Saturday, March 28, 2009

World Solar PV Market grew to 5.95 MW in 2008

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations reached a record high of 5.95 gigawatts (GW) in 2008, representing growth of 110% over the previous year, according to a SolarBuzz report.

Europe accounted for 82% of world demand in 2008. Spain's 285% growth pushed Germany into second place in the market ranking, while the US advanced to number three. Rapid growth in Korea allowed it to become the fourth largest market, closely followed by Italy and Japan.

In the assessment of PV demand in 2008, 81 countries contributed to the 5.95GW world market total.

On the supply side, world solar cell production reached a consolidated* figure of 6.85 GW in 2008, up from 3.44 GW a year earlier. Overall capacity utilization rose to 67% in 2008 from 64% a year earlier.

Meanwhile, thin film production also recorded solid growth, up 123% in 2008 to reach 0.89 GW.
China and Taiwan continued to increase their share of global solar cell production, rising to 44% in 2008 from 35% in 2007.

Polysilicon supply to the solar industry grew by 127% in megawatt terms, sufficient to substantially ease supply limitations in 2008. United States polysilicon production accounted for 43% of the world's supplies. Average global wafering capacity grew to 8.30 GW (up 81%).

In dollar terms, the weighted 2008 average global factory gate crystalline module price increased by a modest 3% over 2007, notwithstanding the significant fall in fourth quarter 2008. Preliminary first quarter 2009 data shows a decrease of up to 24% (manufacturer dependent) compared to the 2008 global weighted average. Meanwhile, the new report quantifies the global inventory build during first quarter 2009.

The PV industry generated $37.1 billion in global revenues in 2008, while successfully raising over $12.5bn in equity and debt, up 11% on the prior year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Prospects of Thinfilm Solar Market

Although still lagging behind crystalline silicon in the maximum efficiency stakes, as costs per Wp fall, thin-film technologies are rapidly taking up a significant share of the PV market. Industry figures give a compound annual growth rate of 60% between 2002 and 2007, and production capacity could reach more than 10 GW in 2010 and 16 GW in 2012. Although uncertainty remains over the timescale, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) nonetheless expects about 4 GW of thin-film production capacity to be operational in 2010. Based mainly in Europe, China, Taiwan, the USA and Japan, this will represent about 20% of total PV module production, up from 10% in 2007.

Consequently, the thin-film sector is considered not only a very dynamic market, but one which also benefits from significant potential for development. Scaling factors, efficiency gains and the new production technologies are expected to reduce thin-film module manufacturing costs to €1/Wp (and below) in the near future, EPIA says. Efficiency is anticipated to rise from a current 6%–12% to 10%–15% in the coming years, with a potential of more than 20% in the longer term. Meanwhile, potential material developments include optimization of different technologies (a-Si, a-Si/µc-Si, CI(G)S and CdTe) in addition to the development of new polymers and other types of organic, dye-sensitive solar cells.

A clear signal of growing confidence in the sector was provided by EPIA’s International Thin Film Conference. Held in November 2008, the event was the first EPIA event to focus on thin-film. With over 350 participants in attendance, the conference, held in Munich, Germany, heard that more than 150 companies had already entered the thin-film business, with some 40 of these already in production.

Winfried Hoffmann, EPIA president, explained that while crystalline silicon module prices have shown a 20% decrease with each doubling of installed capacity, in the case of thin-film modules this digression rate may be higher, especially in the wake of the silicon shortage.

Paula Mints, analyst at Navigant Consulting (and occasional REW contributor), presented analytical data on the evolution of the thin-film PV market, showing a spectacular annual growth rate of 126% in 2007, although she also warned that due to the current global financial environment, growth expectations for the next two to three years need to be reduced slightly.

The subtitle of the conference: ‘Thin Film goes Large!’ seemed particularly appropriate, given that Germany is host to a range of thin-film projects that more than illustrate the technology’s potential. With three new large-scale thin-film PV installations recently commissioned, with a combined capacity of some 50 MW, Germany can provide an excellent insight into the real cut and thrust of the thin-film market.
The future for thin-film

Although there has been a rapid ramp up in the number of companies within the thin-film sector, it’s noteworthy that all three of these projects use modules manufactured by First Solar; speaking at the EPIA thin-film event, that company’s Benny Buller argued that their cadmium telluride (CdTe) modules have the lowest module production cost in the sector, allowing for the lowest module price in the current market. This echoes comments from Mike Ahearn, chairman and CEO of First Solar, who in December said: ’Looking ahead to the next 2-4 years, First Solar will be in a position to produce power from the sun at costs competitive with conventional electricity generated from fossil fuels.’

With a strong policy for cost reduction (glass loss reduction, tellurium cadmium oxide (TCO) loss reduction, low cost encapsulants, faster TCO deposition rates and such like), efficiency increases and economies of scale, in its latest earnings announcement, released in late October, First Solar announced a manufacturing cost of $1.08/W, a figure which includes a $0.04/W ramping up cost associated with factories under construction in Malaysia.

It is clear that with a range of large-scale projects already in operation (where the appropriate support mechanisms are in place), thin-film is rapidly establishing itself as a market force to be reckoned with, both in Germany and around the world. Conference chairman Bernhard Dimmler of Würth Solar GmbH & Co KG summed up the prospects for the technology by asking not if thin-film was competitive with crystalline technologies but rather: ‘Will c-Si be able to compete with thin-film PV in 10 years time?’ He argues that if thin-film PV producers are able to reach their targets, the answer is ‘no’.

Monday, March 16, 2009

First-ever biogas plant that works entirely without edible raw materials

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed the first-ever biogas plant to run purely on waste instead of edible raw materials – transforming waste into valuable material.

The plant generates 30 per cent more biogas than its predecessors. A fuel cell efficiently converts the gas into electricity.In collaboration with several small and medium-sized enterprises, research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden have developed the first-ever biogas plant that works entirely without edible raw materials."In our pilot plant, we exclusively use agricultural waste such as corn stalks – that is, the corn plants without the cobs."This allows us to generate 30 percent more biogas than in conventional facilities," says IKTS head of department Dr Michael Stelter.
Until now, biogas plants have only been able to process a certain proportion of waste material, as this tends to be more difficult to convert into biogas than pure cereal crops or corn, for instance.This is not the only advantage: The time for which the decomposing waste material, or silage, is stored in the plant can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent. Biomass is usually kept in the fermenter, building up biogas, for 80 days. Thanks to the right kind of pre-treatment, this only takes about 30 days in the new plant. "Corn stalks contain cellulose which cannot be directly fermented. But in our plant, the cellulose is broken down by enzymes before the silage ferments," Dr Stelter explains.
The researchers have also optimized the conversion of biogas into electricity. They divert the gas into a high-temperature fuel cell with an electrical efficiency of 40 to 55 per cent.By comparison, the gas engine normally used for this purpose only achieves an average efficiency of 38 percent. What is more, the fuel cell operates at 850° Celsius.The heat can be used directly for heating or fed into the district heating network. If the electrical and thermal efficiency are added up, the fuel cell has an overall efficiency of up to 85 per cent.The overall efficiency of the combustion engine is usually around 38 per cent because its heat is very difficult to harness.The researchers have already built a pilot plant with an electricity output of 1.5 kilowatts, enough to cover the needs of a family home.
In the next phases of the project, the scientists and their industrial partners plan to gradually scale up the biogas plant to two megawatts.

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