Glitter-sized solar photovoltaics produce competitive results  

Posted by Big Gav in

PhysOrg has an article on "glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used" from Sandia Labs - Glitter-sized solar photovoltaics produce competitive results.

Sandia lead investigator Greg Nielson said the research team has identified more than 20 benefits of scale for its microphotovoltaic cells. These include new applications, improved performance, potential for reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

"Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing," he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.

Even better, such microengineered panels could have circuits imprinted that would help perform other functions customarily left to large-scale construction with its attendant need for field construction design and permits.

Said Sandia field engineer Vipin Gupta, "Photovoltaic modules made from these microsized cells for the rooftops of homes and warehouses could have intelligent controls, inverters and even storage built in at the chip level. Such an integrated module could greatly simplify the cumbersome design, bid, permit and grid integration process that our solar technical assistance teams see in the field all the time."

For large-scale power generation, said Sandia researcher Murat Okandan, "One of the biggest scale benefits is a significant reduction in manufacturing and installation costs compared with current PV techniques."

The Guardian reports on a large new solar thin film and PV factory being built by LG - LG Electronics to enter increasingly crowded solar market.
The growing attractiveness of the global solar energy market was underlined this week when South Korea's LG Electronics (LG) announced that it is to start commercial production of solar cells and modules next month.

The company said that it plans to manufacture approximately 520,000 solar modules a year using silicon wafers, at a plant 200 kilometres to the south east of Seoul with a total capacity of 120MW.

LG said that it planned to set up another production line for operation by 2011, increasing total output to 240MW.

Kwan-shik Cho, vice president of the solar business team at LG Electronics, explained that the goal is to become a global player in the world's solar industry.

"While we recognise this is a crowded playing field, LG has the necessary skills, know-how and business strategy to make this a profitable venture for the long-term," he said.

LG sees the solar business as a key area of growth, and claimed that it had been preparing to enter the market since 2004.

The firm will manufacture large-area thin-film solar cells, as well as the more widespread crystalline solar cells.

In July 2009, LG announced that the company had achieved the world's most energy efficient large-area thin-film solar cells in a trial.

Technology Review reports that Applied Materials is also focusing on the solar market, and moving production to China - Applied Materials Moves Solar Expertise to China.
The world's biggest supplier of solar-manufacturing equipment has opened a research and development center in China, and its chief technology officer will relocate from Silicon Valley to that country next month. Applied Materials, founded in 1967 as a semiconductor company, has manufactured in China for 25 years, but is expanding its presence to be closer to its customers and develop products suited to the country's urban population.

"We're doing R&D in China because they're becoming a big market whose needs are different from those in the U.S.," says Mark Pinto, Applied Materials's CTO. Going forward, he says, "energy will become the biggest business for the company," and China, not the U.S., "will be the biggest solar market in the world."

Indeed, the move by Applied Materials is just the latest sign that China is rapidly moving to the forefront in adopting renewable energy technologies. China is no model for addressing climate change--its greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to nearly double by 2030. The lion's share of demand for photovoltaics comes from Europe, which accounted for 82 percent of the photovoltaics sold in 2008, according to a report by Solarbuzz. China currently makes up less than 1 percent of the demand for photovoltaics, but its demand for photovoltaics is expected to grow; Beijing aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020.


The solar market might look crowded on first glance, but if one looks more closely at what has happened to manufacturing costs it's clear that this is a technology poised to take off in the next year.

"First Solar's average manufacturing cost per watt declined by $0.23 per watt, or 21.3%, from $1.08 in the three months ended September 27, 2008 to $0.85 in the three months ended September 26, 2009. .... Trony Solar's average manufacturing cost was $1.15 per watt for the fiscal year ending June 30 this year, the company said in its SEC filing. From June to September, the company lowered the cost to $1.09 per watt. Solyndra must also compete head-on with the plunging price of flat plate panels from BP Solar, Suntech, Mitsubishi, etc. while lowering their cost almost an order of magnitude from about $6 per Watt to under $1 per Watt."

And Nanosolar has announced that they will be profitable selling at $1 per watt. Apparently they are reaching their projected manufacturing cost of $0.33 per watt.

We've suddenly reached a point where installation costs can be more than the panels themselves. (And some companies are working on installation systems which greatly lower labor costs in the field.)

I'm seeing a steady stream of announcements from businesses and municipalities in process to install new solar and hook it up to the grid. We might see an immense amount of sunny day peak shaving within five years and a decreasing use of natural gas during those hours.

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