Tag: pv

USA invests big time in solar and wind power

David-Cameron-at-the-EU-s-007While the UK appears to be doing a backpedal on the use of solar and wind technology, the USA has extended tax credits for another five years.

The extension means that an additional 20 gigawatts of solar energy will be supported, according to Bloomberg, which estimates that the deal will provide over $73 billion investment and electricity supply to eight million US homes.

The USA is already one of the biggest investors in clean energy and Bloomberg estimates that the size of the investment means further reduction in costs.

British prime minister David Cameron, who once touted himself as the UK’s “greenest” politician and even had an electricity generation system on his roof, is expected to dramatically slash feed back tariffs in the New Year.

Currently there’s an oversupply of photovoltaic panels which is expected to continue into next year.

Solar panel demand soars

Solar farm in Arizona - Wikimedia CommonsThe five main markets for photovoltaic (PV) products are set to demand even more supplies.

Trendforce, a Taiwanese market research company, said the five biggest regions consuming PV technology are China, Japan, the USA, the UK and Germany, but demand from India is also increasing.

Overall, it seems that growth will flatten for both the UK and for Germany but China and the USA will all see strong growth.

Patrick Lin, an analyst for Trendforce Energytrend’s division, said demand will rise in 2016 to total 58GW (gigawatts). “Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East and Africa will each take 57 percent, 26 percent, 11 percent and seven percent of global market share next year.”

Lin said, however, there will be oversupply because Chinese manufacturers are set to complete production capacity expansion.

Other countries that have invested in solar this year are Saudi Arabia, Israel, South Africa and Algeria. UK government policy is moving toward zero subsidy for solar panels.

PV demand 2015-2016

Floating solar rafts come to light

Kyocera floating solar raftsJapanese firm Kyocera said that it has finished construction of two floating solar power plants in Japan.

The floating rafts, built at Nishira Pond and Higashihira Pond in the Hyogo preferecture will generate 3,300 megawatt hours (MWh) a year. The first wil generate 1.7MW, and the second 1.2MW.

The rafts use a total of 11,256 modules and started operation at the end of March. The electricity the rafts generate will be sold to the local utility.

Kyocera said solar rafts generate more electricity than ground mounted or rooftop systems because the water cools them. They also reduce evaporation from the reervoirs and limit the growth of algae.

The platforms are completely recyclable and use high density polyethelene, as well as being designed to resist natural forces such as typhoons.

Japan to overtake US, Germany in photovoltaics this year

A market research firm said Japan is set to overtake both Japan and the USA in the installation of photovoltaic (PV) capacity.

According to IHS IMS, Japan will grow by 120 percent  and will install over five gigawatts of PV systems during 2013.

But there’s a clear financal reason for that. A feed-in tariff in Japan pays up to ¥42 per kilowatt hour. “At ¥42 Japan’s feed-in tariff is by far the most attractive globally,” he said.  He described the tariff as perhaps “overly generous” Ash Sharma at IHS said.  That could mean the market “overheats”.

He said the industry expected Japan to reduce the tariff by 10 percent later this year, but that won’t prevent Japan leapfrogging over Germany, Italy and the USA to become the second largest PV market in the world.

The tariffs will help Japanese companies that sell modules and inverters – currently they lag behind overseas companies. Japan, said IHS, wants foreign companies to speed up PV installations – and Chinese and US module suppliers now sell into the market.

One of the main reasons for Japan’s boost is on projects over two megawatts – dubbed “mega solar”. While that’s going to assist growth during 2013, it will be a short lived move because there’s a shortage of available land. High electricity prices and a shortage of nuclear energy are all contributing to growth in the country.

New solar cell material could send panel prices plummeting

Oxford University researchers have been handed a cheque to develop a new solar cell coating that would make next generation panels much more affordable.

Currently, the vast majority of panels are coated in indium tin oxide (ITO).  Indium is a scarce material, and is much in demand for a variety of hardware purposes, such as LCD screens and indeed solar photovoltaic panels.  In fact the total market for ITO will be worth around $26.8 billion by 2016.

Due to the scarcity of supply and volatile pricing of ITO, researchers are attempting to find cheaper alternatives for conductive solar cell coatings.  This is good for people, not to mention the clear benefits for the environment in terms of making PV panels more readily available.

For example research is currently going into the development of ‘wonder material’ graphene for just this purpose.

However the Oxford Uni researchers are developing a new type of coating which is based on more readily available materials.

This involves the use of zinc, a more abundant element.  The team at Oxford are now using funding from the Materials Science Venture Prize to develop solar panel coatings using silicon doped zinc oxide.

This material apparently offers less conductivity – around two thirds that of ITO – but other attributes such as transparency are similar.

With the material easier to come by though, it will mean that its use on large scale panels will be a lot cheaper.

The funding will now mean that the team are able to test out manufacturing processes, and will explore the use of silicon doped zinc oxide in LCD screens and other applications.

US Navy makes a splash with underwater solar cells

US Naval researchers are working on a novel place to keep photovoltaic panels – beneath the waves of the sea.

While solar cells are often found slapped on the top of buildings, a team at the US Naval Research Laboratory have been developing aquatic PV panels in order to capture the sunlight penetrating up to nine metres below the water level.

By chucking the panels into the ocean they hope to be able to power automated systems and sensors, which typically would require on-shore power supplies or batteries.

Problems have been encountered with using traditional solar cells to turn light into electricity, so what the researchers needed was a way to use photons that could travel deep down into the drink. 

The researchers found that although the intensity of solar radiation is lower underwater, high conversion efficiencies are possible due the changes to spectrum.

Working out that the usual crystalline solar cells wouldn’t do the job, they used cells based on a material called gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) which has high efficiency in low light conditions.

Furthermore, the filtered spectrum of the sun underwater is biased towards the blue and green section, and this is much more suited to gallium indium phosphide than conventional cells.

Initial tests were able to reach a depth of 9.1 metres, with output of seven watts per square metre of solar, enough to be useful for areas close to the shore.

Government slammed over "chaotic" solar tariff delays

The opposition has slammed the “chaotic mismanagement” of solar subsidy cuts by the Coalition government, following further changes to the Feed in Tariff programme.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced that solar subsidies for photovoltaic panels would be pushed back to 1 August, a month later than planned.

In a statement given to TechEye, Labour MP Luciana Berger claimed that the continued confusion around the solar cuts was piling misery onto the industry.

“This government’s chaotic mismanagement of the cuts has hurt families already hit by soaring energy bills and a recession made in Downing Street, strangled a growing industry,” Berger said, cost thousands of jobs and undermined investment across the entire low-carbon sector.”

“Ministers failed to set out any sort of plan to deliver 22GW of solar power by 2020. Nothing in the government’s announcement will give any comfort to a solar industry that has badly stalled since the last round of cuts,” Berger said.

The government had initially intended to put cuts in place sooner – with a boom in installations creating spiralling costs – and a protracted legal campaign ensued as the industry fought back against cuts which were perceived as “knee-jerk”.

After losing a number of court battles, initial cuts were put in place in March. 

Energy secretary Ed Davey recently indicated that the latest cuts would be delayed from the 1 July timeframe, saying a delay should be expected, though it was likely to be just a “tweak”.

In today’s announcement from the DECC, minister Greg Barker acknowledged the tough times the industry has been through, highlighting aims to boost growth in the future. “Today starts a new and exciting chapter for the solar industry,” Davey said.

“The sector has been through a difficult time, adjusting to the reality of sharply falling costs, but the reforms we are introducing today provide a strong, sustainable foundation for growth for the solar sector,” he said.

PV wafer prices to slump further in 2012

Photovoltaic wafer prices dropped dramatically in the first quarter of 2012, falling over 70 percent in a year,

IMS Research points out that the sharp drop was a symptom of a heavy global oversupply, and in turn, it has forced module suppliers to consider buying in their wafer supplies from third parties rather than in-house. This is in stark contrast to 2010 and 2011 where a significant chunk of the suppliers were working on bolstering in house wafer capacities. Wafer prices have dropped by roughly $0.70/W to reach record lows.

Compared to the first quarter of 2011, when average wafer prices were over $1/W, at the beginning of 2012 they were just $0.30/W. The solar industry is big business, and an enormously competitive market place – caused by capacity expansions that outweighed 2011’s demand – forced an oversupply which lead to the cost reductions.

IMS Research noted that global PV wafer capacity grew 50 percent to reach a total of 50 GW by the end of 2011. Installation demand, however, grew 35 percent to reach 26.9 GW, a clear split.

Polysilicon, cell, and module prices fell throughout 2011, declining by 48 percent, 57 percent, and 44 percent respectively in the first quarter of 2012 compared to 2011.

Rather than taking a beating, suppliers have been focusing intently on how to cut costs to achieve profits. Senior market analyst at IMS, Sam Wilkinson, said that the large Chinese PV module suppliers were looking for 100 percent vertical integration in 2010 and 2011, so expanded their in house wafer capacities. Now, though, many suppliers have figured out it’s cheaper to buy wafers than producing them at their own facilities.

Because of this change in manufacturing strategies, and by making the most of low wafer prices, a lot of suppliers have actually improved their cost structures. For  example, Wilkinson points out, Chinese tier-1  supliers managed to improve cost structures by $0.05/W – not a number to be sniffed at considering the industry’s climate. “With many suppliers renogatiating their polysilicon sipply contracts and also improving their polysilicon purchase costs, suppliers will certainly need to remain flexible in their manufacturing operations in 2012,” Wilkinson said.

Prices for both wafers and polysilicon are expected to drop even further throughout the year. IMS predicts that the average wafer price will have fallen by 25 percent by the end of 2012, compared to the same quarter in 2011. Polysilicon prices will fall at a faster rate, dropping by 33 percent by 2012’s end.

Solar cells to power mobile devices indoors

Electronics devices powered by indoor light have received a boost, with a company claiming to have reached record power conversion efficiencies.

Solar powered consumer devices have been on the horizon for a while now.  One of the problems has been that most solar cells rely on energy directly from the sun, which is a problem if you either don’t get out much or happen to live anywhere in England.

G24 Innovation reckons that it can now accelerate the use of self-powering devices that are able to utilise indoor lighting rather than draining batteries.

The company claims it has managed to break its own record for cell efficiency, with a boost to its dye-sensitised photovoltaic cells. This means setting a record 26 percent conversion efficiency, beating the previous best of 15 percent as tested by Texas Instruments‘ solar labs.

According to the company, this means it is offering five times the power of its nearest competitor.

The technology, claimed to be about as close to mimicking photosynthesis as has been achieved so far, is able to harvest indoor ambient light and still produce voltages to power electronic devices.

The technology is currently being sold commercially to powershade and blind systems for hotels in Vegas, and for wireless keyboards and other peripherals.

However, by increasing the efficiency, the possibilities for  more powerful applications are opened up.

This could mean powering more power intensive products like smartphones and tablets in the future. In fact, the company is looking towards reaching conversion efficiency rates of 40 percent.

Europe solar dominance on decline as subsidy cuts bite

Europe’s dominance in solar panel installations is on the decline, with subsidies biting in and increases in other parts of the world.

While the government in the UK may have lost a recent battle to move forward cuts to Feed-In-Tariffs, the imminent drop in solar subsidies here as well as other parts of Europe will affect growth over the next year.

Germany, too, has agreed to lower FiTs, and Europe as a whole will see its share of installations falling from 69 percent last year to 50 percent this year, according to forecasts by IMS Research. 

While European countries have lead the way with large scale solar take-up, installations are moving faster in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, Germany will remain the world leader for the time being – with at least 6GW of installations expected this year thanks to a rush for installations ahead of FIT drops.

In fact, the global industry looks to be in good shape. In total, global installations will grow from 26.9 gigawatts in 2011 to between 27.8 GW and 32.6GW this year.

China, which has been feuding with the US over panel prices in recent months, is set to become the second largest market in the world, though it will not be able to catch up to Europe despite slowing demand.

We can expect installations as high as 8GW this year, according to IMS.  Global growth is also getting a boost from a larger number of countries contributing on smaller levels.

23 countries or more are expected to be installing at least 100MW over the course of the year, compared to 17 last year.