pv magazine weekly news roundup: Nov 7-14

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Every Friday, pv magazine rounds up the biggest and best stories from the past week and packages 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.

As boundary-breaking weeks go, the past seven days have been pretty spectacular for the solar industry.

Wednesday brought news that the Rosetta space probe Philae had touched down on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet some 10 years after launching from earth – its entire space journey powered by solar panels, although the subsequent news it landed on its side slightly dampened the solar euphoria. The circuitous mission to the comet has been devised to help scientists unlock many of the secrets of the solar system, and it is apt that solar power made this project a reality.

"The solar cells in Rosetta’s solar panels are based on a completely new technology: so-called low-intensity, low-temperature cells," said the European Space Agency (ESA), which launched the mission. "Thanks to them, Rosetta is the first space mission to journey beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power generation."

At more than 800 million kilometers from the sun, Rosetta is operating in conditions of extreme cold and heat, and with less than 4% of the solar irradiation that typically hits earth. Such conditions necessitated the development of new technology, of which 64 square meters of solar panels made it all possible.

The realms of what is possible were also expanded back on earth this week with the news that the U.S. and China had reached their own, mutually binding deal on C02 emissions. The world’s two largest carbon emitters struck the deal – to meet 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2030 – just a few weeks after the EU announced similar targets.

The landmark announcement was applauded on both sides of the pond. "This news is good for the solar industry, as solar is an obvious solution to fight climate change and stimulate local economies while bringing green, sustainable and affordable energy to the world," James Watson, CEO of the European Photovoltaic Industry (EPIA) told pv magazine.

In the U.S., the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) called the deal an "historic, breakthrough agreement" that would send a clear signal to private investors and political leaders that solving climate change is a top priority across the globe. "Simply put, when looking at America’s energy future, solar can be a real game-changer," added SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch.

That announcement followed a report earlier in the week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) that predicted the global solar industry will grow by a record 60 GW in 2015. This figure represents a substantial leap on 2014’s projected 48.4 GW of new PV capacity and was labeled, rather amusingly, by BNEF’s Jenny Chase as an optimistic forecast based on BNEF being "fed up of being wrong on the downside".

From East to West

These headline-grabbing solar stories depict an industry with previously unattainable global reach and levels of confidence. Drilling down even further, this week showed just how diverse, adaptable and important solar power is to thousands of towns, cities and regions across the world.

In Bangladesh we learned that three million residential solar systems have now been installed in the country – bringing clean and affordable power to millions of poor households, topping an impressive 135 MW of cumulative capacity in the process.

The country is targeting six million systems by 2017 as it aims to double its electricity generation capacity to 24 GW, of which 10% will be derived from renewables.

Over in the U.S. there was equally encouraging news emanating from the state of Ohio where First Solar is looking to hire 120 new staff for its manufacturing fab in the town of Perrysburg. This announcement comes as the solar giant reveals it is to increase the output of its Ohio facility by 100 MW next year.

Down in Texas, microinverter company SolarBridge was this week acquired by SunPower in a move that the latter says will bring greater design flexibility and lower installation costs to solar consumers across the U.S. and beyond.

SunPower’s goal is to begin producing next-gen microinverters for its high-efficiency solar panels. "These roof-ready panels with factory-integrated microinverters can be directly installed, eliminating the need to mount or assemble additional components on the roof or the side of a home," said a SunPower spokesperson.

In the U.K., the successful but embattled solar industry received some cheery news this week when Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey confirmed some $15 million extra funding for community renewable energy schemes.

"I want to give more people the power to generate their own electricity, and by supporting community energy projects we can – helping them drive down their energy bills at the same time," said Davey. The program means wind, solar, biomass, heat pumps, anaerobic digestion, combined heat and power and hydro projects planned in any urban area across England will be eligible for financial support from the Urban Community Energy Fund.

Adding more solar to the mix – but how much?

The rise of renewable energy will continue unabated over the next two decades according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), with solar playing a central role in the globe’s transition to clean energy.

The World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2014 predicts renewable energy to meet 37% of all electric demand in the developed world by 2040, but will grow twice as fast in much of the developing world, says the IEA.

However, energy experts told pv magazine that these estimates may in fact be overly conservative. "If you look at the last 12 years, there has been a hundredfold increase in global PV capacity," said Gerrit Jan Schaeffer, research director at Flemish research organization VITO. "In 26 years, why would it go down to a four-fold increase?"

IEA expects solar to soar in sub-Saharan Africa, with the WEO report noting strong investment potential in the region will spur greater deployment over the next 20 years. This news came just a day after the largest African PV plant began operation in South Africa.

At 96 MW, the plant – developed as part of an international consortium – is not only the biggest on the continent but was completed two months ahead of schedule. It will generate enough clean electricity to power some 80,000 local households a year, and has signed a 20-year PPA with Eskom, the South African power utility company.

And finally…

IHS analysis revealed that the residential storage market for solar PV is set to increase to 900 MW by 2018 as self consumption becomes an increasingly attractive proposition for homeowners the world over. Currently, the grid-tied residential storage market amounts to just 90 MW, so this hundredfold increase would represent a seismic shift in the way the average citizen produces, stores and consumes energy.

It might not appear as game-changing as landing a probe on a comet in outer space, but this transition could well prove solar’s greatest triumph of them all…

Nov 7-14: 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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