supplier Solar Junction had achieved conversion efficiencies of 41.4% for its multijunction cell. Regrettably, little else has been heard from Solar Junction this year.

At the 9th spot is another record efficiency story, this time from Sharp. Announced in early November, this hugely popular story revealed that Sharp had achieved the world’s highest solar cell conversion efficiency of 36.9% using a triple-junction compound solar cell. Intended to be transferred to flexible solar cells of the future, Sharp’s recent achievements proved that we won’t have to wait a decade to see results enter volume production.

SunPower officially launched the world’s most powerful solar module at Intersolar Europe and the company is now in volume production of the module. The news of the new 96-cell E20 modules, ranked in 8th for our 2011 round-up, was accompanied by a video interview with Jorn Jurgens, SunPower’s managing director for Germany at the show. This also complies with our tendency towards having a video-based story placed within the Top 10 stories for another year.

In 7th position was our coverage of the disastrous earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan in March. Unlike the semiconductor industry, the PV industry was relatively untouched by the news. However, the broader, more widespread impact of the disaster saw Germany reverse its plans for its nuclear energy program. Germany’s actions were echoed by Switzerland, China and Japan, who vowed to look more positively towards renewables than ever before. And the implications of these decisions will undoubtedly be tangible for many years to come.

The 6th and 4th most popular news stories centred on the feed-in tariff changes in Italy earlier this year. With Italy already experiencing rapid growth in 2010, it was hardly surprising that any news from the country was going to be eagerly read. Since the introduction of the Conto Energia IV, Italy has gone on to surpass Germany for PV installations in 2011.

At the half-way point in 5th position is the first of the market research firm stories, which have made consistent appearances in previous years’ most popular lists. The story as reported by NPD Solarbuzz on PV module overcapacity and the threat of continued price declines in 2012 was, not surprisingly, quite a hot topic. The pricing problems have led to bankruptcies, financial losses and a potential trade dispute between the US and China, which has been impacting the industry across the supply chain for the last nine months.

A Top 10 list by another name, always a popular combination of easily accessed aggregated knowledge, even managed to make it into our own Top 10 list. The 3rd most viewed story on PV-Tech this year centred on the top 10 PV cell manufacturers of 2010, a result of some diligent number crunching carried out at NPD Solarbuzz back in March. With the rapid changes and business dynamics seen this year, the 2011 rankings should prove just as enthralling to readers.

The 2nd most popular news story on the PV-Tech website comes from another well-known market research firm, IHS iSuppli. In June, market analyst Dr. Henning Wicht projected that module prices would decline to the US$1 per watt mark by the first quarter of 2012.

At the time, such a projection was a shock for the industry as many expected the second quarter to be at the bottom of price declines as market demand picked up and prices stabilized. Demand did eventually pick up, but prices continued to fall throughout the year, as overcapacity issues remained. This story has persisted in its popularity since its mid-year posting – in fact, it turned out to be exactly the kind of story that would set the benchmark for what turned out to be an accurate assessment, just one quarter later than the shocking reality.

A story with which many of you will by now be familiar is the news of the filing for bankruptcy of highly-differentiated CIGS thin-film manufacturer, Solyndra. As sagas go, this one turned political and continues to ramble on to this day. And it’s a surprise to us all that the breaking news of Solyndra’s collapse wasn’t even in the Top 10 rankings. However, a story that followed soon after the Solyndra fiasco regarding a US loan guarantee to Tonopah Solar for its Crescent Dunes CSP project has made it to number 1.

Inadvertently, the timing of the Tonopah Solar announcement and the association with one of Solyndra’s venture backers with personal ties to a political figure in the US meant the story took on a whole new meaning. Our story, written by our US editor Syanne Olson, seems to have been vigorously linked to within multiple stories in the mainstream media as reference material. The Tonopah Solar story was posted in late September and has continued to gain interest ever since. By a wide margin, it was the most popular news story of 2011 – all for the wrong reasons, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Below is a list of the Top 10 stories with links for easy reference. PV-Tech will also be providing a roundup of the highly popular Top 10 products of 2011, and, for the first time, we’re also providing a review of the Top 10 blogs for the year, which includes the Editors’ blogs, the Chip Shots blog and Guest Blogs. 

1. Tonopah Solar secures US$737 million loan guarantee from US DOE for its Crescent Dunes CSP project

2. Crystalline silicon cost per-watt to hit US$1 in first quarter of 2012, predicts IHS iSuppli

3. Solarbuzz reveals its Top 10 PV cell manufacturers of 2010

4. Italian government considers leaving solar subsidies unchanged

5. Module prices to continue collapse into 2012, warns Solarbuzz

6. Italy has a new FiT

7. Update: Initial assessments of the Japanese earthquake show little impact on the PV supply chain

8.     SunPower introduces world’s most powerful solar module at Intersolar EU 2011 (Video)

9.     Sharp develops solar cell with world’s highest conversion efficiency of 36.9%

10.   News feature: NREL confirms 41.4%-efficient Solar Junction CPV cell; firm on DOE loan shortlist



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