Friday, May 27, 2011

The big boys enter the solar race!

Traditionally a market reserved for niche players, the solar sector is now drawing increasing interest from energy behemoths like General Electric and Total as well as unexpected new investors like Google.

US giant General Electric entered the solar power race in April when it announced the acquisition of PrimeStar Solar, Inc. — a company in which GE has held a majority equity stake since 2008.

GE entered the wind energy business about a decade ago and has since grown its turbine manufacturing arm to generate about $6 billion in annual sales.
It now hopes to repeat this success with solar, with plans to open America's largest solar photovoltaic factory in 2013.

Global demand for solar PV is likely to increase by 75 gigawatts over the next five years, GE said, justifying a decision to invest $600 million in solar technology and commercialisation.
Scale – and cost – is everything

The move marks the US giant's entry into the race to build low-cost photovoltaic panels with the aim of bringing solar power to the mainstream.
The new US factory will produce thin-film photovoltaic panels relying on Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), a market now dominated by First Solar, another American company, which pioneered the technology.

Although less efficient than conventional solar panels, CdTe allows for quicker assembly and mass production of solar panels at lower cost, a method designed for energy production at utility-scale rather than for small rooftop installations.

And for GE as well as First Solar, scale – and cost reduction – is everything.
"This will be the initial market to focus on: utility-operated and utility-scale solar farms," said Mark Vachon, vice-president of GE Energy's Ecoimagination programme. "I still think the market is largely immature and I think our scale will bring us to a position we will be proud of," he told EurActiv.

Vachon declined to say how big the scaling up was going to be, simply saying "it is pretty big". "You can imagine we want a return on that investment."
The company's chief executive, Jeff Immelt, told investors in December that he believed it could be a $2 billion to $3 billion business for GE by 2015.

Total bid could signal further acquisitions

In a related move, French energy major Total SA has offered in April to buy up a majority stake in US company SunPower Corp. for a price of $1.37 billion.
Total's move is one of the biggest ever by an oil and gas giant into the market for renewable energy and could signal the start of large-scale consolidation in the solar sector, something for which investors have been waiting for years.

Big utilities have so far shunned the sector – which predominantly features small roof-installed systems – in favour of large-scale wind farms that fit better into their business models.

The deal "is something we have been waiting for and with the industry gradually moving more from Germany, Italy and the rest of Europe to the US and China, the utilities and power groups will get a bigger role," said Jon Sigurdsen, renewable fund manager at DnB Nor Group unit Carlson. "We are now becoming a lot more positive [on the sector] and we have recently bought a lot of solar shares actually since the start of the year," Sigurdsen told Reuters.

Arno Behrens, head of energy at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a Brussels-based think tank, believes the sector is braced for further consolidation. "With constant pressure on the solar industry to become more competitive, further consolidation of the sector is unavoidable, also in view of increasing competition from China," Behrens told EurActiv. "This will involve mergers within the industry, but also take-overs from other power and energy companies."

Growing interest

The moves by GE and Total are not isolated. In April, US Internet search giant Google announced $168 million of investment to help build a thermal solar plant in California's Mojave Desert.

Google's venture into solar thermal follows a $5 million investment in a solar photovoltaic power plant near Berlin, Germany – Google's first investment in Europe.
Although smaller in scale than the GE and Total deals, the investment signals growing interest in the solar sector from big listed companies.

With the EU mandating a 2020 target for renewables and the Fukishima nuclear disaster in Japan, energy utilities have an incentive to diversify their portfolio, said Georg Zachman, a research fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic policy think-tank.

"Solar companies are […] a great hedge for a conventional portfolio and also provide a potentially valuable 'ear on the ground' in the highly politicised renewables sector," Zachmann told EurActiv. However, he said solar is still far from entering the energy mainstream as it cannot yet compete with lower cost fossil fuels and still relies heavily on subsidies.
According to experts, solar photovoltaic is on track to reach so-called grid parity with fossil fuels in 2017 on average across the European Union.

Article source

Monday, May 23, 2011

Solarpod, the first portable solar generator, goes live in th UK!

Thousand Suns Ltd has recently announced its successful start of the production of the solarpod by thousandsuns™.Solarpod is the first portable solar generator of its kind.

‘After 2 years of R&D, a stint at Dragon's Den and a lawsuit by Apple, we are finally starting the distribution of Solarpod in the UK!says Jean Viry-Babel, Managing Director of Thousand Suns. The students of Swafhamm Bulbeck primary school in Cambridge, have received the first ever mass produced Solarpod. ‘As the kids have worked hard for their solar energy project, from a sponsored walk to selling home-grown fruits and veggies and an old clothes tailoring stand, we decided to donate solar panels and personally bring Solarpod to their school. Solarpod will power their computers and laptops!’

Solarpod is designed to be able to provide energy self-sufficiency in areas where there is either an unreliable or a non-existent grid network. For instance, at your summer beach house in Cornwall, out fishing, camping, in your shed/allotment or in regular power cut stricken Japan.

It is the first lightweight, portable solar generator and It contains the latest in Lithium Iron Phosphate battery and 400W inverter technology. By connecting solar panels directly to Solarpod with cables, you can produce your own power in 5 minutes and it powers a lot of appliances found in the home, office, shed or workplace; such as TVs, stereos, games consoles, under the counter refrigerators, laptops, phones, power tools etc. It works out-of-the-box and is completely plug and play with no installation required.

With 800 units pre-ordered Solarpod is now available in India, Finland, Japan, Malta, Germany and Spain. In the UK, Solarpod is now for sale on Amazon or at Thousand Suns online store for £499!

Follow Thousand Suns and Solarpod’s developments on Twitter at

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Solar Trade Association:Government neglects solar’s retail potential

The Solar Trade Association has highlighted an apparent shortcoming in the Committee on Climate Change’s renewable energy report that could underestimate the potential of the UK solar industry.

The trade body claims the report neglects the solar industry’s potential as a retail industry, gauging its potential for future growth only by looking at wholesale prices.
‘[The report] underestimated the potential for solar in the UK through its apparent lack of understanding of the retail energy marketplace,’ the Solar Trade Association said in a statement.

‘The Committee for Climate Change has failed to recognise that solar power should be compared to retail rather than wholesale electricity prices.’

The Committee for Climate Change is an independent body tasked with advising the UK government on setting carbon budgets. It reports to parliament on progress the country has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While its latest renewable energy report acknowledged the huge solar resources on offer in the UK, the Solar Trade Association claims it has given a limited outlook of the economic part the technology will play in the country’s gross energy industry through until 2030.

Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, said, ‘[The Committee for Climate Change has] made the very basic mistake of comparing the costs of solar with the costs of large-scale wind and nuclear. Solar works directly on your roof and therefore cuts out the costs of networks, supplier profits and all sorts of additional costs.

‘Solar competes directly with what the end-user pays for electricity – the retail, not whole, electricity market. That is a critical difference when evaluating the different technologies.’
Johns said that the Department for Energy and Climate Change similarly overlooked the industry’s potential as a key part of the future competitive retail market in its Electricity Market Reform proposals.

A recent report by European Photovoltaic Industry Association showed that even at the wholesale level, solar power will be competitive with new gas plants in some countries within less than five years. Germany anticipates deriving ten per cent of its electricity from solar power by 2020.