Thursday, April 14, 2011

The future of PV solar: according to Jigar Shah

"By 2013 20% of global electricity sales will be most cost-effectively supplied by solar PV"

A renowned visionary, Jigar Shah is committed to renewable energy and sustainable solutions that enable prosperity beyond the carbon economy. As CEO of the Carbon War Room, Jigar is dedicated to indentifying business-as-usual practices and replacing them with low-carbon solutions. Prior to the Carbon War Room, Jigar founded SunEdison in 2003. In this interview, Jigar Shah talks about how he thinks that the PV market will develop in the near future.

The PV market seems to grow more each year than analysts can predict. Most predictions turned out to be too pessimistic. How do you see the PV market for 2011 and 2012?

Solar prices are coming down quickly.  This is not just in modules but the innovation has really been in power electronics and balance of systems.  The lower costs are causing many countries to grow quickly.  People underestimate the number of entrepreneurs focusing on climate solutions such as solar.
Will the PV market continue to increase spectacularly in the coming years or will it decrease because of governments ending or reducing feed-in tariffs?

In fact the reduction of feed-in tariffs is critical to reaching the next phase of growth.  Solar will reach grid parity for over 20% of all electricity sold globally by 2013 - that’s an enormous market.

What are your expectations for the global PV market in 2011 (size in MW new installed power) and 2012? Will a consolidation phase hit the solar industry as production capacity expands quickly while on the other hand there are uncertainties about markets such as Germany, Italy, France, USA, Czech Republic, UK, etc.?
I think we will exceed 20 GW in 2012.  The oversupply is only in manufacturing equipment – only about 20 GW or so will be able to sell panels for less than US$1.40 per Wp.  Concentration is likely, but consolidation probably not.  It is simply not worth buying other competitors when you can grow market share less expensively.  The uncertainties in the markets are good because you will see a move towards grid parity markets in a big way in 2012.

What PV projects that you support or know of do you see as the most promising in the coming years?
I think there are large new markets coming in India, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines.

What do you see as the biggest threat to solar energy? And the biggest opportunity?
As a distributed generation technology, PV is not affected by cheaper natural gas.  My sense is that you will see incredible growth in the off-grid market – replacing diesel fuel usage around the world.

Critics are waiting for the time solar electricity will be cheaper (for residential customers) than electricity from the grid. When and where do you see that happening first? And does reaching grid parity make incentives and feed-in tariffs obsolete?
This is already the case in California, Italy, and other markets with high electricity costs and insolation.  Over the next two years all diesel electricity markets will experience aggressive PV conversion and by 2013 20% of global electricity sales will be most cost-effectively supplied by distributed solar PV.
What is your vision on the development of the US PV market? Will the USA surpass Germany in the next 3 years - and if so, why?

The US solar market has been a sleeping giant.  The financial products and sales efforts are more advanced than in any other market worldwide.  As solar continues to come down in price, solar will double each year for the next 3 years, surpassing Germany in 2014. At The Carbon War Room, we harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change – Solar is certainly one of the most attractive opportunities and makes economic sense right now.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Solar Panels Are 'Contagious' : according to Stanford Study

Are you more likely to install solar panels if your neighbor has them? A photovoltaic study (PDF) out of Stanford says that you are!

More specifically, it finds that for every 1 percent increase in the number of installations in a particular zip code, the time until the next adoption of solar decreases by 1 percent. Thus solar is contagious!

So just how quickly can solar power spread as this snowball effect gets rolling? John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project explains:
'If you start with a neighborhood with 25 solar installations, where it was 100 days between the 24th and 25th installation, this peer pressure effect will reduce the time between installations to just 10 days by the 250th photovoltaic project'.

Here's what the effect looks like:
solar, pv, solar contagious, solar adoption, photovoltaics, behavior,

Of course, this process can take a pretty long time to actually unfold. In the example above, in a hypothetical zip code starting with one solar installation, it takes 15 years for the gap between installations to come down to 10 days.

What neither Browning or Farrell got into was what, exactly, caused solar power's contagiousness. Is it peer pressure? Infrastructure and training? Marketing density?
It turns out it's a little bit of everything. One predictable factor is social caché. Call it Keeping up with the Joneses. Homeowners see others putting up solar panels, and they want to projecting the same "green image." Another is information transfer. It gets easier to find out about solar panels if there are people in your zip code who have them. Neighbors talk to neighbors, explaining the benefits of rooftop solar, and demystifying the installation process. Likewise, once local contractors are familiar and comfortable with the systems, they can serve more customers, and talk to other contractors.

Finally, companies like SolarCity are taking a hyperlocal approach to marketing and sales. It benefits the company to have a lot of projects in one area, so they'll target a city or town, blast through, and move on.

All of this evidence points to the fact that the best possible way you can get more people to adopt solar energy is to put panels on your own home first!

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Google Goes Solar; Invests €3.5 million In Solar Energy Plant In Germany

Google has invested €3.5 million in a German photovoltaic park, marking the internet giant’s first venture into the renewable energy market outside the United States.

The park, near the city of Brandenburg an der Havel, produces about 18 million kilowatt hours per year and is one of the largest photovoltaic facilities in Germany.

Joining Google in the investment is the German financial group Capital Stage, the largest independent solar energy investor in the country, according to the company’s own figures.

Google, with its massive server facilities, is also a major consumer of energy. But the facility in Brandenburg is not intended to serve as a Google data centre. Its goal is to provide green energy to about 5,000 households in Brandenburg and surrounding regions.

The park lies on the 47 hectare plot of the Brandenburg-Briest airport, which was used for military purposes until the early 1990s.

Google has so far invested in two wind energy projects in the United States. The choice of the Brandenburg plant as its first energy venture outside the US is no coincidence, said Benjamin Kott, Google’s Clean Energy Advocacy Manager.

For many years, he said, Germany has been at the cutting edge of renewable energy development.

“The land is in good condition, the local residents are in favour of clean energy and the German manufacturers deliver outstanding technology,” Kott said.

More than 70 percent of the solar plants installed in Brandenburg are German-made.

Google recently began two other projects in Germany, including an initiative to get small businesses online called "Online Motor Deutschland," and the announcement of plans to open an internet institute in Berlin.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

US Secretary Chu Announces Over $110M In SunShot Projects To Advance Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing In The U.S.


Solar Manufacturing Partnerships will boost American competitiveness in the global solar energy industry and lower the cost of clean, renewable energy. As part of the SunShot Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced the selection of up to $112.5M over five years for funding to support the development of advanced solar photovoltaic (PV)-related manufacturing processes throughout the United States.

The Department's SunShot Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships will help the solar power industry overcome technical barriers and reduce costs for PV installations, help the U.S. regain the lead in the global market for solar technologies, and provide support for clean energy jobs for years to come. 

This program is modeled in part on SEMATECH (Semiconductor Manufacturing TECHnology). Faced with falling U.S. market share for the domestic semiconductor industry from 57% in 1982 to 38% in 1988, SEMATECH began working with domestic equipment suppliers to improve their capabilities. As a result of SEMATECH's work to solve common manufacturing problems by leveraging resources and sharing risks, within ten years the domestic semiconductor industry had grown by 16%. Through this award, SEMATECH will now apply similar ingenuity to helping the U.S. recapture the lead in solar manufacturing.
"Expanding the U.S. solar energy industry is an important part of the Administration's goals to diversify our electricity supply and rebuild America's manufacturing base to create jobs now and in the future," said Secretary Chu. "The SunShot Initiative will not only keep the United States at the forefront in solar energy research and development, but will help us win the worldwide race to build a solar manufacturing industry that produces solar systems that are cost competitive with fossil fuels ." 

Today's investments are part of DOE's SunShot Initiative, which aims to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent so that they are cost competitive at large scale with other forms of energy without subsidies by the end of the decade. Achieving this goal – equivalent to approximately $1 a watt or roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour for utility systems – would allow solar energy systems to be broadly deployed across the country. 

By engaging multiple companies across the PV supply chain, the SunShot Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships program intends to have broad impact on the U.S. solar industry. Selected projects will create organizations designed to bring PV companies together in a coordinated environment to address common technology needs. The facilities established through these projects will provide services, tools, and facilities to PV companies and suppliers to assist them in developing and demonstrating new technologies and in making the transition to commercial production. The program will also link universities and national labs with PV cell, materials, and equipment suppliers to help speed the rate of innovation through coordinated and focused PV manufacturing development. The selected industry-focused organizations will strongly leverage industry, state, and local funds, and are expected to achieve financial self-sufficiency after five years. 

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Solar Panels Price Likely To Drop 20% In US Market In 2011

Solar panel prices in the United States are likely to drop by 20 cents per watt this year, according to the head of SolarCity, one of the nation's largest photovoltaic solar service companies. T hat drop would put the price of the panels that convert sunlight into electricity at about $1.40 per watt on average, or about 12.5 percent below prices quoted at the beginning of 2011.

Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said the decline will help privately held SolarCity, which buys the panels from manufacturers and installs them for homes and businesses, to reach its cost-cutting target of 5 to 8 percent this year.

"It's hard to carve out 20 cents anywhere in this business," he told Reuters in an interview.
Prices for solar panels have dropped by about 75 percent in the past decade, and make up less than half the total cost of installing a rooftop system.

Most major solar manufacturers are increasing their output capacity of solar panels this year in a bid to grow their market share, even as key markets in Europe trim spending on the subsidies that are crucial to the fast-growing industry. That could lead to a glut of solar panels on the market, squeezing margins at companies such as Trina Solar, First Solar Inc and SolarWorld AG.

However, market experts say those price declines are necessary to help the renewable power source compete with other sources of energy such as natural gas and coal, as well as reduce its dependence on government supports.

SolarCity recently bought groSolar, a solar power project developer and distributor, expanding its reach into 10 states.

The company's solar lease program for property owners has been a key part of its growth by enabling its customers to pay a monthly fee for solar panels rather than a large up-front installation price. That monthly fee is often offset by the customer's savings on electric utility bills.

While many states have instituted support mechanisms that aid the solar industry, some -- such as Massachusetts, Oregon and New York -- have set caps on the number of projects or how much of a subsidy a single company can get, which inhibits growth, Rive said.
"It doesn't help anyone but the small guy, and he's going to go away when the subsidy does," Rive said.

Driving down the costs of solar often means that companies must take advantage of economies of scale that are achieved by growing a company's size, he said.
"Unless you plan to (subsidize) this thing forever, you have to let them compete, and see who wins," he said.

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