Friday, July 20, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Portuguese Develop Electric Scooter

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 11:00 PM PDT

 
Hey hipsters, quit waiting around for a Vespa hybrid and get on board with a Portuguese-developed, zero-emissions, electric scooter.

Image via University of Coimbra.

The two-wheeled vehicle was created by a team of researchers from the Institute for Systems and Robotics at the University of Coimbra. Ana Vaz, project leader, said the scooter can be customized for differing preferences and levels of affordability. It has a range of 60 to 86 miles.

Depending on consumer interest, the scooter could be on the market before the end of the year.

Sources: EV World and Pravda

 


Huge Photovoltaic Solar Plant Delivering over 200 MW of Power

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 10:00 PM PDT

 
The Agua Caliente solar project is delivering over 200 megawatts of power to the grid, and is about two-thirds complete. When it is completed, it should be generating a total of 290 MW.

Yuma County, Arizona is the construction site. On average, about 400 workers are employed in completing the plant, which should be finished by 2014.

"We look forward to the project’s continued success as we work together to meet California’s ambitious renewable energy goals. Solar projects like this are helping PG&E provide its customers with some of the nation’s cleanest electric power, more than half of which comes from sources that are renewable or emit no greenhouse gases,” said John Conway, PG&E’s Senior Vice President for Energy Supply.

Partners in constructing the plant are NRG Energy, MidAmerican Solar, and First Solar. Once it is finished, the operation and maintenance will be handled by First Solar.

Over the next 25 years, the solar power facility should offset about 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Agua Caliente has received financial support from a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee of $967 million. Though it is the largest photovoltaic solar plant in North America, and has been a success story, it it unlikely to receive as much as coverage the Solyndra story.

When Agua Caliente is producing 290 MW of power and has employed droves of people during construction and more during its operation, where will all the press be then?

Public perception of renewable energy must be at least somewhat influenced by the mainstream media, but are they paying attention to some of these positive developments?

Arizona could be a solar powerhouse with its very abundant sunshine and large expanses of flat land, but it is nowhere near there yet.

Source: Business Week
Image Credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons

 


100,000 Protest Nuclear Power in Tokyo

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 09:01 PM PDT

 
On July 16, in record high temperatures, about 100,000 protestors took to the streets of Tokyo to show their opposition to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.

In June, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Japanese reactors needed to be restarted to avoid electricity shortages. One reactor has already been restarted, with another scheduled to restart by the end of July.

All 50 of Japan’s reactors were taken off line after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

To read more on this story, check out the full Reuters piece.


EV to Be Manufactured in Mississippi, Creates 426 Jobs (or 7,400 Indirectly)

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 08:30 PM PDT

 
Great news for job seekers in Mississippi coming from GreenTech Automotive (GTA)… in the form of 426 manufacturing jobs for the new all-electric MyCar. The sweet two-seater is currently being manufactured in Horn Lake, Miss., but will be moved to Tunica when construction of a 300,000-square-foot facility is completed.

It gets better: analysis done by Evans, Carroll & Associates Inc. suggests that in addition to the 426 direct jobs, about 7,400 indirect jobs will be created because of GTA by 2014.

And better yet: MyCar is going to retail at a base price of $15,500.

MyCar via of GreenTech Automotive

CEO of GreenTech Charles Wang said that most electric vehicles have tried to squeeze into the existing transportation model by creating comparable, albeit expensive, cars. Wang said MyCar is addressing issues of affordability by “reshaping how Americans think about meeting our daily transportation needs.”

GTA suggests that MyCar is best suited for “corporations, government entities, rental car fleets, corporate and college campuses and individual daily errands.” Future versions of MyCar include a micro pick-up, delivery vehicle, and larger MyCar EV.

MyCar produces zero emissions and can be recharged in a 110V or 220V wall outlet, or a fast-charging system. Recharging takes between three to twelve hours. Its range is about 115 miles, with a top speed of 45 miles per hour in the European Union and 25 miles per hour in the U.S.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour were at the July 6 unveiling of GTA’s MyCar, confirming that even opposing political groups can get behind green technology that creates green jobs for a green economy.

Sources: PR Newswire and GreenTech Automotive


Greendex Survey 2012: India Ranks First, USA Last in Sustainable Behavior

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 08:00 PM PDT

 
According to a recent National Geographic survey, Americans rank last compared to the rest of the world in sustainable behavior, and they are least likely to feel guilt for the implications of their choices regarding the environment.

green behaviour globally

Green business image via Shutterstock

The survey was conducted by the National Geographic Society and research consultancy GlobalScan. The results of the survey were presented in The Annual Greendex report 2012. The survey was conducted on 17,000 consumers in 17 countries to quantitatively measure the number of environmentally friendly people all around the world.

The survey was a measure of consumer behaviour in 65 areas relating to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods.

The results of the survey were a bit shocking, as the people who had the highest footprint were found to be least bothered about the result of their impacts on the environment. The 'Greendex' found that Indians had the most sustainable behaviour, followed by Chinese and Brazilians. Americans ranked last in the survey and France ranked last in the Europe.

According to the survey, India was on the top with a Greendex score of 58.9, followed by China at 57.8, and then Brazil at 55.5. USA scored 44.7.

Despite the highest sustainable behaviour, 45% of the consumers from India and China were found to exhibit guilt over the consequences of their actions. Only 21% of American consumers did so. In contrast, only 21% of US consumers were found guilty about the impact they have on the environment.

“The data suggest a significant divide between how emerging markets and developed nations experience environmental challenges,” said Terry Garcia, Executive Vice President for Mission Programs at the National Geographic Society.

The views presented in the above article are author's personal views only.


 


Fraunhofer Center Opens Outdoor Solar Module Testing Facility in Mexico

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 07:30 PM PDT

 
Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Development (CSE) has announced the opening of its new outdoor photovoltaic test field, called OTF-1 in Albuquerque, Mexico. This new field test facility is an extension of CSE’s existing Albuquerque solar research annex, which began operation in 2011.

Solar panels via Waynenf

The facility aims to provide support to PV modules and its components manufacturers in assessing the on-field performance and durability of its products. It will also help system integrators to obtain the crucial data to meet performance standards and lifetime expectations.

The new facility will provide performance and durability testing services, such as analysis of individual modules and components, strings or grid-tied systems, stabilization with continuous monitoring under open circuit, short circuit, and/or max power point conditions, and inverter DC/AC power conversion analysis. The test field will also allow for testing of products and components which are not yet certified for UL, IEC, or similar listings.

The new facility at Albuquerque to test solar panels makes sense because of 310 days of direct sunshine annually, officials said. The site is well equipped with both variable angle mounting systems and dual axis trackers to fully exploit ideal conditions for testing PV modules.

“OTF-1 will be an important resource for our customers,” said Dr. Christian Hoepfner, Scientific Director at Fraunhofer CSE. “With annual PV installation at the multi-gigawatt scale, the industry needs enhanced feedback on actual field performance and durability of both existing and new PV technologies. This facility reinforces our commitment to conducting cutting-edge solar research for our clients, and gives our experienced technical team the flexibility to accommodate a broad range of solar power performance testing projects.”

OTF-1 is the second testing outdoor facility operated and maintained by Fraunhofer CSE. The first is at Revere, Massachusetts, co-located at a 750-kW plant operated by National Grid. The Fraunhofer Center is constructing another test site in Albuquerque that will provide an additional five acres of test beds.

The commercialization and bankability of the products can be increased after obtaining the test verification from the independent, non-profit research and development organisations like Fraunhofer CSE.

Testing facilities like these will help to bridge the gap between laboratory testing and wide-scale application of clean energy technologies.

The views presented in the above article are author's personal views only


Cow Power in Action: 920,000 kWh of Electricity and Happier Cows

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 07:00 PM PDT

 
Last August, the Pennwood Farms dairy farm in Pennsylvania installed a digester to convert the manure of its 570 cows into biogas, and the new equipment is already yielding some extra benefits. Along with producing enough biogas to generate electricity at the rate of 920,000 kWh per year, the digester produces high-quality bedding that makes the cows feel more comfortable. And you know what they say about happy cows…

biogas digester leads to happier cows

Renewable Energy from Biogas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been pushing dairy farms and other livestock operations to install anaerobic digesters, which use a natural microbial process to break down raw manure. The microbes produce biogas as they chew their way through the organic material in manure. The gas can then be burned in a generator to produce electricity.

The “leftovers” from the digestion process form a benign (aka less smelly) sludge that can be dewatered and used as a natural soil enhancer in place of chemical fertilizers, or thoroughly dried and used as bedding in stalls.

In addition to producing renewable energy, digesters make for much better manure management than open lagoons, which have become notorious for causing air and water quality problems.

In turn, improved manure management can enable a livestock operation to expand without incurring additional costs for conventional manure disposal or remediation.

That also dovetails with broader public policy goals, such as preventing the contamination of drinking water supplies.

A Cow Power Showcase

Aside from helping livestock farmers to resolve environmental issues efficiently and economically, digesters can also provide farmers with a new revenue stream as illustrated by Pennwood Farms’s experience.

The digester provides all of the electricity for the farm and generates enough excess to sell back to the grid, equivalent to the typical electricity consumption of an estimated 600 people.

The farm also used to purchase sawdust bedding to the tune of $60,000 per year, but now the digester enables it to produce its own bedding on site.

Depending on the type of operation, farms with digesters could also market the dewatered digester sludge as a natural fertilizer.

Of course, a little support from the government helped to get the operation up and running: USDA provided a $264,450 Rural Energy for America Program loan and a $264,574 grant, and the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority chipped in with $475,274 in funding for the biogas operation at Pennwood Farms.

Biogas, Milk Production, and Happy Cows

The new digester could also help contribute to higher milk production. Just a few months after the digester was installed, Duane Stoltzfus (one of four brothers who owns Pennwood) told a reporter that "the cows are happier because of the higher use of bedding… They use their stalls better and are better health-wise."

A 2009 study from England provides some evidence to support the notion that contented cows produce milk at a significantly higher rate, though apparently the addition of some nicer bedding is just one of many possible strategies.

According to a recent report, anecdotal evidence suggests that classical music, massages, and a personal name can provide a significant boost in milk production, too.

Image: Some rights reserved by davedehetre.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.



Bush-Backed Amonix Closes Manufacturing Plant

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 05:23 PM PDT

 
Unfortunately, another solar company, Amonix, has some bad news to share. Not all companies will make it… in any industry. But especially not in a very fast-growing, maturing industry.

In this story today, Amonix is closing a manufacturing plant and working to restructure in this highly competitive market, perhaps the fastest-growing market in the world today.

amonix

Image via Amonix

The maturing of an industry means many unfortunate stories for the companies that can’t keep up. This is yet another one. And it won’t be the last.

Amonix was backed by Bush and many others from both sides of the aisle along the way (but I have a feeling those trolls who love to drop by CleanTechnica chanting about “crony capitalism” will just be looking to put it on Obama — some things change, some things stay the same…). But the lesson isn’t that we shouldn’t back solar companies, of course.

One of the most important messages from this announcement today, in my opinion, is that the U.S. needs to step it up in protecting and ensuring the long-term viability of its solar companies. The U.S. has been a leader in modern solar power, but that leadership has waxed and waned. The U.S. now has over 100,000 employees in thousands of solar companies across the country. But clean energy, and especially solar, is seen as a key economic market of this century, and other nations are working their butts of to make sure their companies come out on the top of this market. The U.S. should do the same.

If this sector were an Olympic sport, you know we’d be taking every failure as a message that we need to do more, work harder. You know that one setback wouldn’t make us drop our vision of achieving the gold.

Well, this isn’t a sport — this is a much more important matter. This is an economic sector that represents millions of jobs! We should be behind it 100%, and we should do more to ensure our companies can compete with others across the world.

 

 

For more, here’s SEIA’s full statement on the Amonix closure today:

WASHINGTON – Following news reports about the closure of the Amonix solar manufacturing plant in Nevada, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association ® (SEIA®), released the following statement.

"The closure of any plant and loss of jobs is always unfortunate. Amonix plans to restructure its operations to build a successful long-term future. Amonix has been supported with great hope by an array of private investors as well as Republican and Democratic policymakers, who all understand our need to invest in this growing industry. None of them expected this innovative company led by a true American entrepreneur to face such tough challenges; but that’s the reality of today’s intensely competitive solar industry.

"This should not be a political story, but rather a story of an evolving and competitive industry that is benefiting all of us, across the country. The solar industry employs 100,000 Americans at 5,600 companies in all 50 states and last year the industry more than doubled. Most of those companies are small, the true engines of economic growth and innovation.

"America can’t afford to cede yet another high-tech industry and its jobs to China, Europe, or elsewhere while we waste time on political arm-wrestling. Today, solar powers our critical infrastructure — military bases, hospitals and schools — as well as homes and companies in every state. Solar is one of our nation’s many great energy resources, working for Republicans and Democrats alike.

"The more we focus on the politics of solar, the less we do for the continued growth of the industry. America needs everyone working to help the industry continue to thrive, rather than working to make solar nothing more than a political football.

"The sooner Washington wakes up to the fact that solar is a nonpartisan energy source — and one that is growing faster than any other — the more American businesses and homeowners will benefit."

About SEIA:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,100 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. www.seia.org.

Background Materials:
Q1 Report


Cleaning Up After the Steel Industry: Abengoa Invests in Industrial Recycling in Turkey

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 03:00 PM PDT

 
A subsidiary of renewable energy and clean tech provider Abengoa will invest around $120 million to build two steel dust recycling plants in Turkey whose combined 200-ton capacity would be enough, operating at full capacity, to turn just over 40% of Turkey’s steel dust, currently a waste product, into an exportable by-product. Along with reducing the negative environmental impact of making steel, the project is projected to create some 130 direct and 200 indirect jobs, as well as export earnings.

steel mill

Steel Mill Photo Credit: Payton Chung (CC BY 2.0 license)

“The facilities will be designed and operated using the safest and most environmentally-friendly technologies in order to recycle steel dust, a hazardous waste generated in production of steel from electric arc furnaces, and therefore minimizing land-filling. Today the production of this waste in Turkey is approximately 500,000 tons per year,” the Seville-based group announced.

 

 

From Steel Waste to Exportable By-Product

The investment is being made by Befesa, Abengoa’s industrial residue recycling division, and Canada’s Silvermet, its joint venture partner in Turkey, who have been working with the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT) on the project since 2011. They expect the two steel dust recycling plants to be up and running in 2H 2014.

"This investment is very important not only for bringing technology, creating employment and contribution to Turkey's export, but also contribution to the environment,” M. Ilker Ayci, ISPAT’s president commented. “Befesa has added Turkey to its existing operations in Germany, France, UK, Spain and Sweden. We are proud to win this investment for our country."

Located in Izmir and Adana, an area with a concentration of Turkey’s steel producers, the two plants will have the capacity to process 110,000 tons of steel dust per year, turning it into 80,000 tons of Washed Waelz Oxide, a final product that’s rich in zinc for which there’s a global market, Abengoa’s press release explains. Befesa already operates one 60,000-ton steel dust recycling plant in Turkey.

Befesa’s obtaining the environmental and construction permits required to proceed with construction of the two steel dust recycling plants, which it plans to finance with a combination of equity from its JV with Silvermet and debt from Turkish banks. Coincidentally, it’s moving forward with detailed engineering and procurement plans, Befesa CEO Javier Molina stated.


Stylized Bus Stops Around the Globe

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 10:30 AM PDT

 

Melon bus stop via ISAHAYA City

To attract riders, city busses are bringing their A-games to make bus shelters a more pleasant aspect of hitching’ a ride. Some great examples of cool bus shelters from around the world can be found in Seattle PI’s transportation section.

Melon bus stop via ISAHAYA City

These shelters run the gamut from zany — like a huge strawberry (left) — to comfy, as in decked out with a couch and coffee table.

My favorite is Florence, Italy’s EyeStop. The solar-powered, touch-screen-covered bus stop sounds like exactly the shelter from the storm that I want to wait around in.

EyeStop bus stop via MIT.

Source: Planetizen


$100,000 Vandalism Slows Huge LA County Solar Project ($25,000 Reward)

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 10:00 AM PDT

 
It’s not all high-fives and fist bumps in the effort to bring solar power to communities. Antelope Valley Solar Rance One (AVSR1) in Los Angeles County has suffered yet another setback: $100,000 worth of vandalism.

Solar panels in field via Shutterstock 

A 300-ft copper transmission cable and high-density polyethylene water pipe, both located about 2.5 miles from the project site, were cut. The damage to the transmission line, which was connected to the Southern California Edison Whirlwind substation, is the more costly repair because the entire cable must be replaced.

The HDPE water pipe has already been repaired at minimal cost. First Solar, the company installing the panels at AVSR1, doesn’t know how much water leaked out of the slashed pipe.

The vandalism to the 230-megawatt solar power plant happened late July 9 or early July 10 by unidentified assailants. LA County officials are unsure of how many vandals were involved in the destruction.

AVSR1 is located on 2,100 acres of land previously used for farming. First Solar estimates that, when the project is completed in 2013, the PV plant will provide enough power for about 75,000 homes. No word on how long the project will be delayed due to the vandalism.

First Solar said it will be posting a $25,000 reward for the first person who can provide information that leads to the conviction of the party responsible for the damage.

AVSR1 has had 24-hour security since a robbery that occurred over New Year’s Eve, Project Manager Tony Perrino said. First Solar plans to add roving night-time security guards.

Additional stumbling blocks First Solar and AVSR1 have yet to overcome include residents’ dissatisfaction with landscaping plans; residents’ fears about fires and toxicity of film in the solar panels; a class action lawsuit filed by a dozen former employees.

Sources: Greentechmedia and First Solar


Ohio Supports 25,000 Green Jobs

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 07:00 AM PDT

 
Ohio is leaving behind notions of dirty industry and moving up the ranks in green jobs. The Advanced Energy Economy Institute has reported that Ohio now has 25,000 jobs across 410 companies that work in renewable energy, energy efficiency, or high-tech manufacturing.

The Brookings Institute reports Ohio has more than 105,000 clean energy jobs, using a broader definition of clean economy.

Ohio’s still got forces working against its green industries, namely the failure to extend a wind production tax credit that would have secured a $20-million wind project in the state.

Source: Thinkprogress


X-ray Research May Open Door to Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 04:30 AM PDT

 
Most electric cars, from the Tesla Model S to the Nissan Leaf, run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries – a pricey technology that accounts for more than half of the vehicle’s total cost. One promising alternative is the lithium-sulfur battery, which can theoretically store five times more energy at a much lower cost.

X-ray Image of Sulfur Particle

Researchers used the transmission X-ray microscope at SLAC to take multiple images of tiny sulfur particles every five minutes while a lithium-sulfur battery discharged. Each particle was a fraction of the size of a grain of sand. The results were clear: Every particle retained its basic shape and size throughout the discharge cycle.

But lithium-sulfur technology has a major drawback: After a few dozen cycles of charging and discharging, the battery stops working.

“The cycle life of lithium-sulfur batteries is very short,” said Johanna Nelson, a postdoctoral scholar at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University. “Typically, after a few tens of cycles the battery will die, so it isn’t viable for electric vehicles, which require many thousands of cycles over a 10- or 20-year lifetime.”

A typical lithium-sulfur battery consists of two electrodes – a lithium metal anode and a sulfur-carbon cathode – surrounded by a conductive fluid, or electrolyte. Several studies have attributed the battery’s short cycle life to chemical reactions that deplete the cathode of sulfur.

But a recent study by Nelson and her colleagues is raising doubts about the validity of previous experiments. Using high-power X-ray imaging of an actual working battery, the Stanford-SLAC team discovered that sulfur particles in the cathode largely remain intact during discharge. Their results, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), could help scientists find new ways to develop commercially viable lithium-sulfur batteries for electric vehicles.

“Based on previous experiments, we expected sulfur particles to completely disappear from the cathode when the battery discharges,” said Nelson, the lead author of the JACS study. “Instead, we saw only negligible changes in the size of the particles, the exact opposite of what earlier studies found.”

Nelson and her co-workers conducted their experiments at SLAC using two powerful imaging techniques: X-ray diffraction and transmission X-ray microscopy. The X-ray microscope enabled the researchers to take nanosize snapshots of individual sulfur particles before, during and after discharge – the first real-time imaging of a lithium-sulfur battery in operation.

“The standard way to do high-resolution imaging is with electron microscopes after the battery has partially discharged,” Nelson said. “But electrons don’t penetrate metal and plastic very well. With SLAC’s X-ray microscope, we can actually see changes that are happening while the battery is running.”

Watch a video of Nelson describing her team’s work:

Pesky Polysulfides

In lithium-sulfur batteries, an electric current is generated when lithium ions in the anode react with sulfur particles at the cathode during discharge. The byproducts of this chemical reaction are compounds known as lithium polysulfides.

Problems can arise when the polysulfides leak into the electrolyte and permanently bond with the lithium metal anode. “When that happens, all of the sulfur material in the polysulfides is lost,” Nelson said. “It will never recycle. You don’t want to lose active sulfur material every time the battery discharges. You want a battery that can be cycled multiple times.”

Previous experiments also showed the formation of dilithium sulfide (Li2S) crystals during the discharge phase. “Crystalline Li2S and polysulfides can form a thin film that prevents the conduction of electrons and lithium ions,” Nelson said. “The film acts as an insulating layer that can cause the battery to die.”

Several studies using electron microscopes produced images of electrodes coated with polysulfides and crystalline Li2S, and cathodes depleted of sulfur. Those images led researchers to conclude that much of the sulfur had been chemically transformed into Li2S-polysulfide sheets that prevented the battery from operating.

Flawed Findings

But according to Nelson and her colleagues, some of the previous studies were flawed. “The approach they were using was mistaken,” Nelson said. “Typically, they would cycle the battery, disassemble it, wash away the electrolyte and then analyze it with X-ray diffraction or an electron microscope. But when you do that, you also wash away all of the polysulfides that are loosely trapped on the cathode. So when you image the cathode, you don’t see any sulfur species at all.”

The Stanford-SLAC team took a different approach. Researchers used the transmission X-ray microscope at SLAC to take multiple images of tiny sulfur particles every five minutes while the battery discharged. Each particle was a fraction of the size of a grain of sand. The results were clear: Every particle retained its basic shape and size throughout the discharge cycle.

“We expected the sulfur to completely disappear and form polysulfides in the electrolyte,” Nelson said. “Instead we found that, for the most part, the particles stayed where they were and lost very little mass. They did form polysulfides, but most of those were trapped near the carbon-sulfur cathode. We didn’t have to disassemble the battery or even stop it, because we could image the sulfur content while the device was operating.”

X-ray diffraction yielded an additional surprise. “Based on previous experiments, we expected that crystalline Li2S would form at the end of the discharge cycle,” she said. “But we did a very deep discharge and never saw any Li2S in its crystalline state.”

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Intersolar North America 2012: Solar Gets Down to Business

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 04:01 AM PDT

 
The Intersolar North America Conference in San Francisco has wrapped for another year, and if last year’s theme in my post-show commentary was “Solar is Ready to Launch,” then this year is “Solar Gets Down to Business!”

Solar Gets Down to Business

This year was slightly smaller than last year with fewer exhibitors (though, still upwards of 600+ companies were represented), but there was no less innovation and promise for the future of solar on display throughout the exhibition halls and meeting room — arguably more.

It is no secret that it’s been a tough year for many solar companies; some didn’t survive and the rest have had to endure an uncertain regulatory environment on the one hand, while forced into the role of political scapegoat on the other. Which brings us to the inevitable mention of the cleantech naysayers whipping boy….

Putting Solyndra to Rest

Unfortunately, for many, the big news of the past year has been (say it with me) Solyndra. For those seeking to seize upon an opportunity to engage in political theater, the sad tale of Solyndra’s demise is manna from heaven.

Despite what went wrong in Solyndra’s case, the fact is — as anyone knowledgable in emerging markets understands — it is part of the natural landscape. Some companies will fail as a new market emerges and matures. That’s not to say it isn’t tough news for workers and their families (and yes, in the case of Solyndra, also taxpayers), but I suggest for every naysayer seeking to throw out the solar baby with the bathwater, there are two jobs created somewhere in the solar industry. (There are now over 100,000 in the US solar industry!)

Certainly, to suggest that the demise or even malfeasance of one company should be assumed as indicative of an entire industry — especially one driven by some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial minds available — is foolhardy.

“You look at any emerging market you’re going to have this initial couple of boom years, everybody’s trying to get into it, there’s a lot of money thrown at it; everyone’s excited and there’s a lot of hype,” says Jarron Bradley, director of the Clean Energy Focus Team for BASF. “But then reality’s going to hit sooner or later, so there’s going to be a shakeout where the people that have the right value proposition will survive and those that do not will fall by the wayside. And so that’s bad that it happens, it involves lives and jobs… but it’s kind of to be expected.”

Still Riding Horseback?

The automobile market in the early 20th century was a fast-growing, new, and emerging market. A person back in 1930 could have bought a Nash, Studebaker, Ford; or perhaps a Willys, Auburn or Pontiac. Most of those names quickly passed into history, but none can argue the impact, for better and worse, the car has had on global civilization. The inevitable market shakeout helped create one of the biggest industries the world has ever known.

But what if we had abandoned the effort after the first company went belly-up? Bridle up!

Getting Down to Business

“What has happened is the price of the active materials — the actual cell itself — has fallen so much,” Bradley told me, “so now the percentage of cost are due to balancing systems and all this other stuff that’s around it, that’s a bigger piece of the pie, so where can we reduce those costs?”

In other words, it’s the “nuts and bolts” of making and installing solar power system that is increasingly becoming the  difference between a thriving solar business and a bankruptcy. What it takes to survive in the business of solar power is the right value proposition, says Bradley — put simply, that’s mean high-efficiency, low-cost.

“There are a lot of companies that have very exotic, exciting technology,” says Bradley, “but if it’s five dollars a watt, it’s just not going to work.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that research and development at the cutting-edge of solar cell technology isn’t a vital component for the future of solar. But in the here and now of running a solar business, it’s the companies with the right value proposition that will survive to live another day, able to bring the latest innovations to market.

For a staid chemical company like BASF, offering the essential nuts and bolts up and down the value chain, including decidedly unexciting products like wafer cutting fluids, UV stabilizers, metal pastes, and plastics, is how they define their own mission, their own value proposition.

“…and that’s a trip (trick) because a lot of these companies, because they’re in this phase where they’re basically trying to survive, a lot of times if you’re not coming in with something that increases efficiency or reduces cost they really don’t want to talk.”

A Case in Point

Brian Wildes, founder of Ecolibrium Solar, defines the value proposition for his innovative modular flat-roof solar mounting systems in two words: simplicity and low-cost. Since the debut of The Ecofoot last fall, the industry has responded, because it brings to market reduced installation costs. Wildes understood from the beginning that, to survive, his products needed to bring simplicity and low-cost to the market. And with his initial success he is now introducing the Ecofoot 2 this fall — the “Cadillac” of modular, low-cost, simple, and effective roof mounting systems.

And who is supplying Ecolibrium with resins, UV stabilizers, and other materials? That’s right, BASF.

 ”…for companies like BASF, that are supplying materials into this market, it’s really important that you partner with and connect with people that have that value proposition that is going to be long-standing.”

Making the Connection

It felt a little serendipitous for me — not ten minutes after I spoke with Jurron Bradley of BASF, I talked with Ecolibrium founder Brian Wilde about the success of his low-cost and simple roof-mounting systems, and how BASF has been a partner in that success.

So, that’s where this year’s Intersolar conference came together for me. Sure, there were also lots of great products on display, plenty of booths with charming young ladies ready to extol the virtue of the latest solar gadget, and I wish them all success.

After the booths at Intersolar North America are taken down and everyone goes home, though, it’s the key partnerships and value propositions that will push the solar industry forward.

It’s where the rubber meets the road, it’s solar getting down to business.

I can’t wait till next year.

 


Emerging PV Industry Technology Roadmap: Leading Indicator of New Buying Cycle

Posted: 19 Jul 2012 01:00 AM PDT

 
Solar PV markets and industry have quickly grown to global scale, and industry players on the whole will benefit greatly by taking a cue from their high-tech industry counterparts, according to a new report from NPD Solarbuzz.

Trailing 4-Quarter Revenue Share Trends for c-Si Cell PECVD Equipment Suppliers; Source: NPD Solarbuzz

It’s now routine in the high-tech sector for competing companies, as well as participants from across the value and supply chains, to join in setting and achieving common goals set out in technology roadmaps — performance, equipment, and other technology standards, in particular. A technology roadmap for the solar PV industry is set to emerge in 2013, NPD Solarbuzz says.

“The creation of the new PV technology roadmap will be a leading indicator for the new technology buying cycle, which will be driven collectively by top-tier c-Si manufacturers in China and Taiwan,” according to the Santa Clara, California-based market research company.
 

 

Further Consolidation, Greater Industry Collaboration

Tier 1 PV manufacturers to this point have each individually set and pursued their own technology roadmaps. This lack of synergy has been a factor preventing cell efficiencies from reaching the 20% level. “During 2011, only 15% of cells produced by tier 1 manufacturers were rated at 18% or higher.

“However, through collective efforts in implementing a new PV technology roadmap, 75% of tier 1 c-Si capacity will fall into this high-efficiency category by the end of 2015,” according to NPD Solarbuzz’s latest “PV Equipment Quarterly” report.

"Previously, the PV industry was pursuing a wide range of manufacturing technologies across different c-Si and thin-film types,” elaborated analyst Ray Lian. “This created significant challenges for PV equipment suppliers, as they were unsure which customers would survive for repeat business. However, the current manufacturing shakeout is playing a pivotal role in filtering out uncompetitive technologies from the industry."

NPD Solarbuzz forecasts that the shakeout now taking place in solar PV manufacturing is going to continue, resulting in a market and industry sector with a lot fewer players. There were nearly 400 silicon and thin-film PV manufacturers in 2011. That’s going to be whittled down to less than 100 by 2016.

Thinning out and consolidation among PV manufacturers will be accompanied by a changing landscape of PV manufacturing tool and equipment suppliers, as current market leaders are challenged by new capital equipment suppliers. There’s a significant difference between the two industry sectors, and that’s going to make for different market dynamics and outcomes, however.

“Unlike PV manufacturing, where consolidation or acquisition of insolvent competitors has limited value, the existing PV supply chain offers more strategic benefits for new equipment entrants. Deals such as those awaiting completion by Oerlikon Solar and Tokyo Electron, Ltd. are likely to become more frequent moving forward, as new capital equipment suppliers prepare for the next PV technology spending upturn.”

New orders across the solar PV equipment supply chain are stuck at a five-year low, as overcapacity continues to hang over a market in which fundamental demand factors are weakening. NPD Solarbuzz foresees this situation continuing through 1H 2013.

"With PV CapEx in 2012 confined to maintenance-only levels, the short-term emphasis has turned firmly to cost reduction to restore corporate profitability," Lian commented. "By mid-2013 however, silicon and non-silicon costs will have reached record lows. At this stage, the tier 1 c-Si leaders will be able to focus collectively on formulating a new PV technology roadmap."

Offering a heads-up to crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV equipment suppliers, NPD Solarbuzz says they need to act fast and “cannibalize the multi-GW of un-installed tools purchased during the over-spending in 2010 and 2011. The new PV technology roadmap will greatly assist equipment suppliers in achieving this goal in 2013.”


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