Archive for the ‘PV Technology’ Category

Load Forecasting Crap Shoot and IRP Risk Reduction for Electric Utilities

“You don’t have to rely on multi-decade forecasts because you don’t need to build things with five-year-plus lead times.”

In addition to lowest cost, renewable energy systems can be deployed in a 1/3 of the time and modularly compared to large scale thermal plants. This significantly reduces risk for the electric utility and industry pundits credibility who’s load forecasting has been way over projected in the last 10 – 15 years as this article illustrates.

The ambiguity during this energy transition period makes forecasting difficult which includes forecasting high cost/risk grid upgrade requirements.

Full a

As technology upends grid

fundamentals, is load forecasting a


Systemic changes to the electricity system make load predictions more difficult, but may also lessen the impacts of mistakes.

Each year, electricity consumers in the United States spend billions more than necessary to keep the lights on, in large part because the utility sector has been overestimating its needs . . . . . .

#electricutility  #renewableenergy  #solarenergy  #utilityIRP

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How ISOs and RTOs can create a more nimble, robust bulk electricity system and accelerate renewable energy.

Its no secret that the limiting factor for renewable energy growth is the lack of robust and coordinated transmission and the tools to control intermittency. This is probably the best update on the subject available. A great read and well worth time.

From the executive summary:

“. . . . specifically, the task force seeks to identify where technological deployment intersects with operational and policy considerations. This report is the culmination of that effort.

Source: ISO.RTO Council

In the course of developing this report, three key priorities emerged as imperatives to continuously ensure the reliability and efficiency of the

Bulk Electric System as the penetration of emerging technologies continue to expand. Those identified priorities are as follows:

1. Renewable supply and integration: Many breakthroughs are being made in individual technologies such as renewable generation, grid-scale energy storage and microgrids, for example. However, is there enough innovative activity happening cohesively to integrate all of these disparate components into the overall electricity system?

2. Greater situational awareness: Several technological options are presenting themselves, but are they being exploited to their maximum potential and will they be enough to maintain adequate awareness over a changing system?

3. Controlling an increasingly distributed electricity system: As Distributed Energy Resources (DER)3 increasingly connect to the distribution system, their aggregate impact on the bulk electricity system4 is already evident. To what extent should operation of DERs be ‘controlled’ or influenced by the bulk system operator and what should that relationship look like? What technologies will best assist that framework.”

As this report demonstrates, we have the technology and the knowledge to speed this clean energy transition but we need the political will. It’s time for leadership at all levels to embrace what it is the greatest economic and environmental opportunity of our lifetime.

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Lazard 2014 LCOE Research Report

puts out their annual Levelized Cost of Energy in Q4 every year, and I always greet it as a worthy piece of market research. Others, however, shower it with critique – some dubious, some accurate. (2014 post on this research here) While there are significant variables that affect the effort to quantify LCOE in one metric, this annual research is quite accurate and appropriately footnoted regarding these variables.

LCOE is defined as all the expense line items of a PV system’s installed cost + the total lifetime cost of the PV system divided by the total amount of energy output in kW hours that the system will put out over its lifetime. (A simple ).

Lazard LCOE Chart from 2014 Research

Lazard LCOE Chart from 2014 Research

The latest Lazard research reveals what others including Deutche Bank, UBS, NREL and other analysts have been saying over the past year: utility-scale solar and wind power are increasingly cost-competitive on the wholesale level with traditional energy sources such as coal and nuclear, even in the absence of subsidies. At the retail level cost comparison, its widely competitive unsubsidized with highly subsidized traditional fossil fuel generated power.

The research also shows the all-important progress of energy storage cost reduction and the large benefits of coupling storage with PV to reduce the demand charges and/or provide instant grid frequency stabilization. (A great list of all the energy storage benefits can be found

As a long-term participant in the utility and solar energy industries, it’s breathtaking to see the progress of the PV industry and its market penetration in the last 3 years. The industry has continually had to compete with highly subsidized fossil fuel generation while consistently improving LCOE through hardware, process and regulatory efforts to name a few. Significantly, all of this market penetration progress was achieved with 10X less in government subsidies than traditional fossil fuel-based industries. And with current cost reduction roadmaps throughout the supply chain showing continual lowering of cost’s, the future looks bright.

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Understanding Photovoltaic Cell and Module Level Efficiency

After a recent presentation during a government renewable energy conference, I received a number of questions regarding why there was such a large difference between crystalline solar cell efficiency and a fully packaged and weatherized module. For instance, a 19% efficient crystalline photovoltaic (PV) cell, when packaged into a module with 60 cells results in a panel that is roughly 15% – 16.5% efficient depending on the manufacturer. According to the , the cell to module loss is in the 11% – 17% range for most manufacturers.

Solar module

Solar Module Packaging

The losses are a result of three distinct issues. 1) physical layout of the PV module and framing,  2) optical loss from encapsulation and glass, and 3) series loss from cell connections

The physical layout of the module affects the efficiency by having a , meaning the space between cells, the edge of the module and width of the frame. The larger the inactive area of a module, the lower the efficiency.

The is a less straightforward problem and has a number of challenges resulting from the top glass and the encapsulation film.

The top glass needs to have low reflectivity so the maximum amount of solar radiation reaches the solar cells. The glass choice has to balance a number of factors including thickness, to meet hailstorm impact rating; tempering, to meet safety standards; and optical clarity, for maximum radiation absorption by the PV cells. A good, if technical overview

The film used to protect modules from moisture and the elements require a similar balancing act. These include letting the maximum amount of solar radiation reach the cells, while maintaining a near-100% moisture barrier with no significant expansion or contraction of the film over the 20+ year life of the module. And it needs to do this without creating an overheating of the module in hot climates.  A module with a high (loss due to heat) is the

PV module ribbon series connection

Solar Cell PV Ribbon 

enemy of high solar power production.

The is due to series resistance in the cells themselves and in the cell and string connectors. The cells themselves are made from silicon, which not as good as metal for transporting current, and its internal resistance is fairly high, resulting in current loss.  This loss is compounded by copper ribbon (silver looking ribbon between cells) interconnection loss, and the cells’ series configuration in the module. While cells are put in series to meet a target voltage for a given module, this results in loss from the large number of connections.

There are a number of underway to reduce this cell-to-module loss to 5% or less with novel approaches in all 3 areas. While the reduction to 5% has been achieved in national laboratories in an academic environment, the challenge always is to translate these new methods into a highly efficient manufacturing production line where throughput speed and yield (sellable product) are not compromised.

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Getting to €1/Watt Installed Solar PV

Gehrlicher PV Module Robot

Robotic PV Module Installation

It’s no secret that solar PV module costs have plummeted in the last 24 months. The improvements in non-module balance of systems and installation processes are now leading the total installed cost reduction assault with less publicized but equally significant developments in solar PV hardware, software, process and logistics.

One intriguing development has been development and use of ground mount installation robotics to reduce the cost of installation of solar PV modules in the field. (disclosure – this author works with Gehrlicher) A great video of this robotic system in use can be found

Over the last 15 year’s, Gehrlicher has lead this BOS cost reduction race on a number of fronts including quick install racking, cost reducing wiring harnesses and other BOS components under the ® brand. The company recently installed 34MWp’s of ground mount hardware and solar PV modules in 10 months in Germany which is a stunning illustration of this BOS progress.

€1/Watt ($1.50/Watt in US) installed is just around the corner, stay tuned!

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A New Year Greeting

solar bankability

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PV Module Form Factor Evolution – Enter SolarClover

The standard PV is essentially a 40+ year old packaging scheme, whether you are talking about crystalline technology or thin-film (glass on glass). It is a form factor that has served the industry well up to this point, but as my readers know, I believe it is keeping the pace of PV adoption from increasing further.  I have long been a proponent of new, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing, and easier-to-install PV modules.  While has enabled some interesting products from a limited number of vendors, desirable economics and durability for these products is a long way off.

SolarClover solar energy

SolarClover – A New Paradigm for Solar Energy

Enter  with their unique, well thought-out product, the SolarClover. Clover is a completely new form factor which packages high performance mono-crystalline PV cells on a hexagonal , extruded plastic-aluminum sandwich backing, with a unique polyamid front sheet. Heavy, costly glass and metal framing is eliminated and the resulting product is unbelievably light. The hexagonal modules are then placed on a simple metal tripod racking system which utilizes 3 quick bolts for assembly.  Each tripod has a micro inverter and holds about 450kW of rated output, takes less than 10 minutes to assemble and less than $100/kW to install. Industry average for residential solar installation is $300+/kW to install. Plug and play solar deployment has arrived.

SolarClover shipment packaging is IKEA style flat cardboard boxes – an entire 1kW AC system fits into a standard contractor van, in one truck roll.  And while it’s tempting to look at this product for the DIY market in an outlet like Home Depot, Armageddon is targeting professional tradesmen like roofers, plumbers and electricians to handle installations.  The company provides a clever and patented low cost tool for determining siting applicability – shading, roof orientation, etc. – called the Clover Analysis Tool (or CAT) which substantially lowers the challenges for experienced contractors already servicing the general residential market place but with limited solar energy experience.

SolarClover is centered on providing visually pleasing PV systems to the smaller size residential market where a standard 1kW to

SolarClover new look for PV

Quick Plug and Play Assembly – click to enlarge

2KW Clover system can add enormous cost reduction to electricity consumers with high utility rates, especially in places where peak demand charges are present. Pricing is currently just under $6/Wac with the expectation that scale-up of manufacturing and operations will reduce cost substantially.

Mark Goldman is the high energy founder of Armageddon who clearly has a strong product development and marketing capability and understanding of this market niche.  “We’re focused on the utility consumer who only needs a small PV system, and we wanted to provide those consumers with a system that can be easily installed by their current contractors and is a really elegant addition to the architecture of their home.  We look at the electric grid as a system we’re optimizing for the small residential consumer who will experience significantly lower electricity bills and a quick return on their solar investment.”

Interestingly, Solar Clover has real applicability in the military market in operational and forward deployed environments where simplicity, light weight, quick set up and break down, and high performance are key attributes.  More on this later.

Solar Clover is not without its technology and market challenges. They include things like solar cell , snow loading durability and a small installation cost (difficult for installers who are used to commanding larger invoices).  These are engineering and marketing issues common in new technology commercialization and Mark has a solid roadmap to mitigate and overcome these challenges as volume increases and his technology partners innovate along with him.

This is exactly the kind of form factor innovation that the industry needs to significantly broaden the appeal of PV through lower cost, ease of installation and aesthetics. Early adopters, this is your product and who knows, maybe this is what I will put on my own roof during a planned renovation.


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All the Best in New Year

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Solar Industry M&A – Really?

With the collapse of publicly traded solar stocks in the last 4 months, the general business press has been buzzing with speculation about mergers and acquisitions. But these articles have missed some basic industry drivers and circumstances that may point to minimal M&A activity. A good example includes a recent Bloomberg about how is a take over target for GE and Siemens as FSLR’s share price has fallen from $156 in Q1 2011 to $36 today losing enormous value.

First Solar - M&A Target?

While I have tremendous respect for what FSLR has accomplished and believe that high performance thin-film will be a factor at some point in the longer term, rapidly changing market dynamics have caught up with the company.  Manufactured costs of crystalline silicon PV modules have dropped much more rapidly than thin-film as a category or FSLR could match.  Indeed, FSLR’s stated guidance was to decrease manufacturing cost by $0.05 per Watt during the last 18 months compared to a $0.20 – $0.35 per Watt decrease by a variety of crystalline providers.

Solar thin-film as a general category is lower in efficiency, which requires more land/space, balance of systems (inverters, racking, wiring, permitting, administration) and as such, requires a module sale price differential from a crystalline module of approximately 30% to remain competitive. Currently the delta between the 2 module technology types is only 6% – 10% in the spot and long-term contract markets respectively.

The thin-film business model as a general category in the current environment is broken. (exception may be S) While First Solar has their downstream project development and EPC capability glossing over the module manufacturing cost problem, this will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. And with behemoths like Samsung, LG, Hyundai and now F about to enter the market with aggressive low cost capabilities and significant resources, the pace of cost reductions will continue.

I would be more than surprised if GE (especially since GE has its own thin-film with an integrated BOS approach) or Siemens or similar entities would buy FSLR with the current market dynamics in play. If the price becomes low enough, they may have interest in FSLR’s substantial project pipeline but that would need to be significantly lower than the current $36 price.

Overall, acquisitions in the PV module manufacturing industry don’t make much sense even at the current low valuations unless there is valuable IP present or there is a substantial project pipeline as a result of downstream integration. This is because the barriers to market entry are quite low. Manufacturing equipment used throughout the supply chain is generally American and European made off-the-shelf production machines with willing and able companies such as Applied Materials ready to supply. Additionally, most Asian solar manufacturers have no brand value established worth purchasing. Foxcon’s entry in the PV industry is a good example where no existing company or capacity was purchased, opting instead for the latest, highest efficiency manufacturing platforms available while partnering with an existing Chinese poly silicon company for raw material supply.

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Operational Energy – The Marines Embrace Renewables

US Department of Defense agencies are on the renewable energy front. With plans to have 25% renewable energy use by 2025 and spending $15.2B on DoD energy in 2010, this is a significant and growing market place for the solar energy industry.

DoD energy is segmented into basing power (mostly electricity), operational energy (mostly liquid fuels) and non-tactical vehicle energy.

Operational energy is consumed in forward-deployed situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan among other locations globally.  While a significant amount of diesel

Marines Expeditionary Energy Office Demo at Twentynine Palms, CA.

and JP-8 fuel is used to provide localized power and transportation (Marines = 200,000 gallons per day in Afghanistan), batteries are large part of the picture for soldier power.

A great piece in Outside magazine, “”, tells the story of how the marines are leveraging renewables, particularly solar, to keep their quick and lethal response capabilities. The main issue has been the Marines outrunning their fuel support systems, requiring a slow down and diminished effectiveness. The problem is the result of their using 3X the amount of batteries and fuel since 1998 to power electronics (command, control & communications) now common in front line operations. Photovoltaic solar technologies in various quick deployment and size configurations have enabled the average marine to reduce the amount of batteries and fuel required on the front line by almost 50%, which has significantly increased speed and effectiveness.

A great quote from the article: “Seeing a picture of a grinning Marine standing next to a still-functioning solar panel riddled with bullet holes makes it difficult to cast renewables as an effete liberal preoccupation.”

Eliminating batteries, winning contests.

Personally, seeing some of the products in use, such as foldable and packable solar PV chargers, has been satisfying, as I worked on these initial products back in 2004. At the Natick Soldier Systems Center, some of the first foldable and portable solar chargers took shape and the skepticism among most of the DoD energy elites and military was strong. The idea that batteries could be replaced by portable PV was a hard sell. As one uniformed person said, “when in a kill or be killed situation, batteries are the only way I trust to stay alive”.

Fortunately, these PV products have demonstrated that soldiers are more secure and can operate more efficiently and lethally.  They are now being deployed widely both in the Marines and the Army. A good example is their prominence in Katherine Hammack’s, (Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy and Environment) recent Army energy transition presentations, which can found (3 minute mark)

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Solyndra – A Solar Industry Side Show

, the high profile bankruptcy in the solar energy industry, continues to generate media attention as a result of the $520M US government loan guarantee. While the attention is driven by political competition to portray the Obama administration as inept and the green jobs program a failure,  and Solyndra claiming it could not compete with Chinese manufacturers, the media misses the main reason for the failure.

Solyndra was an outlier. It was a completely non-mainstream, highly risky technology commercialization play which had no technology history to support a reasonably quick, low-cost commercialization ramp.

An Automotive Outlier

The Solyndra technology and design was highly suspect from the moment it came out of stealth mode. Basic issues included round CIGS thin-film solar cells, which when deployed, had half the solar cell facing away from the incoming solar radiation. CIGS is still a developing story with many challenges on traditional flat plate modules, let alone a round tube. Optical experts found that the reflective claims (that sunlight hitting the white roof membrane underneath would reflect back at high intensity to the underside of the tubes) were highly suspect because of the loss of photon intensity during reflection. The high maintenance cycle for keeping the white membrane clean was another issue.

Of course manufacturing this type of completely new technology was expensive and Solyndra was selling at loss even before the recent crater in crystalline module prices. With scale of manufacturing always being the holy grail for reducing cost, it was hard to see how this would be accomplished without more investment capital in a company that already had $1B in investment capital. Raising additional capital with that cap table size would be more than difficult.

A PV Technology Outlier

The main issue for Solyndra and other new solar technologies that are not highly disruptive (through high exponential cost and performance advantages), is that it is extremely difficult to compete with the crystalline PV industry’s  40-year history and over $50B in cumulative R&D investment.  A complete explanation of this history and advantage can be found.

The Solyndra event would seem to be another good example of herd mentality investing. Most people in the PV industry never took the concept seriously and mar veled at money as it poured in to Solyndra compared to far more worthwhile PV technology commercialization companies.

The one positive lesson that Solyndra taught was that different form factors and smart installation design can have a significant impact in desirability. Many downstream installers

Form Factor Lessons To Learn

and EPC companies were somewhat dubious of the technology performance.  With Solyndra’s pricing lowered to make projects viable (especially on roofs with weight limitations), they had the opportunity to work with the product and understand these advantages, and had significant enthusiasm for these features.  It’s a good, real-life product engineering test for the PV industry to take notice. Flat plate solar modules are not the only form factor in the future.

The PV industry has an incredible history in the last 7 years with average year over year growth of 60% through 2010. The industry is near $100B in revenues globally and employs millions of people throughout the supply chain both directly and in residual economic activity. The kWh cost of electricity from a PV system is now at or nearing grid parity in vast swaths of the developed world’s economies with minimal or no government support. (And doing so while competing highly subsidized fossil fuel, nuclear and hydro power) Solyndra is a mere blip in evolution of the PV industry and a complete sideshow in an industry that has been the fastest growing throughout the global recession. Unfortunately for the PV industry, the Solyndra story will continue to be a major political story as the 2012 election cycle ramps up and obfuscate this great history.

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Endings and Beginnings

I took some time off from posting here as a result of a number of events.

Two dear friends passed away in late June, it was good time to step away and reflect on what is important.

In July, I ended my PV industry consulting practice and have taken a position with , Inc., an innovative American Suniva mono-crystalline manufacturer of high performance mono-crystalline and modules. As Senior Director, Federal Business Development, I lead the company’s efforts in assisting civilian and DoD agencies who are diligently working to meet aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency . With our project developer and EPC partners, we are providing knowledge, experience and products for high resiliency, highly reliable onsite solar energy generation to meet these challenging timelines.

Suniva’s very capable management team is focused on high efficiency mono-crystalline cells but without the corresponding high price which has been typical for this cell type. Using novel developed in the U.S., the company excels at innovation both at the cell and module level and on the manufacturing floor, resulting in lower cost to compete on a global basis.

I will be back to posting weekly again going forward. I will also be posting to my twitter feed, , with specific news and content for my government and business partners in the near future.

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