New plant starts in Taiwan as global PV capacity increases

It was announced today that Topcell Solar International will begin construction on a $600 million solar plant at the Tainan Technology Industrial Park in Taiwan, an example of the current global clamour to meet rising demand for solar energy.

The move to build the new plant comes as another nearby solar plant owned by the firm struggles to meet expectations for output, with its capacity already booked despite an intended increase from 100 megawatts (MW) to 850MW by the end of 2011.

This is symptomatic of the call for the proliferation of renewable energy worldwide, with global installations reaching 16.7 gigawatts (GW) in 2010, according to analysts at IMS research.

It is also expected by other sources that demand is set to increase massively in 2011, with firms preparing production capacity for demand of 20.4GW across the globe next year, with production expected to largely be met by Chinese firms.

Major players continue to taking the issue of renewable energy seriously with the US Department of the Interior announcing a 1,000MW $6 billion project in California, although this has recently run into problems with the local Native American population concerned about the environmental impact of such a large project, leading to a lawsuit that is threatening to derail the project.

Germany has traditionally lead the way with the most installations of any country, and many other European countries are continuing to attempt to increase their own capacity, which, against the backdrop of sky-rocketing oil prices, is ever more vital.

According to Sam Wilkinson, analyst at IMS Research, the feed-in-tariff system used by many governments, wherein home owners of PV panels are paid to supply excess energy back to a national grid, is the reason many European countries have seen high levels of renewable energy production.  However, the UK which has more recently implemented the financial incentive scheme, continues to lag behind other countries in terms of installations, with all PV modules coming from abroad.

“Most other European governments have used these schemes for many years and as a result installed PV capacity in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, France is far higher than in the UK,” said Wilkinson.

In fact some of the schemes have proved too successful and resulted in uncontrollable installation growth.  This has meant that some governments have actually had to reduce feed-in-tariff rates or limit installations to maintain sustainable growth, often leading to the market stalling or crashing completely.

However, while the UK has been slow to pick up on incentives to increase the proliferation of solar panels, it is thought that this year will see vastly improved performance.

“Of course, there will always be individual countries who could promote renewable energy more or who will be slower to adopt, as the UK has been,” Wilkinson told Techeye. “However, the UK now has one of the most generous incentive schemes and IMS Research forecasts that in 2011 it will be among the ten largest markets worldwide, having been one of the smallest in 2008 and 2009.”

It is also thought that factors such as the highest oil prices since 2008 could further spur on the implementation of renewable energy across the UK and indeed worldwide, helping to promote photovoltaic panels by edging closer to comparative cost effectiveness.

“Rises in the cost of conventional energy sources can only push us nearer to grid parity where electricity from renewable sources costs the same as from non-renewable sources,” said Wilkinson.

Furthermore it is thought that average PV module prices, which constitute a large portion of the total system cost, will see a decline by up to 10 percent in the first half of 2011, following the reduction in some countries of feed-in-tariff rates.

It was also announced today that Silicon Solar Solutions has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the firm’s technology for thin-film solar cells, in order to replace the most costly and time consuming steps in the creation of traditional polycrystalline thin-film cells.

The proprietary TAIC process creates a thin film of large grain polysilicon by crystallizing amorphous silicon. The size of the grains produced using this method  are ninety times larger than conventional methods and are produced in a fraction of the time.
Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Silicon Solar Solutions, said, “We are extremely excited to advance our technology into thin-film solar cells. The potential reward is a significant reduction in the cost of thin-film silicon solar cells and the opportunity to commence local manufacturing. We have received tremendous support from local and state agencies and we are overjoyed to add the NSF to our list of supporters.”