First Solar is buying an under-the-radar startup called TetraSun to add expertise around silicon solar cell manufacturing to its technology portfolio, which until now has focused on using the material cadmium telluride to make solar cells. The Arizona-based thin film solar giant announced the pending acquisition on Tuesday during its analyst day — its first since 2009 — in which it laid out a persuasive technology and business development plan for the next five years. Investors liked what they heard and pushed the company’s stock up by nearly 50 percent during trading. So why TetraSun? Apparently Silicon Valley-based TetraSun has some disruptive silicon cell designs that set it apart from the rest of the silicon solar companies. Its designs require fewer manufacturing steps to produce conventional silicon cells, and eliminates the need for silver and transparent conductive oxide. Silver is used to transport electricity produced by the cells, while the oxide is a coating that protects the cells and helps the semiconductor material (such as silicon or cadmium telluride) to grab the light more effectively to produce electricity. First Solar claims that TetraSun’s cells also can perform better in hot climates than conventional silicon cells. That feature will make solar panels with TetraSun’s cells more desirable in places like the Middle East and India, two markets with a lot of potentials for growth. First Solar says it plans to start making TetraSun’s cells in the second half of 2014.
The Folsom-based California Independent System Operator, which operates the state's wholesale electricity transmission grid, said today that wind power turbines on the grid set a new record of 4,196 megawatts on Sunday. The record came at 6:44 p.m. That mark came on the heels of Friday's passing of the 4,000-megawatt threshold. Previously, the ISO's all-time record peak output for wind energy was 3,944 megawatts on March 3. "With these impressive wind-production levels, California is well positioned to meet the 33 percent by 2020 green power goal," said ISO President and CEO Steve Berberich. "Our control center operators are tracking a steady increase in renewable energy ... " Currently, ISO said there is a total of 5,899 megawatts of wind plant capacity installed within the California grid. California is the nation's second largest producer of wind power, trailing only Texas. ISO said that Texas, which has a current wind-generation peak capacity of 10,407 megawatts, reached a record peak of 9,481 megawatts on February 9.
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BrightSource Energy on Wednesday shelved a major solar power project in California for the second time this year. In a document filed with the California Energy Commission, BrightSource said it "has determined there is a need to suspend" its application to permit the 500 megawatt Hidden Hills solar thermal power project until further notice. The company did not give a reason for the suspension, and company officials were not immediately available for comment. BrightSource, based in Oakland, said it will continue to evaluate the project, which was to be located in Inyo County near the Nevada border. In January, BrightSource suspended its 500 MW Rio Mesa project in Riverside County, California after multiple delays in the permitting process. Late last year, CEC staff said the Hidden Hills project would have "significant" impact on the environment, adding that the use of photovoltaic solar panels "would be environmentally superior" to BrightSource's solar thermal technology. BrightSource disputed those claims at recent hearings, and the CEC was expected to issue a final decision on the project later this year.
Saudi Arabia wants to spend over $100 billion to build vast solar arrays and reduce its dependency on oil to generate electricity. But desert sandstorms pose a major challenge to keeping solar panels clean and efficient. Japanese startup Miraikikai is developing a solution to getting rid of this pesky dust and grit: a cleaning robot that doesn't need water. The firm has produced the Wall Walker wall and ceiling robot, and recently unveiled a prototype solar panel cleaner built with researchers at Kagawa University. It weighs about 24 pounds -- light enough to be carried by one person -- and measures about 22 inches across. It cleans with a rotating brush and can operate for up to two hours on a battery charge. The robot's efficacy has been demonstrated in arid regions, Miraikikai said in a release, and the machine can clean panels as well as human workers. Making optimal use of the device would result in low-cost cleaning even in areas with relatively cheap labor costs.
A single dead eagle could spell trouble for a White Pine County wind farm that sells power to NV Energy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting an investigation after a golden eagle was killed in late February at the Spring Valley Wind Farm, about 300 miles north of Las Vegas. San Francisco-based Pattern Energy, which owns the 152-megawatt wind energy project, reported the dead bird and turned it over to federal authorities within 36 hours of its discovery. “They did all the things they were supposed to because of an eagle death,” said Jeannie Stafford, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada. Even so, the wind farm could face a fine of up to $200,000 because it does not hold a federal “take” permit that would allow the incidental death of a golden or bald eagle. Stafford said the matter is under investigation by the service’s Office of Law Enforcement.
Here's how Mosaic works: Investors contribute a minimum of $25 to a project. Over the next 5 to 10 years—depending on the project—the investors will make that money back, plus interest. The return on the investment ranges from 4.5 to 6.4 percent annually, depending on the project. They can support projects in any state, but right now only accredited investors and people in New York and California can invest in the projects, due to regulatory barriers in other states. In order to qualify, projects must be for organizations that are financially stable, have adequate insurance, and benefit the wider community in some way. Recent projects include affordable housing projects, a convention center, several nonprofits, a grocery store, and a Native American reservation. Mosaic's founders want to do for solar energy what Kickstarter has done for bands and independent films, or what Kiva has done for upstart projects in the developing world. But Mosaic's model goes beyond most other crowdsourcing sites, by not only allowing supporters to invest in the solar project but also make a profit doing so.
Foxconn has announced plans to build a solar power network in China encompassing new factories and plants. According to a statement released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer is investing in one research center, five solar-power components factories, and 20 solar-power generating plants in the southern province of Guangxi. Foxconn since 2012 has been shifting its focus toward solar power, pouring nearly 100 billion yuan (US$16 million) in other provinces in China, where the government has provided solar manufacturers with heavy subsidies. In the face of competition, increasing labor cost and pressure from business customers, Foxconn's cellphone subsidiary company had failed to meet market expectation and reported an annual loss of US$316 million in its fiscal 2012. Hence, to some, the moves could be seen as part of a strategic plan. Despite last week bankruptcy filing of SunTech, China's biggest solar panel manufacturer, the outlook for the domestic market remains encouraging, according to Shen Hongwen, an analyst from CIConsulting company. Foxconn should be able to tap the expanding Chinese market by utilizing its financing power and management expertise, Shen said.
How much energy can we use from the sun's rays? Apparently, we can utilize far more than previously thought. A new study shows that the energy limit is far higher than first believed. The new study, described in the journal Nature Photonics , studied how to develop and improve the quality of nanowire crystals. These nanowires possess a cylindrical structure and a diameter that's about 10,000 part of a human hair. They hold enormous potential for the development of solar cells and the future of quantum computers and other electronic products. So how do these nanowires work? They naturally concentrate the sun's rays into a very small area in the crystal that they possess by up to a factor of 15. Due to the tiny nature of the wire's diameter, the crystal can cause resonances in the intensity of light in and around nanowires. These resonances can concentrate the sunlight and convert it into energy, essentially giving a higher conversion efficiency of the sun's light. Previously, scientists thought that the efficiency limit of sunlight was far lower. Known as the "Shockley Queisser Limit," it was held as a landmark for solar cell efficiency for many years. Yet with the discovery and development of these nanowires, it seems that the limit is far higher than previously thought.
Scientists at Stanford University have improved the efficiency of a revolutionary solar cell by around 100 times. Unlike standard photovoltaic cells, which only capture light energy, Stanford’s new device captures both light and heat, potentially boosting solar cell efficiency towards 60% — way beyond the 30-40% limit of traditional silicon photovoltaic solar cells. This new device uses a process called photon-enhanced thermionic emission (PETE). In photovoltaic cells, photons strike a semiconductor (usually silicon), creating electricity by knocking electrons loose from their parent atoms. The PETE process is similar, but also very different and altogether rather complex. In essence, think of it as the photovoltaic equivalent of a turbocharger. Full Article.
Suntech, one of the world's biggest solar panel manufacturers, has defaulted on a $541m (£358m) bond payment in the latest sign of the financial squeeze on the struggling global solar industry. Suntech Power Holdings' announcement was a severe setback for a company lauded by China's Communist government as a leader of efforts to make the country a centre of the renewable energy industry. Its founder, Shi Zhengrong, became one of the industry's most prominent entrepreneurs and a billionaire, only to see most of his fortune evaporate as the company's share price plummeted. The company is "exploring strategic alternatives with lenders and potential investors," David King, who replaced Shi as a CEO last year, said in a statement. Suntech was due to make a $541m bond payment on Friday but ran short of cash following heavy losses over the past year.
GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) today released U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012, the definitive analysis of solar power markets in the U.S. With another record-breaking year, solar is the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., powering homes, businesses and utility grids across the nation. The Solar Market Insight annual edition shows the U.S. installed 3,313 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012, a record for the industry. Perhaps most importantly, clean, reliable, affordable solar is continuing a major growth pattern that has made it a leading source of new electricity for America that's increasingly competitive with conventional electricity across dozens of states today. Even with the cost of solar falling for consumers, the market size of the U.S. solar industry grew 34 percent from $8.6 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2012—not counting billions of dollars in other economic benefits across states and communities. As of the end of 2012, there were 7,221 MW of PV and 546 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) online in the U.S. -- enough to power 1.2 million homes. At the state level, 2012 was another year for breaking records. California became the first state to install over 1,000 MW in one year, with growth across all market segments. Arizona came in as the second largest market, led by large-scale utility installations, while New Jersey experienced growth in the state's non-residential market. In addition to record annual installations, the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2012 shattered all-time quarterly records as well, with 1,300 MW of installed PV, besting the previous high by a whopping 64 percent. The residential and utility segments had their best quarters ever, installing 144 MW and 874 MW respectively.
The U.S. approved three renewable-energy projects to be built on federal land in California and Nevada. The two solar farms and one wind project are expected to total 1,100 megawatts of capacity, enough to power more than 340,000 homes, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today at a press conference in San Francisco. The U.S. doubled its use of renewable-energy during the past four years and these projects are part of the Obama administration’s strategy of promoting wider use of solar, wind and geothermal energy on federal lands, he said. The solar farms are in one of 17 zones approved by the Interior Department last year to accelerate the approval process. “They are the blueprint, the bible, if you will, of where solar energy will go on public lands in the years ahead,”Salazar said. The 750-megawatt McCoy Solar Energy Project, owned byNextEra Energy Inc. (NEE), and Electricite de France SA’s 150-megawatt Desert Harvest plant will use photovoltaic technology and are in Riverside County, in Southern California. Duke Energy Corp. (DUK)’s 200-megawatt Searchlight Wind Energy Project is in Clark County, Nevada. Edison International (EIX)’s Southern California Edison utility received approval from state regulators last year to buy power under a 20-year contract from McCoy’s first 250-megawatt phase, which is expected to start producing power in late 2016. EDF and Duke haven’t announced power-purchase agreements and none of the three companies have named suppliers.
China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd said it would close its only solar panel-making plant in the United States to cut costs, two years after opening the facility that never reached full production. Shares of the company, struggling to cover a convertible bond due this Friday, fell 9 percent to $1.05, their lowest in more than two months. Suntech opened the plant in Goodyear, Arizona in September 2010, saying that making panels in the United States would reduce time, costs and greenhouse gas emissions related to sourcing panels from overseas. The plant, however, has been weighed down by U.S. import tariffs on solar cells and aluminum frames as well as a global panel oversupply. Suntech is required to pay duties of 35.97 percent on solar cells imported from China and used in the plant, the company said on Tuesday. The plant, originally expected to scale up to 120 megawatts (MW) per year, was scaled down to 15 MW in November. The closure, slated for April 3, will affect 43 employees, the company said. Suntech had 17,693 employees as of December 2011, the latest period for which job data is available.
The solar energy business is growing quickly, but future growth will not include oil giant BP. At the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, BP's CEO made it clear the company is done with solar. "We have thrown in the towel on solar," Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday. "Not that solar energy isn't a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money," he added. BP, which announced it was winding down its solar business last year, says it is still committed to other renewable resources, such as wind power and biofuels production. But the move away from solar is especially striking considering BP's recent history. In 2000, the company changed its logo to resemble the sun and made a big deal of its "beyond petroleum" campaign. BP's exit from solar has more to do with a changing business than lack of will. "The solar industry BP was involved in 10 years ago has very few similarities to the solar industry today," says Finlay Colville, vice president of the research firm NPD Solarbuzz. Colville says BP was one of the early companies in the solar business. Back then, the market was based on a different model — one more focused on research and development. He says now the business is all about efficient production and low prices, something more suited to the Asian companies taking a lead role in the solar panel-manufacturing business; so BP's exit from solar doesn't mean the industry overall is in trouble.
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