As for trends, I noticed several more thin-film companies exhibiting beside the grandpa of thin-films, UniSolar. These included Opti-Solar, Applied Materials (selling turnkey thin-film fabrication units) and Ascent Solar.


David Brands

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
As for trends, I noticed several more thin-film companies exhibiting beside the grandpa of thin-films, UniSolar. These included Opti-Solar, Applied Materials (selling turnkey thin-film fabrication units) and Ascent Solar.

Solar Power Conference Draws 22,500; Trends Emerge

David Brands “Solar Advice for Free

As invariably happens in San Diego when it hosts a world-class event, the weather was clear and warm for Solar Power International 2008. While the Stock Market had its second crazy week of mostly Dow Jones downers,  the solar industry showed renewed vibrance as 22,500 visitors from over 70 countries attended nation's premier solar conference, 10,000 more than last year's event in Long Beach.

The opening plenary sessions featured some heavyweights including Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), Sen. Maria Cantwell(D-WA), and of course, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. Their comments likely can be found elsewhere on the Internet.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance despite the  a deepening California budget shortfall and the nationwide financial malaise.

"Of course we are now facing tough economic times, but that's why we need to focus on solar and [the environment]," he said. "We should not listen to those who say [that] should take a back seat. That's just plain wrong."

Always looking for an excuse to come to San Diego, the governator continued.

"Let me tell you, in San Diego 80 percent of the people voted for me in the recall," Schwarzenegger said, referring to the election in 2003 in which Californians voted to recall his predecessor, Gray Davis, and to replace him with the actor. "The other 20 percent never forgave me for my movie, "Hercules in New York," which is completely understandable."

During the first day of exhibiting on Tuesday, interest seemed heightened by the extension of the federal solar investment tax credits included in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which passed and signed into law Oct. 3.

Trending Towards Thin-Film

As for trends, I noticed several more thin-film companies exhibiting beside the grandpa of thin-films, UniSolar. These included Opti-Solar, Applied Materials (selling turnkey thin-film fabrication units) and Ascent Solar. First Solar, Miasole and Nanosolar were absent for reasons of their own. Thin-film PV breakthroughs in various configurations are definitely reducing PV costs per watt--in some cases falling enough to make the lower efficiencies (characteristic of thin-film PV) a non-issue.

Sharp Solar announced offering a new thin-film panel beginning next August. Thin-film PV invariably is cheaper to produce than crystalline modules and less expensive on the market. However, the sales rep from Japan I spoke with said Sharp's thin-film entry will be priced about the same per watt as its popular average-grade (13.7%) silicon panel until volume production reaches its peak.

There were a couple innovative solar panel variations that caught my eye. A Japanese maker Kaneka showed a prototype of a hybrid panel using both amorphous silicon (a-Si) and crystal silicon solar cells. The idea is to reduce cost per watt, of course, but also kick up the efficiency over a straight a-Si panel. Although the company intends to market the hybrid panel next year, no spec sheets were available at this time. Lumeta Solar of Irvine, CA offers the PowerPly, a 4 x 8 foot 380W crystalline panel that adheres to virtually all flat roof types (commercial or industrial applications). By sticking to roofs it eliminates racking and roof penetrations; reduces installation time as much as 50%; and uses a transparent Teflon cover sheet instead of glass thus reducing weight, heat build-up, and breakability. At only 1 cm thick, water ponding on a roof is minimized.

Coincidentally also from Irvine, is a product that has to go in the Wow category. It's the Fisker Karma hybrid sports car with an optional, full-length solar roof.

The Karma will do 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds but only has a 50-mile range per charge on lithium-ion batteries. To be offered fourth quarter next year, the Karma will be built in Finland and priced at $80,000. (Evidently, the car moves so quietly the company will be offering optional interior and exterior speakers with a menu of "car noises." I kid you not.)  Although the Karma exhibit was small and cluttered, it was hard to miss.

DH Solar of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, had an outside exhibit showing a 16-panel array on the company's Horizon-to-Horizon Sun Tracking System.

It's the first sizable tracking device this reporter's seen that can be used at home or for small business with some extra space for the ground-mounted system. Advantages of tracking are as much as 40% higher output than fixed mount; the system need not go on a roof, maintaining architectural aesthetics; and the system can be placed to avoid any shading issues. For more information go to

Solar Power International 2009 will be held at the San Jose Convention Center next October 19-22.

David Brands is a solar power consultant in San Diego. His blog “Solar Advice for Free” is at Email inquiries:

AZ Solar Contractor Sizes Up SD Conference

Mark Holohan, president of Code Electric in Phoenix, Arizona, said last week's Solar Power International 2008 conference in San Diego showed the incredible globalization of solar power.

"European [solar] companies are expanding to America and there's an increasing supply coming from the Far East," said Holohan, whose company is a leading installer in Arizona. He said the state of the global economy and Europe's reduced feed-in tariffs will slow solar's growth from the recent 40% but he still projects worldwide growth at 30% worldwide. The recent extension of the solar investment tax credit in the U.S. will have a lot to do with it.

"Also, the tax law has changed to include [for profit] utilities so solar could see a sizable increase from power producers, as well," said Holohan. He sees significant growth for the Arizona solar market spurred by last May's decision by the state Corporation Commission (which regulates Arizona's public utilities) to support more renewable energy funding.

Holohan noticed a marked increase in thin-film products, especially in amorphous silicon. Holohan was this writer's mentor when he ran Uni-Solar's residential sales program in San Diego beginning in 2002. (UniSolar is still the country's largest manufacturer of flexible amorphous silicon PV.) After successfully administering the project for two years, he was promoted by UniSolar to commercial sales director for Southern California. Among other installations, he sold the 1MW PV laminate installation at the General Motors western supply depot in Rancho Cucamonga, California and a 700kW PVL system on the Long Beach Convention Center, site of Solar Power International 2007.

Holohan offers advice to homeowners and businesses contemplating installing PV systems.

"Solar [as an investment] is still the right thing to do," he contends. "Incentives are dynamic so always take action to secure them for yourselves. It doesn't make sense to wait for a breakthrough because the incentives for solar are always more dynamic than the technology."

In the Phoenix area, Holohan can be contacted at

The $70,000 Silver Sausage

Many of the conference attendees were oblivious to what appeared to be an ultra-shiney sausage that was six feet long and seven inches in diameter on display in an acrylic showcase. In fact it was a pure-silicon ingot or "boule" (see picture) that would be cut into ultra-thin wafers as photovoltaic cells or semiconductor chips for computers, watches or other electronics applications. The uncut ingot is worth about $70,000.

The normal process of "growing" a silicon ingot is interesting. A seed crystal on a rod is dipped into a crucible of molten silicon and spins it into a cylinder similar to spinning cotton candy around a paper cone.  As the seed is extracted from the crucible the silicon solidifies and eventually a large, circular boule is produced. A semiconductor crystal boule is normally cut with a diamond saw into circular wafers (like cutting salami) and each wafer is polished for the fabrication of semiconductor devices or photovoltaic cells. Ingot production takes about 1.5 days and cutting/polishing the wafer chips takes eight days. Finding high-quality silica (sand) plus the long, somewhat complex process keeps crystal silicon panels costly which is why more thin-film combinations are being tested and marketed.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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