pv magazine: Week in review

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Battery and energy storage were front and center at last week’s SPI confab in Las Vegas, where it became apparent that the sector is becoming inextricably linked to the further development of PV.

Among the highlights at the show was the launch of Enphase’s AC Battery unit offering 1.2 kWh of energy storage with a 275 Watt to 550 Watt power output.

Other notable announcements included Aquion Energy’s plans to ramp up its production capacity to 240 MW per hour. In addition, Stem won a $935,000 SunShot grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an advanced software platform for energy storage evaluation and management. S&C touted its recently-installed 150 kW frequency response storage system built to provide grid service to the PJM market in the U.S. as well as the sale of 20 of its PureWave systems to Australia’s Ergon Energy. Outback Power launched its FLEXpower Three and Four models at SPI, which support larger power installations.

U.S. startup module manufacturer Sunpreme caught the attention of a number of attendees at SPI with its 500 W module. Chief engineer and COO Frank Pham told pv magazine that the company had so far shipped modules to 11 countries, including India.

Pham said the company designed its new 500 W module using 96 cells in order to “help lower LCOE through lowering the BoS costs for PV. Having a panel of this magnitude of power using high efficiency cells, that it would help the industry to lower BoS costs.”

Sunpreme recently released its 60 cell module, which has completed UL and IEC certification. The company is also shipping its 360 W, 72 cell configuration panels. Sunpreme currently has 15 MW going to New Jersey and 6.4 MW of construction in Martha’s Vineyard.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) reported that renewable energy accounts for 40.61% of all new energy generation capacity added so far this year.

Ferc’s calculations – which only include utility-scale solar and omit distributed generation – also revealed that renewable additions to the U.S.’s power mix are 35 times that of new coal, oil and nuclear power. In the first three quarters of the year, the country added 3,598 MW of clean energy versus just 104 MW of coal, oil and nuclear. Only natural gas, boosted by fracking, provided more new generating capacity.

In an effort to boost its own renewable energy, the U.S. state of Hawaii tapped Finnish power solutions company Wärtsilä to supply a 50 MW power plant designed specifically to aid the development of solar energy. The Smart Power Generation power plant, to be installed on the island of Oahu, will be owned and operated by Hawaiian Electric Company, which aims to increase its share of solar from its current 18% to 65% by 2030.

Solar continues to dazzle energy leaders in the Gulf region. Speaking at the Solar Arabia Summit in Riyadh, Hamed al-Saggaf, executive director of the Saudi Electricity Company, said Saudi Arabia must learn to wean itself off its dependence on oil and gas for electricity production and called on the country to pursue the potential of solar power if it hopes to maintain its high standard of living.

"If we continue to consume fuel at the same rate, then there will be a great lost opportunity," Saggaf said. "We have to start pursuing solar now."

With a peak electricity load of 57 GW and a growing, power-hungry middle class, Saudi Arabia has begun to give greater consideration to its energy future.

In nearby Israel, PV industry reps scoffed at the attempt by the Public Utilities Authority (PUA) to lower feed-in tariffs for the 50 MW Timna solar park.

Israel’s Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative originally announced a fixed price per generated kilowatt hour (kWh) for the solar park of about 50 agorot/kWh (€0.11/kWh). The PUA is now offering about €0.07 per kilowatt hour for 20 years.

Farther south, Ethiopia has tapped U.S. company Green Technology Africa (GTA) to develop 300 MW of solar power in the country. The Ethiopian government is set to invest some $600 million in solar power generation, according to GTA, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP).

Moving to India, SunEdison continued its development streak with plans to develop 5 GW of mega-solar projects in the Indian state of Rajasthan followed by an announcement that it had won five solar PV projects totaling 150 MW in the state of Karnataka.

Farther east, in China, SunPower is expanding its operations in the country with a second joint venture that aims to develop and own at least 3 GW of PV power plants in the country’s Sichuan province.

News of the deal followed SunPower’s presentation of its third-quarter figures, including a 70% drop in net profit due to a number of factors, including charges related to a stock-based compensation expenses, interest expenses and tax effects. The California-based company posted a year-on-year increase in revenue of nearly 1% to $663 million and SunPower chief exec Tom Werner offered an upbeat assessment of the company’s performance, especially in North America, which remains its biggest market.