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With the continued volatility of oil prices and the fact that the average citizen has become more aware of their environment, there has been a strong push for the development of renewable energy. The push for clean energy will benefit solar companies as demand increases for solar and other renewables. The need for companies to appear eco-friendly has resulted in large scale ad campaigns from energy giants like BP and General Electric, highlighting their investments in renewable sources of energy. Not only are the energy giants investing more in renewable energy, but the rising cost of natural gas and oil have forced electric prices higher and made “eco-friendly” energy sources such as solar, an economic alternative. Demand for solar energy has grown at 30% per annum over the past 15 years. In 2009, photovoltaic (PV) installations grew by 20 percent, compared to 2008, with over 7.3GW of PV installations globally. Revenues in 2009 for the PV industry also increased, reaching $38.5 billion.[1]

With the expansion of the industry and increased investment, PV solar energy has made great strides in the last five years as panels have become more efficient and costs of production have decreased. According to the Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative, they hope that with continued research and more companies entering the market, PV solar power will become a competitive source of commercial electricity by 2015.[2] PV prices have declined by 4% per annum over the past fifteen years, due to improved conversion efficiencies and declines in manufacturing costs.[3]
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Photovoltaic Global Installations-2009[1]
For investors in solar, the holy grail is using solar power for on-grid electricity generation-- i.e., solar as a replacement for the coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy that typically provide electricity in the developed world. While other applications of solar energy, especially off-grid electricity application (e.g., for remote residential consumers or industrial consumers) or for consumer electronics, have been cost competitive for many years, only recently have the economics of on-grid solar energy become attractive enough to warrant commercial consideration.
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Forecasted Worldwide Demand for PV Modules[4]
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Solar cell in action
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Concentrating solar power (CSP) technology (solar thermal energy)

The appeal of solar energy is obvious. It is a virtually limitless resource. It's free of greenhouse gas emissions, widely thought to contribute to global climate change. In developed countries using lots of air conditioners, it generates more electricity exactly when you need it-- at times of peak electricity usage (e.g, you run your air conditioners more during the hottest, sunniest days of the summer time). Once installed, solar systems can function for 30 or more years with little maintenance or oversight. Solar comes with limitations, however, most notably the poor efficiency of PV modules, which is further reduced by the need to convert DC from solar cells into AC current. Moreover, solar is weather dependent and intermittent, requiring storage or back-up systems to supplement during times of weak generation.

Historically, and for the foreseeable future, solar power represents a tiny fraction of total global electricity generation and energy demand (less than 1%). However, growth has been rapid, and governments around the world have also encouraged solar energy through tax incentives. In 2009 Europe accounted for 5.60GW, 77% of global demand. German, Italy and the Czech Republic accounted for 4.07 GW as a group. Germany is the largest market in the world, followed by Italy.[1] However Germany is in the process of cutting back tax incentives on solar energy. In June of 2008, Germany approved a law cutting its solar subsidies by 10%. Further, under the law subsidies will fall another 8%-10% each year for the next three years.[5]

What is the real cause of global wanimrg? The sun is getting hotter! If you don't believe me you can look it up. There is more where that came from. Check out my blog Barry's Amazing Ideas on your same blog host Blogger for even more shocking ideas. Tell me what you think and leave a comment.

Companies who stand to lose

Applied Materials, the much beleaguered and recently resurgent semiconductor company, might fear the inevitable price increases in silicon, let alone supply shortages in wafers, that can result from continued rapid growth in solar. As the second-place player in semiconductors, the company is more likely than Intel to face pressure from its suppliers. It should be noted, however, that the company has made a bold move into solar, shifting massive amounts of production into making solar cells-- thus a competitive threat becomes a business opportunity.

Ironically, the economies of scale inherent in solar suggest that first-movers can be penalized for taking the leap into solar too soon, locking them into electricity costs that are higher than their competitors, who are buying next generation technology (think of the U.S. mobile phone market, which was to some extent hampered by getting to mobile phones too soon and locking in to the wrong technologies, thereby surrendering technical superiority to other markets such as Japan, South Korea, and the EU). Watch out for the first major corporation to announce 10% of energy to be procured from solar sources-- this might be a good company to watch for negative exposure to the rise of solar.


== well as government and an overview over the government incentives and their success in different countries.[6]

Technology

Technological advancement in solar power is coming at a rapid fire pace. All along the value chain, manufacturers and suppliers are pushing to squeeze more solar energy out of every dollar invested in solar equipment. Innovation has focused thus far on incremental improvements to the crystalline silicon manufacturing process for the typical PV cell. Advancements have included increasing cell energy efficiency, utilizing thinner wafers, and increasing generating power in low-light. In June 2008, for example, National Semiconductor announced a new technology called "SolarMagic" that can reduce the generating loss from partial light (caused by, say, a cloudy day) by 40%.[7] Going forward, however, the advancement of string-ribbon technology and thin-film technology, two new manufacturing processes designed to drastically reduce the silicon required to make PV cells, could dramatically decrease the cost of new PV cells.

A new nanotechnology based approach using Tetrapod Quantum Dots (TQ-Dots) is under development by companies such as Solterra Renewable Technologies. TQ-Dots are poised to become an economical alternative and replace silicon wafer-based solar cells with flexible TQ-Dot solar cells. The cells will not need an external cooling source to keep from overheating. TQ-Dot solar cells convert the sun light into useable electricity from multiple excitons instead of heat and have the advantage of generating electricity from UV and infrared wavelengths, allowing generation 24/7. From an investors perspective, TQ-Dots have the added advantage of potentially generating substantial revenue from not only the solar apps, but from apps in the: medical diagnostics-therapeutics, multi-function semi-conductor, advanced laser, MEMS, photo-reactive paints, RFID, anti-counterfeiting/knock-offs, optics and flexible displays sectors as well. These ancillary apps (& more) will be served by Solterra's parent company, Quantum Materials Corp. (QTMM) [8]

Trends in the Solar Market

Regular updates on the trends in the PV markets are published on the website of the IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme. [9]

The solar industry is faced with a huge oversupply of solar panels planned for production in 2008. However, shares in many solar companies such as Evergreen Solar (ESLR) , First Solar (FSLR), SunPower (SPWR), and Suntech Power Holdings (STP) have surged with the booming solar market.

In the past few years, we have witnessed a stampede of startups entering the solar cell market using thin film technology because of a shortage of polysilicon material used to make crystalline cells. At the same time, existing thin film solar suppliers have announced large expansions as a means of reducing production costs and gain a competitive edge. This has resulted in thin film solar panels reaching 9.4% of the 3.8 gigawatts [GW] of power generated worldwide in 2007, up from 7.6% of 2.5 GW produced in 2006. In 2008, worldwide solar power generation will grow 50% to 5.6 GW, but thin films as a percentage of panels will grow to 14.4%

At the same time, polysilicon suppliers have also initiated competitive capacity expansion plans. 2008 will be the turning point when polysilicon capacity actually exceeds demand by a mere 4,700 metric tons using a calculation that thin film panels at 14.4% of the market. If thin film solar continues at its same growth rate, in 2009 thin film will make up 17.8% of all solar power generation. That would leave a capacity of polysilicon exceeding demand by 17,000 metric tons, based on capacity expansions announced by the polysilicon manufacturers.

Traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar panels with efficiencies between 15% and 22% compare to thin film amorphous silicon of 6% to 7%, which will possibility increase to 10% efficiencies in 2009 using bilayer micromorph structures. CdTe (cadmium telluride) technology, led by First Solar, is already achieving 10% efficiency. Thus, amorphous silicon is two years behind CdTe. Moreover, its estimated that in 2008, the production of polysilicon would be such that even if all the upcoming solar panels were made of polysilicon, 5000 metric tons would still be in excess.

Plus, the high equipment costs to make an amorphous silicon thin film panel. Up the food chain, solar thin film equipment suppliers such as Applied Materials (AMAT) of the U.S. and Oerlikon of Switzerland are selling amorphous silicon technology. Equipment costs in the neighborhood of $200 million to make 60 MW of panels. Add to that the costs of consumables. Cost to manufacture panels of amorphous silicon is about $1.70 per watt, depending of the size of the factory (First Solar, which uses cadmium telluride, has reduced its cost to $1.20 per watt). The profit for a panel selling for $2.50 per watt would be $0.80 per watt or $50 million per year. But with the equipment costing $200 million, it would in reality take 4 years just to recoup the equipment costs. And as more capacity is added, competitive pressures will drop the selling price further, not to mention Chinese manufacturers selling their product at under $2 per watt.

The overcapacity should impact equipment and materials sales in the amorphous silicon thin film area. As the shortage of polysilicon dissipates, due to ramped production and a semiconductor slowdown, prices of mono and polycrystalline silicon solar panels will drop and become even more economically competitive with thin film technology, further exasperating thin film equipment sales and the thin film solar market. With the industry having twice the capacity as it needs, expect some rethinking on the part of investors

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Solarbuzz Reports World Solar Photovoltaic Market Grew to 7.3 Gigawatt in 2009, Solarbuzz.com, March 15, 2010
  2. DOE’s Solar America Initiative Draft Pg 5
  3. FAST SOLAR ENERGY FACTS, Solarbuzz.com, accessed on March 15, 2010
  4. First Solar Corporate Overview, March 1, 2010
  5. Bloomberg - Germany Accelerates Cuts to Solar-Energy Subsidies
  6. Promotional Drivers for Grid-Connected PV, Report IEA-PVPS T10-05:2009
  7. WSJ: Solar Industry Gets Aid to Fight Shade
  8. Solterra Renewable Technologies Website, accessed on April 21, 2010
  9. IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme
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