Tag Archives: PV Cells

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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Filed under Alternative Fuel, Environment, Manufacturing, Renewable Energy, Solar

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

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

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

Introducing Plug ‘N Save’s Discussion Forum

Do you like to express your opinion via the internet? Do you want to be involved in conversations discussing the important issues affecting the state of renewable energy? Do you want to have a place to ask your questions? Well then it is my pleasure to introduce to you the Plug ‘N Save Discussion Forum!

Join the discussion by visiting our Home page and clicking the Forum button on the top menu bar or through the link below. We currently have two discussion topics up, one about how buying responsibly can lead to a more sustainable life and the other about the future of renewable energy industries after the end of government stimulus. Voice your thoughts or start a new topic!

http://plugnsaveenergyproducts.com/forums/forum/general-topics/

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Free Trade, Green Technology, Innovation, Philanthropy, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Supply Chain Management, Surfing, Sustainable Businiess, Tax Incentives, Uncategorized, Weatherization, Window Coverings

Catching up: Salt Lake City

We fell off the blog map for a little bit there, but we are jumping back on track.

I was trying to think of where we left off, and I believe it was somewhere around Utah. We spent a few days in early May in Salt Lake City Utah at the National Green Building Conference and Expo. I personally like going to all of these events because they are a perfect way to see what’s happening in the green building market in each region and to experience the city first hand.

Excited to be in Utah

I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Salt Lake, or even researched much of their green building market. When I got there I immediately knew I wanted to spend some time exploring the city. I was excited to see what it had to offer. There were 2 things that were immediately striking. The crisp mountain air, and the Rockies. The mountains towering over downtown were stunning. It was a welcome reminder that our society remains immersed within nature, not the other way around.

With all of the building and green initiatives centered in Salt Lake, I would have expected to see a higher turnout at the show.

We learned that the area had experienced a period of growth that The Downtown SLC Alliance describes  as the “downtown boom” from 1990 through 2002. I spent some time talking to locals of the area and they all remarked on the dramatic change the city has experienced. Out of all the development that has occurred, the rail system really caught my attention.

Trax: from Utah.edu

In order to manage the visitors of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the city installed the public rail system that travels throughout the downtown area. There have been so many public transportation projects that have been shut down since the economy has been struggling, when it seems that these are the types of projects that can benefit business within the city and state along with the citizens and our planet.

I want to keep chatting but I need to wrap up. Salt lake: a great city. I went for a run every day. I wanted to soak in the crisp mountain air and see as much of the city as possible.

Another highlight was that we were able to bring along the newest member of our team, Tom Ramus. (He is in the picture on the far left) He spent some time with us in San Diego to learn the intricacies of the PV Solar Shutter. Before he headed back to Chicago to get to work he was able to help us out at the show.

The show turned out to be a quality over quantity situation for us. We had a great time at the show, and met some great people.

My personal highlight:  Salt Lake showed me that the ‘retro fit’ for the rail line within a city is not only feasible but can be extremely successful.

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Filed under 30 ways in 30 days, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, NAHB, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Weatherization, Window Coverings

Federal Weatherization Program Halfway Home

We were very excited when the Department of Energy (DOE) set the goal of weatherizing approximately 600,000 homes using upgrades like insulation, air-sealing, and more efficient heating and cooling systems.   Not only would  this program put people to work at home and save individual homeowners money every month, it would also set the national focus squarely on energy efficiency and those small steps we all can take.

Last week the DOE announced that the weatherization program has hit an important milestone, reaching the nationwide halfway point.  Through the month of November more than 300,000 homes have been weatherized, greatly reducing the impact of expensive home energy bills on low-income families and creating 15,000 jobs nationwide.

DOE’s Secretary Steven Chu says that the weatherization program will help grow our economy, keep the focus on energy efficiency, and help people save money.  DOE estimates that within a year of installation, the 300,000 homes will save a total of $161 million dollars in energy costs – an average of $400 per family!

Perhaps the best part about the national push toward weatherizing homes as a way to save both energy and money is that anyone can take steps to make their home more energy efficient and receive tax incentives for doing so.  The federal government, and many state and local governments, are offering financial assistance for every kind of upgrade from air conditioners to plantation shutters.  And while these tax incentives will not last forever, the long term energy conservation offered by something as simple as a set of plantation shutters is phenomenal.

We know that windows are a major source of heat transfer, releasing your cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter.  Many homes can lose 25% to 50% of their home’s generated heat through uncovered windows.   A set of wooden plantation shutters can greatly reduce the loss of warm or cool air because the material does not transfer heat like a pane of glass or metal blind.  A wooden shutter is also preferred by many home owners because, let’s face it, it looks a lot better than generic metal or plastic blinds.

At the risk of sounding like a shameless commercial… if you take the insulating properties of a shutter and add some PV cells, you put your personal energy efficiency goals on steroids!

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Filed under Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Solar, Weatherization, Window Coverings