The pv magazine weekly news digest

For solar and renewables supporters crying into their cornflakes over Britain’s shock decision to elect a Conservative government and perhaps turn its back on renewables in favour of gas and nuclear, there was at least some good news that emerged this week.

In the U.S., it seems, utilities are fast turning to solar as the cheapest option for new generation – even ahead of natural gas, and who ever thought Britain would be turning to the States for a lesson in how to be more left of center?

With solar PPAs in some states coming in lower than gas competitors, America’s largest ten utilities installed 72 per cent of the 5.3 GW of new solar capacity added last year.

And the power companies are getting in on community and residential solar too with four utilities introducing rooftop solar programs in 2014 and 77 of the 93 community schemes operating in the U.S. last year managed by utilities.

Not surprisingly it was Californian utilities that led the pack with Pacific Gas & Electric topping the pile with 1.68 GW of capacity added, ahead of Southern Californian Edison, with 1.04 GW.

The big question now is how big the fall-off will be when the federal investment tax credit for solar ends in two years’ time but, at a time when we are sorely in need of lifting, let’s not give ourselves more things to be glum about just yet.

And after all, you’re my Powerwall

Whatever you think of Elon Musk and Tesla’s solar-powered products, there is no denying its ability to hog the headlines and that was as true among loyal pv mag readers as elsewhere.

Four of the six most-read stories on our website this week had the word Tesla somewhere in them and solar companies were falling over themselves with almost indecent haste to buddy up with the new Powerwall residential solar storage system.

U.S. inverter maker Fronius will offer the Powerwall bundled with its Symo Hybrid product to customers in Germany before rolling the offer out across Europe and Australia and is so keen to jump on the Tesla bandwagon it will offer the Powerwall as an alternative to its own-brand solar battery.

Residential solar company Sunrun was quick to follow suit, indicating the Powerwall will be offered as part of its solar system package and confirmation the new battery system will also be available to SolarCity customers – which, according to the installer’s publicity basically encompasses every human being in the U.S. – completed a good week for Mr Musk. Expect Powerwall toys to be offered as part of Happy Meals any day now.

Lux analysts have a grumble

Such was the stampede for all things Powerwall this week, the discordant note issued by analysts Lux Research sounded rather curmudgeonly.

Lux says providing bargain basement priced cells from its much-vaunted ‘gigafactory’ is only half the battle for Tesla because installation, inverter and other balance of system (BoS) costs will double the headline upfront $3,500 cost of a shiny new Powerwall.

Tesla will need to get a sufficient number of suppliers of such products and services on board to reduce that bill and/or offer attractive funding options for would-be customers. They will also have to get the utilities onside, added Lux analysts… who clearly have not been logging on to pv-magazine.com this week.

Can we have Powerwalls too? Please?

As if to emphasize the point, news started to come in of more Tesla Powerwall partners around the globe with German company Lichtblick and Australian counterparts Reposit Power tying up their FIT maximizing technology solutions with the home storage equivalent of the hula hoop.

Then it was Israel’s turn, with inverter company SolarEdge indicating its products will be sold together with the ubiquitous Powerwall and Tesla is even making advances into the commercial scale market with a 1 MW version of the Powerwall – the Marvel superhero-esque named Powerpack – installed at a beef processing plant in Fresno whose CEO somewhat incongruously took the opportunity to emphasize his company’s ‘eco-credentials’.

Energy experts too were caught up in the frenzy, predicting Musk would bring to an end the use of fossil fuels, nuclear power and Britain’s Conservative government – and I’m only making up one of those predictions.

Actually, it’s not that cheap…

But not everyone was persuaded, with representatives of Germany’s storage sector pointing out the headline $3,500 price is the cost of a Powerwall to installers rather than the retail price and also that Tesla has not released information about the usable battery capacity offered – necessary for a true evaluation of the product.

It has also been pointed out that Tesla has said the Powerwall will incorporate the same batteries used in its electric vehicles (EVs). Tesla car batteries have a life of less than 500 cycles – enough for around 200,000km on the road but, as pv magazine‘s Michael Fuhs pointed out, the same battery in a stationary household system would need at least 4,000 cycles for a 20-year lifespan.

Andreas Piepenbrink, boss of German storage solution company E3DC – one of Tesla’s competitors, it must be said – said it will be interesting to see if Musk’s product can compete with established brands such as Panasonic and Samsung. Clearly his firm wasn’t invited to the Tesla party.

Egypt forges ahead

Amid all the Powerwall media frenzy, there was also more good news from Egypt which, despite political paralysis in the country, is managing to live up to its billing as a major new emerging market – in terms of signatures on documents at least.

The Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) trade mission to Cairo saw the Egyptian government headed by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sign memoranda of understanding for another 220 MW of solar after similar deals with Canadian and Jordanian companies in March.

In the latest deals, Egyptian developers Orascom Construction and Sun Infinite will each develop 50 MW projects, along with Emirati company Access Group and Saudi developer Alfanar, and Gila Al Tawakol, another domestic company will round out the figure with a 20 MW project.

Egypt wants to add 2.3 GW of solar by 2017 and is roaring ahead with its solar plans despite the political risk in a nation riven by deep divisions after el-Sisi toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected leader in the nation’s long and proud history. And the British think their electorate is polarized…