pv magazine exclusive: Intersolar North America trade show reflects upswing in solar mood

"There’s a lot more energy than the last show, when there was more a sense of the doldrums and it was a much more reticent show," said Michael Bartholomeusz, CEO of thin film solar startup Applied Quantum Technology. "Now there are more companies going commercial, going into production. The industry is growing faster than anyone’s dreams." While concerns about the capital markets seemed to dominate last year, this year’s show is much more focused on commercialization, he added.

Oliver Janssen, CEO of power-optimizer startup eIQ Energy, said he is seeing more bustle and activity as well. "There are a lot of customers at this show, a lot of action on the show floor," he said. "The impression is that you’ve really got a lot of commerce going on here."

The activity level is also apparent in all the news coming out of the show. Below is a roundup of some of the most interesting items pv magazine has come across so far:

  • GE launched a USD$200 million competition for new smart-grid technologies, including ideas involving renewables, grid efficiency and green buildings, with venture-capital firms Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and RockPort Capital. Aside from cash, entrants – which must submit their ideas on the Ecomagination Challenge Web site by September 30 – could also win commercial relationships with GE.
  • Applied Quantum Technology, which is making copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) cells with equipment from hard-drive-manufacturing equipment company Intevac, told pv magazine that its first factory is up and running with an initial capacity of 10 megawatts (MWs). It is producing cells with an average efficiency of 12 percent now, Bartholomeusz said, adding that the company expects to raise those efficiencies to 14 percent by the time it brings its cells to the market next year. AQT, which plans to ship about 40 MW of cells next year, is almost sold out for next year and has a total of 100 MW of orders in the pipeline, he said. AQT, which just raised USD$10 million from STPV Holdings in April, also plans to seek another round of between USD$10 million and USD$15 million later this year to expand its production, Bartholoneusz explained.
  • SolFocus expects to install 10 MW of its concentrating PV projects this year, Nancy Hartsoch, vice president of marketing, also told pv magazine. That’s a big jump from "next to none" last year and some 500 kilowatts in 2008, and – if the projection is accurate – would give the company a 50 percent market share of the global industry forecast of 20 MW of CPV installations this year. The industry had previously expected 35 MW of CPV installations this year, but while shipments are still happening, it’s taken longer than expected to get permits for some of the installations, especially for larger projects, she said.
  • San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower, which is developing flexible CIGS panels, has begun shipping samples to customers around the world. Those customers all plan to install systems in the next few months, CEO Tim Harris said in a panel presentation. SoloPower expects to receive certification from the Underwriters Laboratories and the International Electrotechnical Commission in the next two months as well, at which time it plans to make its panels "more generally available," he said.
  • Fremont, California-based Solyndra, which makes tube-shaped CIGS panels and famously won a USD$535 million U.S. federal loan guarantee, is now producing 220-watt panels, Ben Bierman, the company’s executive vice president of operations and engineering, said in a presentation. That wattage represents a 76 percent increase from the 120-watt panels Solyndra first produced in 2007, he said. The company has made more than 16 million panels to date, and has reached efficiencies of up to 15.8 percent in its best modules, he said. To give a better idea of the average efficiencies, he added that the median efficiency of the modules it produced during the last week of June was 12 percent, with the best modules reaching 13.2 percent. Solyndra expects to ship about 80 MW of panels this year and plans to triple its output to more than 200 MW next year with its second factory. It’s installing equipment in that fab now and plans to have it fully equipped by September 15, less than four months after President Barack Obama visited the factory’s empty shell.
  • San Jose, California, startup eIQ Energy, which sells a system that boosts solar power production, plans to raise a new round of funding – in the double digits – within the next year, CEO Oliver Janssen told pv magazine. The company, which Monday announced partnerships with SoloPower and Shoals Technologies Group, raised USD$10 million from NGEN Partners and Robert Bosch Venture Capital last August.