The pv magazine weekly news roundup: Oct 10-17

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Every Friday, pv magazine rounds 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.

The revolution is here… almost. After years of downward price pressure and a focus on cost reduction, the solar PV industry is primed to adopt a common technology roadmap that will propel it to greater heights, stated a revealing report published this week by NPD Solarbuzz.

The analyst’s PV Technology Roadmap predicts that solar PV modules using solar-grade wafers will account for 89% of solar capacity installed in 2014, with U.S. thin-film giants First Solar and Solar Frontier set to supply nearly 8% of end-market demand.

Furthermore, PV manufacturing and end-market supply will converge on three specific technologies: standard silicon-based manufacturing using solar grade wafer substrates; premium c-Si based processes using semiconductor grade material; and thin-film panels using deposition techniques.

This industry-wide focus on just three chief technologies will not only produce record-breaking panel power ratings on a regular basis, but will also produce a clearer, more defined roadmap that will help the industry chart its growth, says the report.

"The PV industry is now ideally positioned to finally adopt a common technology roadmap," said NPD Solarbuzz vice president Finlay Colville. "As leading PV producers review capacity additions from 2015 onwards, being able to benchmark proposed technologies will become a critical part of factory tool design and targeted customer groupings."

While NPD Solarbuzz was busy gazing into the future, the International Energy Agency (IEA) looked back over 2013 and found that installed solar PV capacity reached 137 GW globally at the end of last year.

The IEA’s 19th Trends in Photovoltaic Applications report also found that among IEA PVPS members, some 40 GW of PV capacity was added last year, a sizeable increase on the 30 GW added in 2011 and 2012. By region, Asia added 22.9 GW, Europe installed 11.2 GW and the Americas PV sector grew by 5.3 GW.

The report also found that FITs remain PV’s dominant driver, accounting for 74% of all installations in 2013 that were underpinned by the incentive. But for the first time, the IEA found that the distributed PV market – which relies partly on self consumption – rose drastically, accounting for 55% of all installed PV capacity. In contrast, PV added under tenders was just 4% of the global share.

Italy remained the country with the highest rate of PV penetration at 7.6%, ahead of Germany and Greece with 6% each. In Europe, that average was lower, at 3%, and for entire planet the report found that solar PV accounts for 0.87% of energy produced.

"PV has rapidly become a significant source of electricity in several countries worldwide," said the report. "The speed of its development comes from its unique ability to cover most market segments, from the very small individual systems for rural electrification, to utility-scale power plants above 300 MW."

European battle lines

With the IEA report showering praise and not a little hope on the global PV industry, Europe’s leaders ushered in more good news for the sector this week. France was applauded for voting to reduce its share of nuclear power in the country’s electricity generation mix from 75% to 50% by 2025. In nuclear’s stead will be a focus on reducing overall energy consumption, cutting back on carbon emissions and upping France’s share of renewables.

The country’s General Commission for Sustainable Development revealed this week that France now has more than 5 GW of solar PV installed, having added 386 MW in the first half of 2014.

Also this week the European Commission published findings that showed solar PV costs between €100 to €115 per hour, putting it on par with nuclear and natural gas.

The Commission’s Subsidies and Costs of EU Energy report examined energy subsidies in Europe in 2012 and found that renewables received the most in subsidies of any energy source, receiving €40 billion in support from a total bill of €130 billion. Of that €40 billion, €14.7 billion went to solar power, with the Commission stressing that this report was just the first step towards Europe properly assessing which energy sources require the most support in order to become competitive.

"The study proves that solar energy is cost-effective today, and is improving competitiveness at a rate that conventional technologies will never be able to achieve," said the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

Storage continues its assault and battery

Critics of solar power may no longer have the "ah, but how’d you store it all" argument to smugly fall back on if this week’s development in battery updates continues apace. First up was the news that energy optimization company Stem had teamed up with Japanese tech giant Kyocera on the creation and commercialization of an integrated storage system designed for the commercial sector.

The behind-the-meter system boasts predictive analytics that combine to ensure a rapid response to spikes in commercial customers’ electricity demand, at which point it draws on stored power in order to reduce costs. Stem claim the system can lower annual bills by up to 20%, and hope that such an intelligent storage solution will transform the commercial market.

Over in Texas, BYD Motors was busy wowing onlookers at the American Public Transportation Association Expo with the unveiling of two battery-powered buses. Boasting a 60-foot Lancaster eBus and a 40-foot younger brother, BYD’s vehicles are in possession of some seriously impressive data: able to drive 24 hours on a 2-4 charge, capable of carrying 120 passengers (the 60-footer), and able to make 1,500 mile journeys for just $200 in electricity costs.

Meanwhile in Birmingham, England, solar energy storage dominated proceedings at the Solar Energy UK conference, with attendees excited by the transformative potential of the technology.

Ray Noble, advisor to the U.K.’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was effusive about battery storage, saying in his presentation: "DECC thought that storage was 10 to 20 years away, but technology has moved faster than anticipated, with the battery cost curve today being similar to solar PV’s cost curve three years ago."

Despite suffering from poor infrastructure for battery storage, the U.K. will benefit from Germany and other European market leaders stimulating the sector, paving the way for more U.K. storage mechanisms in line with the country’s continuing development of its solar PV industry.

Desertec is no more

Shareholders of fated desert solar power project Desertec confirmed this week that rumors that the consortium was due to dissolve were true. The ambitious project was unable to build upon the momentum generated in 2009 when it struck upon the plan to build utility-scale solar farms in the sun-rich deserts of the MENA region and then pipe that solar energy into Europe

Leading shareholders – which included ABB, Abengoa Solar, Enel Green Power, SMA and First Solar – voted to dissolve the consortium and will close the head office in Munich later this year. The three remaining shareholders – ACWA Power of Saudi Arabia, RWE of Germany and China’s State Grid Corporation – will continue the Desertec name as a service provider and consulting firm focused on solar PV in the MENA region.

Also going their separate ways this week were the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association (STA) and Renewable Energy Agency (REA). The associations began their affiliation in 2011, but recent market evolutions have prompted the separation, with the STA stressing that the move will now allow it to focus on its core strengths

"As long as we can secure a more stable policy framework, subsidy-free solar in the U.K. is now on the horizon," said STA chairman Jan Sisson, who added that the STA and REA have played key roles in the U.K.’s solar achievements – something that was "unimaginable when we first started working together four years ago".

Also this week

GTM Research released a report predicting annual polysilicon production capacity to reach 130,000 metric tons over the next two years, triggering a potential oversupply scenario at the end of 2016. The added polysilicon will bring total global capacity to 437,000 metric tons, which is enough to drive 85 GW of crystalling silicon PV module production. GTM Research estimates that the world will have to generate 60 GW of PV demand in both 2015 and 2016 to maintain the delicate supply-demand balance

Striking a more favorable balance this week was the German renewable energy levy, which fell for the first time by €0-07 cents to €0.6.17 per kWh. The fall will come into effect in January and marks a step in the right direction, even if the amount is unlikely to dent the €1.38 billion surplus in the renewable energy levy account calculated at the end of September.

And finally…

London’s familiar street furniture has looked a little green this week – all thanks to solar PV. The city’s iconic red phone boxes – largely superfluous in the smartphone age of today – have been given a new lease of life as solar-powered cell phone charging stations. U.K. startup solarbox revealed that around two-thirds of London’s 8,000 red phone booths are no longer commercially viable, and so the company hopes to transform 6-10 into green solarboxes by springtime next year before rolling the initiative out to other U.K. cities.

From a tech-driven revolution in solar PV systems to a solar-driven revolution of London’s famous streets, it’s been another busy week for solar.

Oct 10-17: 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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