pv magazine weekly news digest

The lengths to which some people will go to claim the number one spot.

A week after it was announced Trina had displaced Yingli as the world’s top dog in modules, Korean corporation Hanwha announced it would combined its two brands into the world’s biggest cell maker in the solar manufacturing equivalent of Stock, Aitken and Waterman uniting Kylie and Jason to knock Cliff Richard off top spot in 1989.

The plan goes something like this, German cell maker and downstream developer Hanwha Q Cells will have its entire $1.2 billion stock bought by module maker, and sister company Hanwha SolarOne to create a Korean monster which manufactured a combined 3.28 GW of cells and 3.23 GW of modules this year, putting Yingli (3.19 GW of modules shipped) and Trina (3 GW) in the shade – just about.

With Q Cells’ Malaysian manufacuring centre and SolarOne recently announcing plans for a 230 MW module fab in its homeland, parent company Hanwha Solar Holdings says the combined business will ramp up sales of its not-made-in-China-and-therefore-AD-duty-free modules across Japan, the U.S. and, ironically enough, China.

Bank of America bets on solar rooftops

Another indication of the relentless advance of DG solar was evidenced by the announcement Bank of America Merill Lynch be throwing another $400 million at residential solar leasing in the U.S. – with SolarCity the lucky recipients.

SolarCity already supplies more than a third of residential rooftop systems in the States and the debt and equipment financing deal follows a previous $200 million agreement between the partners.

Bank of America started the year by entering a similar $220 million agreement with rival leasing company SunPower as part of its ten-year, $50 billion low-carbon financing commitment.

Good news all round that, after all, big American lender throwing cheap financing at the residential housing market – what can possibly go wrong?

‘Community solar will be bigger than rooftops’

It’s not all about the rooftops, according to First Solar CEO Jim Hughes, who told Bloomberg community solar will be bigger than Ben Hur or, at least, bigger than rooftop solar.

That is a big claim, based on his assertion fewer than a quarter of U.S. houses are suitable for rooftop systems. The other more-than-three quarters of U.S. householders – namely apartment-dwellers – who want to invest in solar can pay $800-1,000 per panel for a stake in sub-5 MW community solar farms which feed into the grid and pay for their outlay by offsetting the energy produced against their household bills, the investment recouping its value in 8-12 years.

And who will install these community farms across America, you ask, that’s right – First Solar, or at least the Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC) in which First Solar has just taken out an undisclosed stake, thereby finding another outlet for its thin film panels.

U.S. solar products lag Taiwan-made in quality

‘Made in Taiwan’ as a mark of quality is a novel idea for generations brought up on decades of cheap plastic toys but it is the case being made to the U.S.’ International Trade Commission (ITC) which is deciding whether to make the hefty AD duties slapped on Chinese and Taiwanese solar products permanent.

The ITC hearing in Washington DC was told by Neo Solar Power’s Austin Chu, the solar modules and cells knocked out by trade complainants SolarWorld and Suniva are not up to scratch, forcing U.S. developers to look abroad.

It was a claim corroborated by none other than SunEdison, which told the commission U.S. companies could not produce the high-efficiency, high-wattage modules needed in its projects.

The ITC will decide whether to make the duties present by Monday but – hold your horses! – curiously, will not make its findings public until mid-January (and if it decides no damage was caused by foreign imports, best not tell Hanwha).

Ron Wyden, democratic senator for Oregon – which happens to be SolarWorld’s home state – told the commission Chinese manufacturers have had the U.S. solar industry ‘under siege’. Well I know just the man to sort that problem out.

The reason why such a fierce trade war is raging over the U.S. market was made clear in the latest quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report published by Greentech Media Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The third quarter saw a 41% rise in installed capacity Statesside, rising to 1.35 GW in the second highest quarterly figure recorded. This in a year which has seen 3.96 GW installed in the first nine months, at more than 1 GW per quarter.

Utility-scale projects led the way with 825 MW in the July-to-September period with residential adding more than 300 MW for the first time.

To put the bumper figures in context, solar still trails natural gas by some distance but just wait until those community solar projects get off the ground, eh Mr Hughes? Now I’m off to buy someone a community solar panel for Christmas.