Tag Archives: solar panels

The Rise and Fall (and possible resurrection) of Thin-Film Solar Technology

Solar powered calculator

A tiny strip of thin film powers this calculator.

Thin-film solar technology has been around for quite some time and most of us have benefited from it’s use. Thin-film is most commonly used to power small hand-held calculators and watches and is created by depositing a number of thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a solar wafer. More recently, thin-film PV has become available in larger module form and is being used for building integrated installations (like this) and vehicle charging systems. Thin-film PV has grown in popularity due to its sleek look and light weight, which reduces the cost of installation and allows solar installations in areas not traditionally suited for large solar panels.

  • From 2004 to 2009 shipments of thin-film PV grew from 68 MW to 2 GW.
  • The market share for thin-film decreased to 11% in 2011. Down from 18% in 2009.
  • Thin-film solar panel sales reached $4.53 billion in 2010 but are expected to drop to $2.9 billion in 2012.

This decline in thin-film solar panel sales is due in part to the dramatic price drops in crystalline PV technology (the main alternative to thin film) the past few years. The price advantage thin-film panels held over crystalline technology is no longer relevant and the fact the crystalline PV panels are generally more efficient have given them the recent edge over thin-film technology.

First Solar – Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. They posted their second-ever loss in Q1 2012 and they also recently closed down their Germany factory and fired 30% of their workforce. First Solar anticipates producing 1500 to 1800 megawatts this year. (Green Tech Media)

Nanosolar – Headquartered in San Jose, California. This company has an ink-based solar technology that won the Innovation of the Year Award from Popular Science in 2007. They have recently secured funding to pursue the development of large scale solar systems that will cost no more per watt than conventional electricity and they have passed critical milestones to meet that goal by 2015 – a promising report. (Clean Technica)
 

Solar manufacturers had a tough time staying afloat in 2011. Chinese solar companies were accused of dumping solar panels in the U.S. at lower prices than the cost of manufacturing and in turn forced many manufacturers to file for bankruptcy or close down plants/cut their workforce. The most newsworthy of this bunch was Solyndra but other manufacturers closed down as well, including Evergreen Solar, Energy Conversion Devices, and SpectraWatt.

This does not bode well, especially for thin-film manufacturers, who are struggling to keep up with price drops and efficiency increases. However, all is not lost. According to GTM Research:

” Venture capital investment into thin film in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 combined to reach nearly $300 million. Solar Frontier continues to ramp up its GW-scale CIGS facility. Tokyo Electron bought Oerlikon Solar for $275 million, affirming long-term faith in the thin-film silicon manufacturing space. With CdTe, GE continues to invest heavily in Primestar, and First Solar still intends to open new capacity in Vietnam and Mesa, Arizona.”

It seems that if a handful of thin-film manufacturers can weather the current storm then they can hopefully restore some life to the industry by continuing to create innovation solar panels that push the limits of size, weight, cost, and efficiency.

Additional Resources:

Forbes “First Solar Struggles Amid Decline of Thin-Film Solar Market”
GreenTech Solar “Nanosolar Scores $20M to Keep Its CIGS PV Dream Alive”
GTM Research ” Thin Film 2012-2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival”
How Stuff Works “Production of Thin-Film Solar Cells”
NREL “Thin Film CIGS and CdTe Photovoltaic Technologies”
Wikipedia  “Thin Film Solar Cell”
Uni-Solar Thin Film residential installation

5.6 KW Uni-Solar system in Heillbronn, Germany (Photo Courtesy of Rheinzink GmbH & Co.)

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Fascinating Solar Installs – August Edition

Our Top 5 Solar Installations:

(Disclaimer – Not all of these installs are recent but they’re new discoveries for us)

  1. One of the largest privately owned solar systems belongs to one of my favorite private companies – The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Sierra Nevada produces around 40% of their own energy with this solar installation. All in all, their solar systems include over 10,000 individual panels! Source: Government Technology

    In 2008 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. completed construction on one of the largest private solar arrays in the United States. Courtesy of Sierra Nevada

  2. The work has started on the world’s largest photovoltaic array (it will also claim the title of world’s largest solar bridge). The Blackfriars Bridge, in the heart of London, will be the home of 4,400 solar panels with the ability to create 900 MWh of electricity per year. (Source: Clean Technica)

    The world’s largest solar bridge Is halfway complete. 900MWh per year!

  3. The New York Jets adopt solar with a massive solar array atop their practice facility. 3000 panels from Yingli Solar have been installed and will provide 750,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. (Source: CNet)

    The N.Y. Jets go green with this massive solar installation at their practice facility.

  4. A solar waterfall could be powering the next Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Ok, this project is still in the design phase but if completed it would be an amazing structure. (Source: RAFAA Architecture and Design)

    This ambitious project would produce electricity with solar panels during the day and water turbines at night.

  5. And finally, what’s not to love about this solar install? (Source: Dwell)

    Students from Appalachian State designed this solar array to double as an outdoor living area. They entered this solar array in the U.S. Department of Energy 2011 Solar Decathlon.

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Solar Projects Powered by the People

Do you like solar? Ever wanted to install solar, produce your own power, or invest in renewable energy? If, like me, you answered yes to any of these questions then you should check out Solar Mosaic. This revolutionary company hosts a platform where people from around the world can invest in local clean energy programs.

Solar Mosaic works like this: The company picks a solar project that deserves funding (the most recent project receiving funding is a a nonprofit that provides free meals, job training, and other services to the needy in Oakland, Calif). Money is then collected “from investors who want to see the project succeed. Once the panels are up, St. Vincent de Paul will pay a monthly fee to lease the panels on its roof, providing Solar Mosaic with the cash to pay back its investors — and all the while saving money on its utility bill.” (Grist.com)

This program is most attractive to people who rent and don’t own a suitable place to install solar. It also requires a substantially smaller investment than purchasing an entire solar system so for people like myself who find themselves in both categories, we can still contribute to the clean energy movement by helping solar projects get off the ground. The best part is that your investment will be paid back from the energy savings accumulated over the life of the project.

Check out the Solar Mosaic website for details on projects that have been funded or need funding. As of today, the initial five projects have been completely funded. Over 400 investors and a few organizations have collaborated to invest a total of $350,000! I look forward to being a part of Solar Mosaic as they fund more and more deserving solar projects.

The Asian Resource Center in Oakland, CA funded by 134 community members through Solar Mosaic.

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Brazil Hopes to Make the 2014 FIFA World Cup the Most Sustainable Yet

Considering my love for soccer and interest in renewable energy, this story about the 2014 World Cup caught my eye (and reinforced my decision to make the trip in two years). Using solar technology as the lynchpin, Brazil has set a goal of meeting minimum LEED sustainability standards in all 12 of their venues for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Professional athletics and renewable energy appear to be on a collision course for the greater good. Large solar and renewable energy companies are beginning to invest large amounts of money into athletic team sponsorships and advertising. On the other side, professional athletic clubs have seen the public relations benefits and money saving potential in adopting renewable energy and sustainable building.

This seemingly match made in heaven will benefit us all. Millions of people each year attend sporting events and watch on TV (people watch the Super Bowl just to see the ads). What better way to spread renewable energy technologies and sustainable living practices than through professional sports teams and large sporting venues.

The Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasília (Source: Castro Mello Arq. Esportiva via Renewableenergyworld.com)

Brazil will be taking sustainable building and renewable energy to a whole new level in 2014. The World Cup is already the largest sporting event in the world – according to FIFA.com over 3.2 billion people watched at least one minute of the 2010 World Cup – and now they aim to make it the most sustainable event yet. Of the twelve stadiums that plan to meet minimum LEED sustainable standards, 7 plan to integrate solar into the design. The highlight will be the Mane Garrincha (pictured above) in Brasilia – this venue will hopefully be the first football(soccer) stadium in the world to achieve LEED Platinum status, the highest level available. A 2.5 MW solar array installed on the tensioned canvas roof will help get it there. This system will cover more than 50% of the electricity needed during peak tournament times and will produce more than enough during normal operation, allowing the stadium to feed the excess into the grid.

Other highlights of stadium construction in Brazil include: the Maracanã in Rio, the host of the final, which will feature a ring of solar panels in the roof, the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte will have around 1.5 MWp of solar installed on its roof, and the Pernambuco Arena in Recife will install solar heating to supply the hot water in changing rooms, restrooms, and restaurants.

One of the largest drivers of renewable energy at the World Cup and sport in general  is Yingli Solar. “In 2010, Yingli Solar became the first renewable energy company to sponsor the FIFA World Cup.” (FIFA.com) As a result of this partnership, Yingli agreed to install PV Solar technology at 20 Football for Hope centers developed in Africa during the 2010 World Cup. Yingli has also partnered with some other very prominent sporting organizations in order to spread “green” awareness and build their brand. They are currently the official sponsors of the 2014 World Cup, the United States Men’s, Women’s, and Youth Soccer Teams, FC Bayern Munich Soccer,  and the New York Jets. Yingli provided the Jets with more than 3000 solar panels for an installation on their practice facility. The 690 kWp system is the largest installation at an NFL team headquarters.

Huge solar installation at the Jets team headquarters. The largest PV install at an NFL team headquarters.

These are just a few examples of professional athletics “going green” and the trend seems to be catching on around the country (and world). However, considering that nearly half of the Earth’s population will see some of the World Cup, the fact that Brazil has committed to renewable energy will have a great impact on how the people of the world view sustainability. Read more here about Brazil’s efforts to adopt PV solar technology by 2014.

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Filed under Conservation, Environment, Green Building, Green Technology, Renewable Energy, Solar

In Case You Missed It: Vol. 4

To start off I would like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season…

Now to the list!

  1. Educational Institutions Leading the Way – Big news was released this week in New York City where Cornell University won a high-profile competition to build a new applied-science campus on Roosevelt Island. The renewable energy sources on campus will have the potential to reduce energy consumption at the school by 75%. In other  educational news, the U.S. Green Building Council released its inaugural “Best of Green Schools 2011” list.
  2. We discovered another amazing technology we are keeping an eye on in the near future. Researchers at MIT have made it possible to produce photo voltaic cells on paper or fabric, much like printing a document from your computer.
  3. A Sticky Situation – Chinese solar module manufacturers have been accused of dumping solar panels into the U.S. market. This has sparked a tough debate on the international trade of solar energy. On one side of the fence are U.S. solar module manufacturers. When Chinese solar companies “dump,” or sell their modules in the U.S. below cost, it drives other international manufacturers out of business and eliminates competition (U.S. manufacturers). On the other hand, solar prices have been cut dramatically due to this “dumping” of panels by Chinese companies. So for the end consumer and the solar energy market in general it is now more cost effective than ever to adopt solar energy. To sum it all up, U.S. manufacturing jobs are being threatened by foreign solar subsidies while U.S. solar installers and distributors are seeing their business increase. More information available here.
  4. Because 2011 is coming to an end and we love giving you the best news out there we will include another list in the middle of our list. Here are the “Top 10 Green Business Stories of 2011.”
  5. President Obama announces historic new mercury pollution standards on December 21, 2011. These new standards will better protect our people and environments from dangerous mercury and other pollution from coal fired power plants. Send a personal thank you to the president by following this link.

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