Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, solar coaster!!!

the solar coaster turns one year old today!

Here's the birthday wish list:

For its birthday, the solar coaster wishes that over the next year, governments round the world adopt progressive policies promoting solar power and other renewables, such as feed-in tariffs and net metering, and increase allocation of public funding to basic R&D in the renewables sector.

At the same time, the solar coaster also wishes that research labs and solar companies the globe over continue to make headway in reducing the cost of solar, not just by improving solar conversion efficiencies but also by reducing costs in balance-of-systems, in addition to non-technological (i.e. installation, financing, interconnection, etc.) aspects.

Finally, the solar coaster hopes that solar energy is further able to contribute to the poverty alleviation causes in the developing world, but delivering energy to remote rural areas not connected to electricity grids.

the solar coaster has been proud to bring solar news and analysis for the past twelve months, and looks forward to another twelve and many more ahead!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SunPower and IBM Claim Higher Efficiencies; DuPont Enters Thin Film Market

SunPower Reaches 23.4% Cell Efficiency
SunPower Corporation announced that it has produced a full-scale, five-inch prototype solar cell with an efficiency of 23.4%. This is a world-record for a large area solar cell according to the company.

IBM Also Claims Major Boost in Solar Cell Efficiency...
IBM has managed to squeeze 230W of power on to a centimeter square of solar panel using concentrator photovoltaics. The energy was then converted to 70W of usable electric power, the best power efficiency yet achieved, the company claims.

...and Replants Chip-Cooling Tech in Solar Farms
IBM has developed technology that will let solar cells withstand the heat of more than a 1,000 suns...representatives from IBM Research's photovoltaics research will present a method for cooling concentrating photovoltaics, a solar design where light is magnified onto high-performance solar cells.

DuPoint to Enter Thin Film Amorphous Silicon Market
DuPont (NYSE: DD) announced that it will soon begin construction on a research center in Hong Kong and a manufacturing facility in Shenzhen to support the rapidly growing photovoltaic (PV) solar energy industry

India May Set Up Solar Energy Commission
The Centre proposes to set up a Solar Energy Commission, with equal participation from the private sector. It is to tap the solar energy potential for meeting the future energy needs of the country.The initial investment for the project will be around $ 10 billion.

Barriers to Solar Energy's Blockbuster Promise

Green Tech Blog reflects on what is holding back the solar explosion in California.

Fun Solar Tech of the Month: Solar Lilypads!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

HelioVolt's new thin-film recors; BrightSource lights up with more funding

Austin, Texas-based solar startup HelioVolt announced that it has reached 12.2 percent efficiency with its copper indium gallium selenide (or CIGS) solar cells, which are ideal for built-in PV applications. This is getting ever so closer to the 15 to 20% range of most crystalline based PV efficiencies.

HelioVolt's "secret weapon" is its manufacturing process, dubbed FASST™. According to the company's website, FASST™ is "the fastest and most cost-effective technology for printing thin-film CIGS on the market today[,]10 to 100 times faster than current processes."

Elsewhere, solar thermal company BrightSource Energy has shored up an additional $115 million in Series C financing. Investors included, VantagePoint Venture Partners, BP Alternative Energy, Statoil Hydro Venture, and Cargill subsidiary Black River. Existing investors DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated.

BrightSource's "distributed power tower" technology uses an array of mirrors or lenses known as "heliostats" that concentrate sunlight onto a liquid housed in a "solar boiler." The heated liquid in turn makes steam that turns an electricity turbine. For more on BrightSource's technology, go here. As a testament to BrightSource's technology, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company recently signed a contract with BrightSource for up to 900 megawatts (MW) of solar thermal power.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Polysilicon Shortage --> Think Film + mSi

With polysilicon shortages extending at least through the rest of the year, it is not surprising that we are thin film technologies continue to buzz. Another alternative has emerged--metallurgical silicon. But a little more on that later.

Some analysts forecasts explosive growth of 70% CAGR in the thin film sector from 2007 through 2010. Indeed, not only did thin film behemoth First Solar report record earnings last week, we have also seen a flurry of thin film deal announcements:

A European engineer at the 6th Solar Silicon Conference in Munich, Germany, April 1-3, 2008 says it best:

People have laughed about thin film, now they don't laugh anymore, and in two to three years you will see First Solar as biggest thin film producer going through the roof. Imagine the decline in silicon usage with thin film.

Metallurgical Silicon
Rather than discard silicon altogether, some companies are replacing polysilcion with metallurgical grade silicon (mSi). Q-cells, among the word's top solar module manufacturers, is taking a step in that direction by using mSi , almost exclusively at an upcoming 160 MW Line VII of its 300 MW solar cell facility in Malaysia. The mSi will be supplied by Becancour Silicon, a division of Timminco.

Metallurgical-grade Silicon

According to this article,

Metallurgical-grade silicon is vastly cheaper to produce and ramp than polysilicon. Granted, the purity levels are lower and efficiencies suffer, but development work at Becancour Silicon has shown that impurity levels have been reduced dramatically in only a few years, especially in relation to boron, carbon and oxygen levels.

Besides Timminco, this piece on Seeking Alpha highlights other companies, such as Dow Corning, Elkem Solar and Global Speciality Metals, that are also getting into the mSi game.

Just how what kind of efficiencies do mSi-based solar panels have? I can't say for sure yet; my canvass of abstracts of scientific articles on the web suggest anywhere between the 8 to 10% range (which is comparable to thin film cells in real-life, i.e. non-lab, conditions), but I have not been able to confirm if these are in lab or real-life conditions. I hope to uncover more insight for you in future posts.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

SUNRGI and the Promise of 5 cents/kwh Solar Power

Utility-scale solar power continues to make the news. The U.S. Department of Energy has announced a US$60 million, five-year R&D grant package for the development of concentrated solar power. In the past few weeks, the likes of SkyFuel, eSolar, Infinia and Stirling Energy Systems have all received some high profile financing. Earth2Tech also has two great articles--one on the 11 leading players in solar thermal seeking to operate in the southwest USA, and another on 8 obstacles facing the industry.

But amidst the solar storm of news, one potentially game-changing company caught my attention--SUNRGI, a Reno, Nevada company that says it is 12 to 15 months away from commercializing large scale solar power at 5 cents per Kwh, which make it easily competitive with coal.

So game-changing, in fact, that Sunrgi has created its own category of technology that it dubs Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics (XCPV). As the name implies, it combines the best of both concentrated solar power technology and photovoltaics, a technology combination shared by the likes of SolFocus and Energy Innovations. The likes of eSolar, Infinia and Sterling Systems are solar thermal systems and do not have the PV component, but instead rely on the concentrated heat to heat a liquid that is then used to heat water to run conventional electricity steam turbines.

Here's how SUNRGI claims it can achieve the goals that that Google shares:

1. The XCPV system can concentrate sunlight more than 1,600 times its normal intensity. According to Greentech Media, this is almost twice what Energy Innovations is able to achieve (823 times), and more than three times what Soliant can achive (500 times).

2. This extreme concentration reduces the amount of costly solar cell material needed to generate any given amount of electricity.

3. It boasts a PV efficiency of 37.5% (compared to about 20% of the top-performing PV cells without concentration, or 7 to 9% of most thin-film technologies). The company website suggests it is using PV technology developed from Boeing's spectrolab, and another blog source suggests that it is a triple-junction PV cell.

4. Its proprietary COOLMOVE heat transport technology swiftly prevents this undesirable heat buildup to that the PV cells are actually kept cooler than their nominal operating temperature, thus extending their useful life.

5. The XCPV system tracks the sun as it moves across the sky from sunrise to sunset. The company claims that in any given day, its tracking system "will capture and convert 175% more sunlight than a fixed system at the same advertised peak power rating."

Furthermore, the XCPV system touts its modular design as key feature that allows for distribution over multiple sub-stations over suitable pieces of land, and its upgradeability, which allows for its systems to take advantage of advances in technology (although few details are provided as to how upgrading of XCPV modules actually work).

If SUNRGI is truly able to deliver this product in the next year or so that it promises to, the solar industry will blow past the cautiously optimistic expectations that this Platts article has for the industry.