pv magazine's weekly news roundup

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Every Friday, pv magazine will round up the biggest and best stories from the past week and package them here in one easily digestible news nugget. So kick back, fire up the coffee machine and get up to speed with the latest comings and goings in the global PV industry.

What we learned this week

Thin film is on an irrepressible upward trajectory thanks to Arizona’s First Solar this week achieving a world record 21% efficiency for the technology, narrowly edging past Solar Frontier’s previous record of 20.9%.

First Solar has laid down a roadmap towards 22% cell efficiency for next year, and is already well ahead of schedule. “We have just begun to reveal the true unrealized potential of CdTe PV,” remarked the company’s CTO Raffi Garabedian.

Tech doyen Elon Musk also grabbed his usual share of positive headlines this week following the announcement that his Tesla Motors Inc. company is to team up with Panasonic Corporation on the creation of a battery ‘gigafactory’.

Tesla will oversee the U.S. facility, with Panasonic lending its expertise in lithium-ion cells to help drive down costs of electrical storage devices – propelling the mass market for cost-effective batteries that could transform the solar industry.

The $5 billion gigafactory "represents a fundamental change in the way large-scale battery production can be realized," said Tesla Motors co-founder and CTO, JB Straubel.

In even more buoyant news, solar boat MS Turanor PlanetSolar – which circumnavigated the globe in 2012 powered solely by the sun – this week found itself bobbing in the azure waters off Greece as it assisted researchers there in search of ancient underwater settlements. One of pv magazine‘s trusted correspondents was able to drag himself away from the beach for a few hours in order to take a peek inside, where he found throngs of curious locals exploring the nooks and crannies of the German-built vessel’s high-tech, solar-powered interior.

What will become of the US?

The ongoing rumblings from the latest U.S. trade war against China could still be heard into the third week since the Department of Commerce (DOC) introduced preliminary tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese solar cells and modules, with NPD Solarbuzz warning that as much as 3 GW of large-scale PV installations in the U.S. could now be under threat.

"Large-scale ground-mount PV installations are particularly vulnerable to cost increases and potential disruption, as many have signed PPAs at aggressive rates," warned Michael Barker, NPD Solarbuzz’s senior analyst. "Any increase in cost for the projects could mean renegotiation, delay, or even termination."

As the two solar behemoths remained at loggerheads, IHS reported that the top ten leading EPC companies in the world all hail from either China or the U.S., with American company First Solar leading the way, slightly ahead of TBEA SunOasis, from China. Of the top ten, six were Chinese and four were from the U.S.

"The largest EPC companies build their success on expanding domestic PV demand," said IHS senior solar analyst, Josefin Berg. "The main exception is SunEdison, which is set to install half of an estimated 950 MW of PV capacity outside its home base of the U.S."

Such expansionary foresight and willingness to diversify and work with other markets should also be the bare minimum benchmark for the entire global PV industry, wrote pv magazine‘s publisher, Karl-Heinz Remmers.

In an impassioned post, Mr. Remmers made the case for the creation of a global solar alliance that could "meet ambitious goals, represent common interests, solve international conflicts and, above all, act as a bulwark against dominant rival industries and political foes." Time will tell whether such a call is met, or once again falls on deaf ears.

Business time

Although we’re at the very apex of summer, the wheels of business were as lubricated as ever, and no financial story grabbed our attention more than the news that SMA has purchased the operations and maintenance (O&M) unit from Phoenix Solar.

The inverter giant’s CEO, Pierre-Pascal Urbon, remarked that O&M services are expected to play an increasingly important role in SMA’s future growth and business strategy as the company seeks out wider international markets beyond its native Germany. A few days later, SMA’s financial reports suggested just that, with more than 70% of its first-half revenue being driven by international projects.

Meanwhile, Japanese electronics giant Sharp saw its solar division suffer a 97% drop in profit in the first half of 2014, caused by a decline in solar cell sales in the domestic Japanese market, prompting the division to undertake a "structural reform of its solar cell business in Europe."

Speaking of Japan, business was brisk at last week’s PV Japan exhibition in Tokyo. pv magazine’s editor in chief Jonathan Gifford – who was present at the show – had these three key take aways explaining why the country’s solar market is more ebullient than ever.

And finally…

SolarCity does as SolarCity does, posting a second quarter loss yet enjoying surging revenues and installations that puts the company firmly on course to meet its longer term growth objectives.

GT Advanced Technologies set its sights on the future as financial results disappointed; SunEdison enjoyed strong growth in Q2 thanks to the launch of its yieldco IPO, and Yingli proudly revealed that it has now shipped more than 10 GW of solar PV modules globally.

August 2 – 8: That was the week that was. Be sure to follow @pv-magazine on Twitter for continued updates and breaking news, and check back next Friday for the next pv magazine weekly news roundup.