IDTechEx attended the Solar Innovation and Investment meeting between the 21st and the 23rd of May in London where speakers from a variety of sectors (investors, bankers, solar cell manufacturers, suppliers) gave their views on the growth and prospects of the solar market.
Some of the highlights of the meeting are listed below:
Solar Trade Association: regulations and policies in the UK
Financial and regulation measures (such as the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, Carbon Emissions Reduction Target from 2008-2011, Renewable Obligation Certificates, the Merton Rule, Code for Sustainable Homes) were highlighted by David Matthews and a point was made that measures and incentives of a far larger scale are necessary in the UK in order to drive the market.
At the same time, the importance of flanking measures was also highlighted such as training for installers, designers, etc and raising public awareness through projects such as EST and the Carbon Trust.
According to Mr. Matthews, the growth of the UK solar market would greatly depend on strengthening these measures in order to catch up with countries like Germany, although lobbying by solar companies was also deemed necessary.
Solar power standard settings
Mathieu Denis of the CEN (European Committee for Standardization) gave a more "European" overview of how the market could be driven forward through the introduction of standards. European standards help build a single European market, enable European innovation and strengthen regional competitiveness.
Time frame for standards implementation is on average 36 months (and definitely not more than 54 making sure that the process doesn't take too long), although it is possible to achieve standards introduction in as little as 16 months.
There are very few (around 10) standards in the solar sector at the moment. Activities are foreseen in the technical committee that will work on increasing them.
Emerging vs established
Toby Ferenczi from Imperial College highlighted his view and challenges on emerging organic solar cells in efficiency (around 3-4% in mass production), lifetime (Konarka claim a lifetime of 5 years for their cells but that's still nowhere near the 25-year warranty that silicon or CIGS or CdTe manufacturers promise), and scale up from lab to production. Also a point was made that a lot of progress has been made with new architectures and novel structures.
In terms of investing in organic photovoltaics, Ferenczi supported the idea that the best way to ensure that the developed technology will take off, while maintaining a competitive advantage (especially with all the research in the field going on) is to find a niche market and concentrate on offering a flexible technology that can incorporate new developments.
Suntech on the other hand, a China based Si-PV Company that is forecasting the sale of 1 GW of modules next year and $1B sales in Europe last year is obviously at a very different stage and is looking at the market from a very different point of view. Grid parity according to Suntech is immediately achievable in places like the Mediterranean countries and with a $4 per watt installation cost and an irradiation of 1600 hours per year the cost of a KW.h can be as low as 18 cents.
Specifically building integrated photovoltaics seems to be a great opportunity for the thin film market, as it is less invasive and can be very easily integrated into the design of buildings and also gives the added benefit of avoiding energy transportation losses. Companies like Nuon Helianthos are already working on developing processes for roofing integrated PV (integration of solar cell and roofing element). The incentives available for BIPV are also very attractive, In France for instance the feed in tariff is double for building integrated PV than for non-integrated. Several companies are already working on such installations and Solar Century gave an overview of the projects they have been involved with.
Scarcity of materials
Some of the issues that were raised on this topic were:
1 GW of CdTe modules (which is First Solar's target) would require more than 100% of current world production of Te. Recycling of modules would limit the problem slightly but at the same time modules have a long lifetime so recycling them any time soon is not really an option. Unfortunately, First Solar was not represented at the meeting so there was no answer to this issue.
Indium is used in displays, ITO, CIGS with its price skyrocketing over the past few years. Nanosolar's Erik Oldekop claimed that 30% of the Indium they use comes from recycling and they don't see an issue with availability in the near future. Also, a lot of research work takes place in order to replace ITO.
Venture capitalist / venture-backed
Finally, an interesting comment was made when comparing Nanosolar, a company focusing solely on CIGS technology and Q-cells, a company that dominates the world Silicon cell production but is also forming subsidiaries for production of CdTe, CIGS and a-Si cells due to the potential they see in thin film photovoltaics: "We offer a cheap technology and cheap processing for our customers, that's what we focus on", said Erik Oldekop when asked to compare business strategies. "Nanosolar is a venture-backed company whereas Q-cells are acting more like a venture capitalist".
For more attend Photovoltaics Beyond Conventional Silicon on 17-18 June 2008.