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Billed as a once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime event, the solar eclipse that today cast a crescent-shaped shadow across much of northern Europe did not disappoint.

It is not every day that the world seemingly stops as one to turn its (carefully protected, of course) face towards the sun, but that is what happened in many parts of Europe this morning.

From the sparkling skies of Madrid to the grey gloom of London, thousands downed tools to peer out of office windows, gather on street corners, congregate in parks and hum Bonnie Tyler’s seminal 1983 earworm Total Eclipse of the Heart to themselves as the greatest PV provider of all – the sun – slowly disappeared behind the dark side of the moon.

Here in Berlin, pv magazine’s intrepid – and dare we say, just a little bit too excited – editorial team was out on the street, conducting ad-hoc science experiments, live-blogging, and trying to ignore the funny looks of passers-by as they enjoyed a beautiful 85% eclipse.

The morning’s dazzlingly bright day suitably dulled, the team returned to its desk to monitor Germany’s solar PV output, and the results were startling: by 10:56 am, around 30 minutes after the eclipse began, SMA’s solar monitor was reading just 4.8 GW of solar on the German grid, but as the skies brightened just after 11am, the solar readings began to rise, hitting 20.2 GW by midday.

In Italy, which has the world’s highest level of PV penetration, grid operator Terna had already decided to take no chances with the eclipse, turning off all of its large-scale (>100 kW) PV plants for the day in order to protect any fluctuations on its grid.

In Germany, no such precautions were taken, and the stress piled on to the grid as the solar input fell from 13 GW immediately before the eclipse began to 4.8 GW at its lowest point. But just over one hour after the eclipse had shuffled into view, PV output had risen to levels higher than when it began, indicating that the grid had dealt with the phenomena just fine.

In the U.K., where the very fact that the sun can be seen at all is usually cause for celebration – particularly on a Friday – observers in England’s southwest and Scotland’s far north were treated to the best spectacles, while those in London were left unimpressed by the low, grey cloud that hovered over the city, blocking out the eclipse entirely.

A blaze of story

On St. Patrick’s Day – which, like today’s eclipse, also left people staggering around bleary eyed with their hands over their faces – it was reported that a fire had broken out at JinkoSolar’s wafer production facility in Jianxi.

The fire raged for four hours, causing between $80,000 and $160,000 worth of damage, but the Chinese solar producer was quick to allay fears, reporting that nobody had been killed and that residents living in the surrounding area were not unduly affected.

"The incident is not expected to have any material impact on the Company’s operations, financial or delivery commitments to its customers," read a JinkoSolar statement. "The Company maintains insurance coverage for all the manufacturing equipment and has started the process to make the relevant insurance claims.

"The cause of the fire remains under investigation."

JinkoSolar’s own safety procedures were called into question by users of the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo, but so far there have been no suggestions of negligence on behalf of the company.

China ups PV target

With China’s 2014 solar PV installation ambitions up in smoke (missing its 13 GW target by around 3 GW), that did not stop the country’s National Energy Administration (NEA) setting even more ambitious goals for 2015 – 17.8 GW.

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This is a 20% increase on previous target, and a clear sign that China is hoping to pull out all the stops in its bid to boost solar energy production even further.

Last year’s shortfall was not helped by a rather underwhelming performance in its distributed generation (DG) sector, and it is currently unclear just how much DG will be targeted under the new 17.8 GW goal.

R&D innovation

A series of encouraging stories emerged from the laboratories and research centers of the world’s leading solar companies and universities this week, not least reports from Canada’s UCLA that graphene supercapacitor technology could be a real solar game-changer.

In partnership with Sunvault Energy, UCLA are set to present their patented technology to the market, claiming that it can recharge all types of electrical devices in seconds, and could easily be scaled to support the growing electric vehicle (EV) market.

In Germany, meanwhile, PV equipment supplier Schmid this week cited research-based evidence as reasons why it is set to promote PERT technology over PERC technology, claiming that light-induced degradation in the latter is 6% greater than standard cells.

However, claims Schmid, PERT cell technology does not exhibit any evidence of light-induced degradation, which translates to "significant performance benefits in the field", adding that its PERT technology – delivered through its APCVD tooling – can provide "consistent coating quality at a high throughput and at low cost".

Meanwhile, the advantages of solar PV hybrid solutions, for use in off-grid sectors and also hard-hit EPCs, were laid bare by Thomas Hillig of THEnergy, and Berlin-based consulting firm Apricum.

Also in the news…

The European Union confirmed this week that it will raise the minimum import price (MIP) for Chinese solar modules. This follows on from last week’s revelations that three leading Chinese solar companies had breached the terms of the MIP agreement – ReneSolar, ET Solar and Canadian Solar. In the U.S., Congress held a lengthy debate to discuss the benefits of distributed solar ahead of new legislation, while in Egypt a new $300 million investment from Scatec Solar is set to deliver 200 MW of solar PV capacity to the North African country over the next few years.

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