Thursday, May 3, 2012

Polarization in polysilicon industry – survival of the fittest

TAIWAN: The month of April brought many changes for the global polysilicon industry. According to EnergyTrend, a research division of TrendForce, the polysilicon industry is becoming increasingly polarized. With a competitive advantage in terms of capital, cost, and technology, top-tier makers continue to expand capacity while small and medium manufacturers are facing halted production, possibly even bankruptcy.

TrendForce believes the polysilicon industry will grow more competitive by the day, illustrating the truth of the old adage “survival of the fittest”.Source: EnergyTrend, Taiwan.

According to TrendForce, Canadian polysilicon and UMG (upgraded metallurgical) silicon manufacturer Timminco declared bankruptcy at the end of April, but German polysilicon giant Wacker Chemie AG has not been daunted by the weak market and continues with its capacity expansion plans. Wacker indicates, their new polysilicon facility in N√ľnchritz, Germany boasts a capacity of 15,000 metric tons and will begin mass production in Q2 – yearly capacity is expected to reach 52,000 metric tons by the end of 2012.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the maker’s new Tennessee plant. The US facility is expected to begin mass production in 2014, which will bring Wacker’s total polysilicon capacity to 70,000 metric tons. Wacker indicates, as clients are demanding higher polysilicon quality standards, the supplier’s capacity is almost completely under contract until the end of 2015. Small and medium polysilicon manufacturers, on the other hand, are focusing mainly on spot market business. As price fluctuates rapidly and makers have hit a bottleneck in terms of cost and technology, they continue to sustain heavy losses – if there is a break in suppliers’ flow of capital, bankruptcy will be inevitable.

Industry players indicate, the major polysilicon suppliers are currently focusing on contract sales, as it is more cost advantageous and reduces the risk from price fluctuations. The current contract price trend for first-tier makers falls in the $25-30 range. TrendForce indicates this price range is optimal for small and medium manufacturers’ costs, but first-tier suppliers still have the flexibility to offer clients lower prices.

As for this week’s spot prices, suppliers were unwilling to lower polysilicon price, as quotes are approaching cash cost. Furthermore, due to weakened market demand from China’s May Day holiday, trading volume continues to fall. Downstream makers are reluctant to purchase, as many are conservative towards future industry developments. Thus, prices were low, with average polysilicon spot price at $22.656/kg, a decrease of 0.53 percent.

As for silicon wafers, as market price has already fallen below manufacturers’ cash cost and orders coming back in have slightly increased, this week’s prices stayed flat – multi-Si wafer price was US$1.076/piece, while mono-Si wafer price was $1.551/piece. As for downstream solar cells and modules, high-efficiency product demand is relatively stable as orders come in again, in turn stabilizing price in this category. As for standard products, however, although the announcements of plans for power plant have helped demand, price continues to fall. This week’s average solar cell price was $0.462/Watt, a slight 2.53 percent decrease, while module price was $0.755/Watt, a 3.82 percent decline.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Conergy equips numerous public schools with multi-megawatt solar power plants

HAMBURG, GERMANY & HONOLULU, USA: Solar sets the pace in Hawaii: after installing the rooftop installation for the green film and photo giant Fujifilm last year, Conergy has now announced a new project in the surfer's paradise. By 2014, the system supplier will have equipped many additional schools with solar power plants with a total capacity of more than 4 MW.

The first project is on the rooftop of the public Aiea High School in Honolulu. 522 Conergy solar modules are producing more than 170,000 kilowatt hours of clean electricity a year. Kahuku, Kaimuki and Waianae High Schools will quickly follow and convert to clean energy. In the next two years, additional elementary and high schools on the islands of Oahu and Kauai will be bringing the energy turnaround to life for their students.

This major Hawaiian project is carried out by Conergy’s local partner, the clean-energy integrator Hawaii Pacific Solar (HPS) together with RC Energy, who secures the funding and provides the Power Purchase Agremment (PPA) for the major Hawaiian project so that it will be installed at no upfront costs for the local Department of Education (DOE). The schools benefit from the power plants by significantly lower energy costs and by making clean energy come alive for their students.

Solar power plant combines profitability, ecology, sustainability and education
"We're very proud of this new project in Hawaii, because it combines economic, environmental and social aspects," says president of Conergy North America, Anthony Fotopoulos.

"Over a 20-year period, each school will, on average, save around $500,000 dollars on their electricity costs, and, most importantly, will also be achieving their aims of educating children about green issues. The installation will save on the production of 117 metric tons of harmful CO2 greenhouse gases - that corresponds to the emissions from 49,748 liters of gas or 43,403 liters of oil. This is how the new generation of young people will learn to approach energy in a totally different way."

The project is thus more than just power plants: the partners are also providing the schools with a wide range of teaching materials to explain the advantages of renewable energies and are helping new school projects to be set up by providing fresh subjects for the curriculum.

Hawaii, the sunshine state: 70 percent of energy requirements from clean sources by 2030
In this way, the school authorities are making an active contribution to the energy revolution and to hitting the ambitious climate goals set by the island state. By 2030, the islanders want to be getting 70 percent of their energy from clean energy by 2030 with 30 percent from efficiency measures, and 40 percent coming from locally generated renewable sources.

Solar energy plays a critical role in this development thanks to Hawaii's perfect climatic conditions. With an average of six hours sunshine per day as well as high irradiation levels, the surfer's paradise of Hawaii is one of the most attractive places in the world for solar installations, providing maximum yields.

New study shows US solar energy could employ hundreds of thousands of Americans by 2020

WASHINGTON, USA: A new independent research report released today by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that solar energy is following the same path to commercialization as other traditional energy sources spurred by federal incentives.

The study, titled "Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment," also estimates that the US solar industry could employ hundreds of thousands of Americans by the end of the decade.

Like oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and all other traditional energy sources, the Baker Center finds, solar has received support from the federal government to promote its usage in order to drive our economy. In fact, according to the report, diffusion of solar energy technology in the energy markets is very similar to the paths that many American industries have traveled to become mainstream. Unlike more mature technologies, however, that continue to receive subsidies, solar energy is currently in a very early phase of its growth trajectory.

"When it comes to government investment in new and emerging energy sources, solar is not unique," said Tom Kimbis, VP of Strategy and External Affairs for SEIA. "The US has a long history of incentivizing all sources of energy because access to reliable power is the lifeblood of economic development. Pursuing an all-of-the-above approach to our energy portfolio, including aggressively deploying solar energy, is the right policy choice and is critical for America's long term competitiveness."

The report finds that traditional fuels have been subsidized for decades – some like coal and oil for a century – and followed similar growth trajectories toward majority adoption. According to the Baker Center report, every significant energy resource deployed in the US today has had approximately 30 years of innovation and early adoption before beginning rapid growth that brought about mainstream adoption.

The report also finds that solar energy has yielded significant public benefits in exchange for federal support. Earlier, federal energy policy has helped maintain competition, provide for national security, promote economic development, meet public health and environmental quality standards, and increase energy security.

Additionally, the report points out that solar energy benefits the US energy portfolio by decreasing the impact of supply disruptions and price volatility of other sources of energy. It is also notes that solar power is most efficient during periods of high demand, providing lower cost peak power rates for consumers.

"Just like older energy sources like coal, oil, and gas, solar energy is providing real, tangible benefits to America today," added Kimbis. "Policies designed to increase America's use of solar are incredibly successful and generating benefits across the nation. It would be a serious mistake for policymakers in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses across the country, to walk away from good public policy."

Today, more than 100,000 Americans work at 5,600 solar energy companies across the nation in all 50 states. The industry more than doubled the amount of solar electricity installed in the US in 2011 compared to 2010 and growth is expected to continue in 2012.

The Baker Center study was funded by a research grant from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Mount Diablo Unified School District installs SunPower solar systems at 51 schools

CONCORD & SAN JOSE, USA: Mount Diablo Unified School District and SunPower Corp. are celebrating the completion of 40 SunPower solar power systems planned for district schools and facilities. When the total number of 51 systems is complete later this year, the systems are expected to reduce the district's electricity costs by more than $3 million per year, and save $220 million over the next 30 years. With a cumulative capacity of 12.1 megawatts, the project is creating more than 140 jobs during construction and injecting almost $24 million into the regional economy through the use of local subcontractors and suppliers.

"With this project, we will eliminate 92 percent of electrical cost from our general fund in the first year alone and generate additional financial resources from the California Solar Initiative. This will help preserve desperately needed financial resources for our schools and classrooms," says School Board Member Gary Eberhart. "Saving our schools' money while reducing emissions is the right thing to do for our students and the environment. We are very excited to team with SunPower to bring the largest K-12 solar project in the country to fruition."

SunPower is installing the system on rooftops and shade structures in parking lots and hard court areas. The systems use high efficiency SunPower solar panels, the most efficient panels on the market today, which are manufactured locally in Milpitas, California. All systems are expected to be complete and operational before the end of the year.

"The completion of the largest solar school project in the US, delivering electric bill savings of more than 90 percent at 51 schools, represents a major milestone in our industry. The Mount Diablo Unified School District selected SunPower to deliver the world's highest performing solar systems for its schools, in partnership with great local firms," said Howard Wenger, president, regions for SunPower. "The district has established a high standard for clean energy investments on school facilities. As a California company, with roots firmly in California education, it is extremely rewarding to deliver needed savings to our public schools."

According to estimates provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Mount Diablo Unified's solar power systems will avoid production of almost 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, the equivalent of removing 70,450 cars from California's highways.

In addition to the financial and environmental benefits, the partnership between Mount Diablo Unified School District and SunPower is directly benefiting the district's high school students through resources SunPower is providing to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year.

The school district's systems were financed through Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) secured under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, paid through a local, voter approved general obligation bond.

Momentive launches SilTRUST silicone encapsulant technology for solar energy

ALBANY, USA: New transparent silicone encapsulant technology from Momentive Performance Materials Inc, a leading global provider of silicones and advanced materials, can help ensure the long-lasting performance of solar energy photovoltaic (PV) modules in harsh outdoor environments, while improving the light-to-electricity conversion yield.

Greater stress resistance, weatherability, corrosion protection and a longer life span with higher efficiency for crystalline silicon PV modules may result in higher longer-term return on investment for solar energy projects. Momentive introduced its SilTRUST* transparent silicone encapsulant material in a technical paper on silicone encapsulation at the Polymers in Photovoltaics 2012 forum in Cologne, Germany, April 24-26.

In the solar industry, SilTRUST encapsulant can be used to surround the fragile solar cells of the PV module with a very flexible, stress dissipating silicone matrix that adheres well, yet does not pass on much of the mechanical stress the cell may suffer due to harsh environmental conditions. Based on unique technology, through a combination of optical and outstanding mechanical properties, SilTRUST silicone encapsulant materials offer module manufacturers a commercially viable way to produce crystalline silicon PV modules with a longer use life and better energy conversion efficiency.

Because silicones do not absorb ultraviolet light, more sunlight reaches the surface of the solar cell where it becomes available for conversion to electricity. The refractive index of SilTRUST encapsulant closely matches the refractive index of glass, reducing energy-dissipating reflection of sunlight away from the solar cell.

SilTRUST encapsulant is used at much lower module manufacturing temperatures, thus avoiding stress due to differences in thermal expansion coefficients of a module’s components. At 80°C, which is about the maximum operating temperature for a PV module, a silicone module is virtually stress free. This is one of the factors why silicones remain the material of choice for extraterrestrial photovoltaic panels that see many extreme thermal cycles, enduring severe thermal shocks during the course of a day, as satellites orbit the earth. SilTRUST encapsulant material now enables cost effective manufacturing of crystalline silicon solar modules for terrestrial purposes.

“SilTRUST silicone encapsulation of solar cells has been shown to improve the efficiency and durability of solar panels while lowering manufacturing costs,” said Dr. Alex Scholten, Global Program Leader, EcoEnergy at Momentive Performance Materials. “In tests, this encapsulant material outperformed traditional encapsulant materials in PV applications. With our project collaborators, we have also developed a lower temperature, cost-effective module manufacturing process to offer flexibility in equipment and raw materials use as well as ease and speed in processing.”

The process not only requires significantly less investment in equipment, it also operates at much lower temperatures and faster curing speeds than typically found in the manufacture of cells encapsulated using other materials.

“Innovation in encapsulant formulations and processing technology will lead to higher quality solar panels that are less expensive to make,” said Dr. Markus Putzer, Engineered Materials Technology Leader at Momentive Performance Materials. “At Momentive, we see this as a contribution towards making solar energy a competitive, reliable and sustainable source of energy.”

Marked by volatility, the market for concentrated solar power will more than double by 2020

BOULDER, USA: At the moment, the market for concentrated solar power (CSP) systems is paused – not stopped. The sector has been marked by volatility since the technology began to experience a revival in 2004, and that up-and-down movement is likely to persist through the remainder of the decade as the price of rival photovoltaic modules continues its dramatic decline.

According to a recent report from Pike Research, worldwide annual revenue for CSP systems will increase dramatically, from $2.1 billion in 2012 to $5.1 billion in 2013, before dropping again in 2014 and beginning a gradual recovery. By 2020, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts, revenue will reach $4.8 billion. Under a more favorable forecast scenario, revenue could surpass $8.6 billion in 2020.

“Solar PV is not only more attractively priced at the moment than CSP technology, but it also has an established track record that makes it more appealing to investors,” says senior analyst, Peter Asmus. “Yet, CSP may overcome these disadvantages by reducing costs as a result of larger scale and new technology models. The most promising opportunity in the near term is to link CSP with thermal energy storage, thereby increasing the value of clean electricity in a cost-effective way that solar PV cannot replicate.”

Specifically, CSP providers have begun devising hybridized power plants that combine concentrated solar with fossil fuel generation, a model called Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC). At the same time, utility-scale energy storage capabilities are enabling expanded electricity production by dispatching stored heat in the evening hours. Overall growth in the CSP market depends on a range of factors including project bankability/financing, policy issues, cost reductions in technology, cost competitiveness with PV, and expanded electricity transmission capacity.

Tata BP Solar - change of CEO

BANGALORE, INDIA: K. Subramanya, CEO of Tata BP Solar Ltd, has decided to move on. With effect from 2nd May 2012, D. Guru, the chief financial officer, who has been with the company for 20 years, will be taking over as the acting CEO. He will report to the chairman, Adi Engineer.

Tata BP Solar Ltd is a joint venture established in 1989 with BP holding 51 percent and Tata Power holding 49 percent. The company is a leader of solar power solutions and involved in the full range of activities including design, manufacture, marketing and project execution. It has a manufacturing hub in Bangalore and a wide network of dealers and service centers throughout India and neighbouring countries.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cogenra Solar expands into healthcare market with Tucson Medical Center

MOUNTAIN VIEW, USA: Cogenra Solar, a provider of distributed solar cogeneration systems and renewable energy service solutions, announced a solar cogeneration project at Tucson Medical Center (TMC), Southern Arizona’s largest community hospital. The installation will be the first healthcare solar cogeneration application and will produce renewable electricity and hot water for TMC’s campus power plant.

The 46 SunDeck module system, constructed on the roof of the TMC power plant, will provide the building with solar electricity and solar hot water. Cogenra’s solar cogeneration array is TMC’s first renewable energy project and was chosen for the technology’s ability to provide large amounts of hot water, in addition to electricity, and for its quick payback.

“We use thousands of gallons of hot water every day. As a community hospital, decreasing our natural gas consumption and energy bills is very important, and solar cogeneration offers a way to address those needs,” says Richard Prevallet, VP, Facilities and Construction at Tucson Medical Center. “This is our first renewable energy project and it’s encouraging to see that the economics of solar cogeneration allowed us to implement a renewable energy solution that helps us save money, while also helping the environment.”

Working with Technicians for Sustainability, Cogenra Solar is constructing a 115kW solar thermal system which will pre-heat an average of 5,300 gallons of water daily for the reverse osmosis (RO) boiler. The system will go online in May, and is expected to produce 31,600 kWh of electricity, reducing consumption by 7,000 therms of gas annually and saving over $8,500 per year in energy costs.

“Healthcare is an ideal industry for solar cogeneration implementation,” says Gilad Almogy, CEO of Cogenra Solar. “Due to factors that include high hot water demand, increased focus on building functionality and efficiency, and a number of environmental industry mandates, hospitals stand to gain enormously from this technology.”

Tucson Medical Center represents Cogenra’s first healthcare installation as it joins a list of other environmental leaders who’ve implemented solar cogeneration, including Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Facebook, the University of Arizona, and the Navy, Army and Marine branches of the US Military. Cogenra’s hybrid solar cogeneration technology is modular, scalable and simple, and offers returns in less than five years for a large majority of customers.

HyperSolar reports successful testing of protective coating for solar to renewable hydrogen conversion process

SANTA BARBARA, USA: HyperSolar Inc., the developer of a breakthrough technology to produce renewable hydrogen using water and solar power, has reached a significant milestone in protecting and stabilizing its solar nanoparticles used in the production of renewable hydrogen.

“A big hurdle in using a solar to fuel conversion process is the stabilization of the semiconductor material against photocorrosion,” said Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar. “Our development of an efficient and low cost protective polymer coating that also allows good electrical conductivity is a significant achievement in our development of a cost effective means for using the power of the Sun to extract renewable hydrogen from water.”

Unlike conventional expensive hydrogen technology that splits water molecules (H20) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2), HyperSolar is developing a low cost nanotechnology approach that facilitates H2 with the help of wastewater. The HyperSolar nanoparticles function as one-way machines that detoxify wastewater, and produce clean water and pure hydrogen in the presence of sunlight. No other energy source is required, making this an extremely economical and commercially viable approach for the production of zero-carbon, renewable hydrogen.

HyperSolar recently entered into a yearlong sponsored research agreement with the University of California, Santa Barbara to help accelerate the development process and assure that the key milestones are reached.

Solar3D prototype under way at UCSB facility

SANTA BARBARA, USA: Solar3D Inc., the developer of a breakthrough 3-dimensional solar cell technology to maximize the conversion of sunlight into electricity, is making steady progress on the fabrication of a proof-of-concept prototype solar cell in the world-class Nanofabrication Facility at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Inspired by light management techniques used in fiber optic devices, the company’s innovative solar cell technology utilizes a 3-dimensional design to trap sunlight inside micro-photovoltaic structures where photons bounce around until they are converted into electrons. Solar3D’s management believes that this breakthrough solar cell design can produce 200% the power output of current silicon solar cells.

“Our Director of Technology, Dr. Changwan Son, is leading the effort to fabricate our highly efficient 3D solar cell,” commented Jim Nelson, president and CEO of Solar3D. “We are thrilled to have such close and immediate access to the clean room and lab facilities at UCSB. They have exactly what we need to make our proof-of-concept prototype.”

The proof-of-concept prototype is being fabricated on silicon, the most abundant photovoltaic material in the world. It is scheduled to be completed by late June or early July. This prototype will allow the company’s technology team to determine the optimal conditions for fabrication. Then a second prototype will be built to maximize performance and to prepare the manufacturing facilities for a pilot run which will follow. The pilot run will be a short manufacturing run of about 50,000 units that will prove that the high performance characteristics that are achieved in the lab will hold up in a mass production environment.

The company’s analysis indicates that a typical 17 percent efficient solar cell performs more like a 5 percent efficient cell when light is shining 20 degrees from the side, such as during the morning or evening hours. Due to an innovative wide angle light collection feature, the company estimates that its Solar3D cell can maintain a high 25 percent efficiency for a longer period of time, over the course of a day and year. This translates into 200 percent more power than conventional solar cells and a system payback period that is approximately half the time of the current solar technologies.