Tag Archives: Photovoltaics

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 Roadways – “Roads that pay for themselves.”

This past Tuesday, I was invited to a screening of  the documentary Y.E.R.T.(Your Environmental Road Trip) at California Center for Sustainable Energy.  It was an inspiring film and I thought I’d share clips from the flick that I can’t stop thinking about.  First up…SOLAR ROADS!

Bennet – PNS Energy

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Imagine Solar on Every Rooftop in the USA

What would putting solar on every rooftop in the U.S. do?  I see three pretty big benefits.

  1. In the US alone, we generate a lot of electricity – almost 4,000 billion kWh of power —  and less than .01% of that comes from solar.   If we imagine solar on every rooftop, we could, according to some pretty good estimates and some sophisticated models, produce about a third of the energy that the US uses annually – about 1,400 billion kWh of power.
  2. That’s a lot of clean, renewable energy and a whole lot less dependence on coal and nuclear resources.    If we imagine solar on every rooftop, we would be able to reduce how much we worry about dirty air from burning coal, what to do with nuclear waste, and the possibility of reactor meltdowns.
  3. US system designers, installers, contractors, and solar maintenance workers would be needed to make this happen.   If we imagine solar on every rooftop, that could translate to millions of US jobs.

Solar on every rooftop?

Who knows, with increased US demand for solar modules, we might be able to lure PV cell and solar module manufacturers back to the US.

-Dan, PNS Energy

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K3 Wind and Solar Charger

This blog post features a new product we have been messing around with at the office for the past few weeks. I will give you a quick review of our experience with the K3 Wind and Solar Portable Device Charger.

The K3 Charger sun-bathing

The first thing I noticed was the K3 is very easy to operate; just set it out in the sun during the day and let the elements do all the work. When you need a charge on your device and do not have your wall charger with you or you are away from an outlet you simply pull the cord out of the built-in storage area, then plug into the USB port on the charger, finally plug in the correct tip to your phone and watch as your device charges up (according to the instructions you are supposed to give it a full charge from the wall first).
According the the K3 website, the charger is “ideal for mobile phones, iPods/mp3 players, iPhone, smartphones/PDAs, portable gaming devices, GPS units, digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, and more.” I intend to use mine mostly as a supplemental charge for my cell phone.
The design of the K3 allows you to prop it in many different posistions to take advantage of the the angle of the sun. I also found a good way to put the K3 in the back window of my car. I drive with the windows down most of the time so the wind turbine can work on my commute.

Propped up to take advantage of the sun-angle.

One negative thing that I accidentally found out  was when I made the mistake of falling asleep with my phone plugged in to the charger and woke up to a dead battery in th K3. This made me use the wall charger once again to refill the K3, thus eliminating the benefits of using the sun to power my cell phone. I also figured out that if I want a good charge from the K3, it needs to be fully charged from the sun, wind, or wall before plugging it into your device. I tried to charge my phone with a half full battery in the K3 and it didn’t last very long.

The K3 Charging a Phone.

Overall, I recommend the K3 Charger as a good, quality, portable mobile device charger. I can’t wait to take it with me on my next camping trip – I’ll no longer have to worry about conserving my cell phone battery!
Amazon page featuring the K3.

Positives: Durable, Wind AND Solar, USB port and multiple tip options, LED lights show battery life, Looks cool(there is also a black color option), Unique
Negatives: A little bulky, takes more time to charge than expected, relatively short phone charging time.
Ideal Uses: Camping, car travel, take it to work for that “mid-day boost,” backpacking, etc…

Two color options for the charger.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Cell Phone, Cell Phone Battery, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, Outdoor Adventure, Parks, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

Small Scale Homebuilding

My interest in modular eco-friendly homes grew when I ran across some modular home companies at West Coast Green last year in San Francisco. That interest was pushed to the back of my mind until I ran across this story of a 16 year old building a self-contained “tiny green home” in his parents backyard because he, like most teenagers, “wanted to move out.”

That is not his only reason however. In this short video showcasing his house, the young man sites all sorts of economical and environmental reasons behind starting his project. 

He was happy about owning a home but not worrying about paying a mortgage. The small size also limits the amount of electricity and other utilities, saving money in the process. He was able to greatly reduce the amount of waste produced during construction due to the small scale of construction(he only had two trash cans of waste from one year of construction). Almost all of the materials used in construction have been reclaimed from salvage yards or donated from friends, the framing lumber was the only material purchased new as it was needed for the structure of the house. He estimates the total project costing $12,000.

This led me to asking the question: who is doing this on a larger scale? I rummaged through the internet and discovered many cool companies involved in the modular home business, and nearly all of them are focused on making their homes as efficient and eco-friendly as possible while keeping the associated costs for the consumer down(sections of the home are built in factories and loaded on a truck then assembled in a few days at the site – this allows the builder to reduce the cost of construction). Keywords and phrases that keep popping up when I search modular homes include: smart design, passive solar, simplify, healthy, water conservation, cheaper, solar, wind, thermal, easier, and flexible just to name a few. All of these terms are related to conservation and efficiency; Everyday we are told to be conservative with our resources in order to be more sustainable so why not become more conservative, economical, and efficient while building our homes. Here are some of the companies I discovered that are doing just that:

  • Alchemy Architects have designed the Weehouse using an ultra modern modular home that can be constructed fast and easy. They just developed a “net-zero” WeeHouse in Moab, Utah that will produce as much energy as it uses.
  • The modular homes featured at tinygreencabins.comcan be built on a trailer bed so that if you would like to take your home with you, you could hitch up the trailer and be on your way. They also offer non-toxic options, organic certified material, locally harvested lumber, steel framing, and recycled products. The cabins can also be customized with solar panels and solar hot water heaters.

    Wildfire Tiny House

  • Green Pod Development builds compact custom modular homes built for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and sustainability. The SoloPod “features innovative designs and artful furnishings.”
  • And finally, Bluhomes, they claim that their “highly efficient, innovative steel-framed homes cost on average 50-70 percent less to operate on a monthly basis than conventional homes.”

    My personal favorite - The Glidehouse Bluhome

-T

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Filed under Buy Local, Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, NAHB, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Sustainable Businiess, Uncategorized, USGBC, Water conservation, Weatherization, Window Coverings

Brand New Display for Dwell on Design

Here is a sneak peak of our new trade show display. Come see the full display in action at Dwell on Design, June 24-26 at the LA Convention Center. We will also be featuring our Emergency Power Kit for portable back-up energy when you need it most. http://plugnsaveenergyproducts.com/

 

Golden Brown PV Solar Cells in a Natural Basswood Shutter

Turkish Blue PV Solar Cells in an Arctic White Shutter

Army Green PV Solar Cells in an Oak Finished Shutter

Exterior PV Solar Shutter with an interior PV Solar Shutter in the window - A complete set-up!

Standard white PV Solar Shutter in our display piece

SX9GBMRQB9K7

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Filed under Buy Local, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Weatherization, Window Coverings