Sunday, July 29, 2007

IBM Solar: the next "Big" thing

Big Blue is going Big Green. According to Neal Dikeman on Cleantechblog, all signs are pointing to IBM (NYSE: IBM) entering into the solar market in the next 18 months or so. Based on conversations with insiders and research which has uncovered (i) a number of vague references to solar research in recent press, (ii) sophisticated scientific journal articles on solar dating way back to 1978, and (iii) a string of solar-related patents filed by IBM, it looks like IBM is poised to leverage its competency in semiconductor manufacturing (reminiscent of Cypress Semiconductor's, NYSE: CY, foray into solar with its SunPower unit that was eventually spun off in the currently publicly listed SunPower Holdings, NASDAQ: SPWR) to achieve breakthroughs in PV manufacturing in advanced crystalline, thin-film/nano/CIGS technologies.

I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Israel-based Solel to build world largest solar farm

Spurred by state mandates for utilities to product 20% of generated power from renewable sources, California-based Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) entered into a landmark renewable energy agreement with Solel-MSP-1 (subsidiary of Israel-based Solel Thermal Systems) to purchase renewable energy from the Mojave Solar Park, to be constructed in California’s Mojave Desert. The project will deliver 553 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent of powering 400,000 homes, to PG&E’s customers in northern and central California. The Mojave Solar Park project is now the world’s largest single solar commitment.

The plant utilizes Solel’s patented and commercially-proven solar thermal parabolic trough technology to concentrate solar energy onto solar thermal receivers that contain a fluid that is heated and circulated used to generate steam that powers a turbine to produce electricity. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. Solel is working closely with URS Corporation in the development of the Mojave Solar Park, which when commercial will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat.

Perhaps the most environmentally satisfying aspect of the project is that the electricity generated by Mojave Solar Park will use some of the transmission infrastructure originally built for the now dormant coal-fired Mojave Generation Station to deliver the power to PG&E’s customers.

This Red Herring article considers the PG&E-Solel agreement as a signal of the of a CSP (concentrate solar power) boom, as PG&E seeks to make other utility-scale solar farm deals with the likes of BrightSource Energy, Green Volts and Cleantech America (here's an interesting expose on Cleantech America and the ambitions of this 2-year-old startup to capitalize on the solar farm boom).

Elsewhere, PG&E is also making aggressive moves in wind and wave energy, reports the Green Wombat.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New Efficiency Record of 42.8% Achieved

A Univeristy of Delware(UD)-led consortium has achieved a record-breaking combined solar cell efficiency of 42.8% from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions, eclipsing the previous record of 40.7% set last December by Boeing's Spectrolab. In November 2005, the UD-led consortium received approximately $13 million in funding for the initial phases of the DARPA Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) program to develop affordable portable solar cell battery chargers. As a result of the consortium's technical performance, DARPA is initiating the next phase of the program by funding the newly formed DuPont-University of Delaware VHESC Consortium to transition the lab-scale work to an engineering and manufacturing prototype model. This three-year effort could be worth as much as $100 million, including industry cost-share. According to the article in the first link above:

The consortium's goal is to create solar cells that operate at 50 percent in production, Barnett said. With the fresh funding and cooperative efforts of the DuPont-UD consortium, he said it is expected new high efficiency solar cells could be in production by 2010.

The highly efficient VHESC solar cell uses a novel lateral optical concentrating system that splits solar light into three different energy bins of high, medium and low, and directs them onto cells of various light sensitive materials to cover the solar spectrum. The system delivers variable concentrations to the different solar cell elements. The concentrator is stationary with a wide acceptance angle optical system that captures large amounts of light and eliminates the need for complicated tracking devices.

The VHESC would have immediate application in the high-technology military, which increasingly relies upon a variety of electronics for individual soldiers and the equipment that supports them. As well, it is hoped the solar cells will have a large number of commercial applications.

Separately, a US-Korea team announced an efficiency record for organic solar cells at 6.5%.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who's side is the government (and private equity) on???

Andrew Revkin of the New York times had a big splash on the promises and perils (with emphasis on the latter) of relying on solar as a solution to our global energy pickle. The problem cited is of the often heard, "broken record"variety--that solar technology is too expensive for mass market. If you had to point fingers, you would think that the U.S. government (underinvesting in renewable R&D and oversubsidizing fossil/nuclear energy) is in bed with the fossil/nuclear lobby:
In the current fiscal year, the Energy Department plans to spend $159 million on solar research and development. It will spend nearly double, $303 million, on nuclear energy research and development, and nearly triple, $427 million, on coal, as well as $167 million on other fossil fuel research and development...“Coal and nuclear count their lobbying budgets in the tens of millions,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “We count ours in the tens of thousands.”

The New York times also had interesting side bars on solar thermal and storage of solar power.

A rural solar initiative in the Phillipines faces the challenges of the high costs of solar panels and realted maintenance.

A little more good news to ease the pain of the global polysilicon (feed stock of conventional silicon-based solar cells) shortage--Wacker Chemie (talk about a wonder stock!), one of the world's leading producers of polysilicon, is planning to build a new granular solar polysilicon site in Burghausen, Germany.

In terms of state policies, solar power prosptects are looking sunny in Arizona (read also Vote Solar's analysis on Arizona) and Oregon (50% solar tax credit).

Finally, some recent venture capital transactions: SoloPower (thin filim CIGS) raises $30 million; MWOE Solar (thin film amorphous silicon) raises $7 million; Solaire Direct (French designer and installer) raised €6.1 million and Heliatek (organic solar cells) raises €3.2 million. But this article warns that private equity money directed to solar is drying up due to slow development of certain startups, slow shift towards higher solar conversion efficiencies, the threat of China entrants producing cheap yet high quality solar cells, and the continued expansion and increasing market share of the public solar companies (e.g. BP Solar's Frederick expansion). This is substantiated by a Red Herring article describing the increased caution that venture capitalists are taking towards cleantech investments.. Are we entering a PE/VC money dry spell?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

China Sunergy Announces Approval of N-type Cell Patent

China Sunergy's (NASDAQ: CSUN) shares were trading up 6% within the first hour of trading this morning on the announcement that has received N-type cell patent approval from China's State Intellectual Property Office. The approval covers a period of 20 years and further solidifies China Sunergy's unique position in commercializing N-type cell on top of its existing technological capabilities. China Sunergy has also submitted a patent application to SIPO for P-type selective emitter cell technology and currently expects to get the approval in 2009.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Sunny Days in Singapore

Singapore, my homeland, is entering the solar manufacturing race. Two deals for thin-film solar manufacturing facilities were announced in the past few days.

It is reported that SGX Sesdaq-listed Equation Corp Limited through its newly-acquired subsidiary Solar Morph Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-registered company will undertake the construction and operation of a thin-film amorphous silicon plant in Singapore, commencing with establishing a 20MW manufacturing line by mid-2008 and continue to expand to its full 60MW annual capacity by 2010

Separately, Germany's SolarTec AG is firming up plans to gain a presence in Singapore, including the setting up of a $100 million 45 MW thin-film solar module manufacturing plant and a listing via a reverse takeover on the Singapore Stock Exchante.

The Solar Bulls are Raging!!!

Solar stocks on the U.S. markets surged across the board today.

First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) closed at $119.34, up an unbelievable 23.95% (after an already torrid year!--it has quadrupled since the start of the year) in the wake of announcing 5 new contracts worth $1.3 billion, its board approval of new a new Malaysian plant.

Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) closed at $67.37, up 16.0%, on the announcement of several contracts to supply European customers with 99 MW worth of PV modules over the next 2-3 years.

JA Solar (NASDAQ: JASO) surged 14.8% to $42.76 after announcing that it has commenced production on four additional 25 MW per annum solar cell production lines in its Ningjin, Hebei, China site increasing its manufacturing capacity from 75 MW to 175 MW per annum.

The combined news created for a bullish sentiment across the solar board, lifting up other solar stocks which did not have any announcements of their own, including Yingli Green (NYSE: YGE, up 15.9%), Solarfun (NASDAQ: SOLF, up 11.4%), Hoku Scientific (NASDAQ: HOKU, up 13.7%), Canadian Solar (NASDAQ: CSIQ, up 8.9%), LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK, up 8.5%), Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ: ESLR, up 6.1%) and Suntech Power (NYSE: STP, up a "mere" 4.1%).

As a Forbes article explains, First Solar and Trina Solar's new contracts target end users in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Canada, among others, reflecting the continued growth of solar in these markets as the European Union and the Canadian province of Ontario enact legislation and standards to replace their fossil fuel based energy sources with renewable power.

Full Disclosure: The author owns some shares in First Solar and Suntech Power.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Polysilicon Shortage Exerts Pressure on China Sunergy

Shares of China Sunergy Co., Ltd. (Nasdaq: CSUN) tumbled 19.26% or $2.69 to $11.28 in Tuesday (June 3) trading after the specialized solar cell manufacturer announced before the opening bell that it continued to experience tight polysilicon supplies in China's solar market in the second quarter ended June 30, 2007. This bring's CSUN's share price back nearly to its IPO price of $11 after hitting a peak of $16.70 shortly after it went public in May. Read this Forbes report.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bioplastics and Quantum Dots: The Next Generation in Thin Film

The world's first thin-film solar cell built with bio-based components has been developed by BioSolar, Inc, the company announced last week. The bio-plastic components developed by BioSolar replace petroleum-based plastics, that not only bear the burden of its environmental implications, but also lead to upward pressures in PV panels as the price of crude oil escalates. Previously, bio-plastics made from renewable plant sources have not been able to withstand the high temperature involved in the manufacture of PV systems. BioSolar has developed a proprietary process to produce bio-plastics that are not only able to withstand the high temperatures, but also possess all the physical and eletromaganetic characteristics of conventional petroleum-based plastics.

Also reported last week, Menlo Park-based Stion raised $15 million in Series B financing. The company is keeping its thin-film technology under wraps, but a CNET article speculates that the basis of Stion's technology lies in quantum dots--nano particles that are sensitive to physical phenomena and can be used to trap electrons.