The pv magazine weekly news roundup: Oct 3-10

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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’s that Musk-y smell? Ah yes, it’s SolarCity founder and tech doyen Elon Musk’s plans for world domination clicking into place. With SolarCity increasing its share of the U.S. residential installer market from ‘just’ 28% in Q1 to 36% in Q2, it appears that very little can stop the South African entrepreneur’s tilt at filling the Steve Jobs-shaped hole in the hearts and minds of tech geeks everywhere.

But wait. SolarCity is no longer having it all its own way. Revving impatiently behind the solar lease behemoth is Vivint Solar, which has enjoyed an equally encouraging second-quarter in the U.S. residential PV market. According to GTM Research, the two companies have cornered more than half of this lucrative segment between them, and although Vivint are smaller right now, SolarCity’s slipstream is providing excellent conditions for expansion.

"Vivint is in fewer states, but with their door-to-door sales model that fits the sector better, they can focus on a specific area and double down on certain neighborhoods that they know are a good target," said GTM Research analyst Nicole Litvak.

While Vivint feeds off the SolarCity buzz and SolarCity thrives in the face of sustained competition, there was less sanguine news for GT Advanced Technologies, which announced this week that it is filing for a surprise bankruptcy.

The sad news followed the revelation that tech giants Apple will not, in fact, be using its sapphire screens for the iPhone 6 – a blow that proved the final nail in the broken-back camel’s coffin following a severe three-year downturn in PV equipment spending.

GT announced that it will continue business as usual while a reorganization plan was put into place, with GTM Research analyst Shyam Metha adding that he hoped the restructuring will not derail some of GT’s interesting PV solutions it had been working on. "It’s sad and a little upsetting that their plans would be waylaid because of the bankruptcy proceedings," he said.

Further sad news arrived from the Middle East, where the once-ambitious Desertec consortium appears to have run its course. Following a series of setbacks to the initiative – which had outlined a grand vision to install vast solar energy plants in the MENA region and then pipe the power to Europe – German media reports suggested that financing for the project is now being called into question by its investors. pv magazine was told that shareholders are due to meet next Monday to discuss this pressing issue.

In brighter news

Global energy consultants Pöyry poured more sugar into the PV pot with the news that its latest Point of View report has concluded that solar subsidies in Europe could be a thing of the past as early as 2020.

The report found that wholesale grid parity is a distinct possibility for solar across vast swathes of the continent within a decade, with Turkey, Spain and Italy well capable of leading the way should sound and stable policies be introduced.

Stateside, the news that Panasonic is set to launch its lithium-ion battery unit at the Tesla Gigafactory was equally well received. The announcement followed Panasonic’s earlier revelation that it is to part-fund the creation of the 555,000 square meter fab, which will not only speed up the acceleration of the electric vehicle market but will also likely lead to falling storage costs for solar – the next big hurdle, along with grid parity, facing the technology’s wider adoption.

Speaking of storage, pv magazine was an attentive attendee at the recent Energy Storage North America show in California, which we could only conclude was a resounding success. The sold-out show positively bounced with enthusiasm for energy storage technologies, with talk brisk that the solar industry is on the cusp of really breaking out this game-changing technology.

Also this week

‘To thin-film, and beyond!’ didn’t work. Neither did the more staid ‘Solar System welcomes solar’, but our ‘CIGS in Space‘ headline seemed to grab your attention earlier in the week, telling the story of how thin-film manufacturer Ascent Solar has once again be chosen to provide modules for a NASA-backed space research program.

Vanguard Space Technologies and NASA have teamed up on a couple of Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programs designed to test a suite of solar techniques that can be used for space and orbit travel. Ascent Solar, for its part, will supply optimized variants of its production CIGS PV modules to assist with the research. The hope is that one day soon these test conditions will be replicated in outer space.

And finally, to politics…

Thorny issues abounded this week as the European Union continued to squabble over its commissioner selection policies, with many MEPs questioning the decision to appoint Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete as energy and climate commissioner given his previous dealings with the oil industry.

As that issue will likely rumble on for a few more weeks, the U.K. – normally opposed to most types of EU meddling – had the very European Commission to "thank" for greenlighting state aid plans to back the creation of a new nuclear reactor in southern England.

The decision to boost the Hinkley power plant with state taxes was met with severe criticism across the U.K., with Greenpeace U.K.’s chief scientist Doug Parr labeling the project a "huge drain on the public purse that will shift a huge amount of risk on to the public".

However, all is not lost – Austria has confirmed that it will appeal against the EU Commission decision, and this could delay any progress on the plant until after next May’s 2015 general election, by which time the coalition government may no longer be in power. See, U.K. – Europe’s not all bad now, is it?

Oct 3-10: 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.

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