The pv magazine weekly news digest

Celebrities can often come in for an unfair amount of abuse for sticking their pampered noses into affairs of the non-showbiz kind.

The general public is usually less-than-impressed when U2’s Bono claps his hands for Africa, or Sean Penn wades in on debates about disputed islands or territories. But for every ill-judged PR opportunity there are those famous faces who quietly go about effecting positive change.

Solar has been the beneficiary of one selfless celeb in recent weeks following the news that American-Senegalese singer Akon is to open a solar academy in Mali, Africa.

The hip-hop artist will follow up his Akon Lighting Africa Initiative – which was launched in 2014 – with this new academy, set to open in the summer to train African engineers and entrepreneurs in the solar industry, which is widely viewed as one of Africa’s most promising sectors for growth.

Akon announced the initiative at last week’s United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York, and has since received an outpouring of support and goodwill from people both within and outside the solar industry.

"We have the sun and innovative technologies to bring electricity to homes and communities," said Samba Baithily, who co-founded Akon Lighting Africa with the artist. "We now need to consolidate African expertise. With this academy, we can capitalize on Akon Lighting Africa and go further."

With Mali one of the world’s poorest countries, any effort to develop an industry that is not only sustainable but also provides education, jobs and experience for the people of Mali, is to be applauded.

Trina calls shotgun with Ford

Equally encouraging news also emerged from China, where Chinese solar company Trina Solar has teamed up with U.S. automotive giant Ford to launch the MyEnergi Lifestyle program – one of the first times a leading Chinese solar company has partnered with a famous U.S. brand.

The program will support a new lifestyle model intended to demonstrate "how combining renewable energy sources, efficient home appliances and a plug-in vehicle can significantly reduce families’ energy costs and carbon footprint", and will be led by Ford in partnership with Trina, Delta Electronics and Haier U+.

Families participating in the program will receive a plug-in hybrid vehicle from Ford, residential solar power systems from Trina, and efficient appliances from Delta Electronics as they embark on a clean-living journey. An earlier pilot program in the U.S. found that the average family could reduce their carbon footprint by 45% using such tech, and lower their energy bills by around 60%. Solar’s world-saving march continues.

Delayed but not dismayed

Two of the world’s most vocal pro-solar practitioners hit a spot of bad weather this week, but their spirits could not be dampened. Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg spoke to the media on Monday following the decision to turn back the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft after bad weather was forecast over the Pacific.

The delay – which also caused a small amount of damage during the unscheduled landing in Japan – was unfortunate but not entirely unexpected, with Piccard philosophical about the known challenges that a global, solar-powered circumnavigation attempt would bring.

"With the weather forecasts we now have, we don’t see the possibility of reaching Hawaii on day five," Piccard said. "The road, for the moment, is blocked. We need all the data from the next weather forecasts so that our experts can analyze what’s going to happen in the next 4-5 days."

Until then, repairs to the damaged wing are ongoing, and the team is confident that the journey can be resumed at some point next week.

The sun… and the moon

The confidence and foresight so evident in those two Swiss pilots is required at a more global scale if renewables are to finally come good on their nascent promise to rid the world of fossil fuels – that is the view of a group of eminent UK scientists who this week launched the Global Apollo program.

The program calls on nations to channel the space-race spirit of the ’60s and propel renewable power into a new stratosphere. This requires coordination, cooperation, candor and – of course – no little money; $23 billion a year on renewable R&D, to be exact.

"This challenges is at least as big as the challenge of putting a man on the moon," said program co-founder Lord Layard. "We believe that is an absolute minimum to crack this problem. The good news is that we are seeing this technological progress. The bad news is that it is simply not fast enough."

Layard’s last point was taken to task by some solar advocates who argued that the PV industry is absolutely on the right path, and growing at the right pace, to effect change. The goal is simple – keep global temperature rises below 2C between now and 2050, and the effort will have been worth it.

"The best way to boost the development of renewable energy is for governments to make sure we keep installing it, while investing in more research," came the wise words of Alasdair Cameron of Friends of the Earth UK.

Record-breakers

That level of investment was more evident than ever in the U.K. over the first quarter of the year. Official data from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) revealed that more than 1.5 GW of solar PV capacity was installed in the country in the three months to March 31, with March alone seeing just over 1 GW added. Great news… but then came the fall: April – the first post-ROC month of a new solar PV landscape – grew by just 41 MW, which was not only a huge comedown on the previous month, but was also way below the 89 MW installed in April last year.

Worry not, says the industry – the U.K. is all set to transition to greater levels of rooftop solar across the residential and commercial sectors, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the boom is now bust, and the U.K. will soon begin to sink slowly down the installation table as the years progress.

Down Under, however, things were looking up. Not Down Under Down Under, but further under – all the way to New Zealand in fact, where the not-so-oft-heard-from solar industry piped up to tell the world that it had grown 220% over the past 18 months. Today, the country has 5,367 solar arrays installed, with a FIT-driven rooftop industry set to soar even further.

Kristen Gillies of the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand told pv magazine that the country’s cumulative installed PV capacity is currently around 22 MW.

Expansions and examinations

The two big stories emerging from Asia this week involved two of the industry’s H-heavyweights, Hanwha Q Cells and Hanergy.

Hanwha announced at the beginning of the week that it is to construct South Korea’s first large-scale cell fab at a cost of $315.5 million. The 1.5 GW cell plant will be located in Jincheon and will add around 950 jobs to the local economy.

The move follows an announcement last week that the European Commission is to open an investigation to examine whether modules produced by Chinese manufacturers in either Taiwan or Malaysia had circumvented duties in breach of EU rules. pv magazine understands that Hanwha Q Cells is in "open communications" with the EC on this matter.

Open communications is not something that could be said of Chinese solar company Hanergy, which this week delayed the release of details of its Master Supply Agreement and notice of the date of a special/extraordinary general meeting – a move that raises more questions than it answers.

The aspirant thin-film developer had committed to releasing the information in the form of a Circular at the beginning of the week, but so far it has not been forthcoming. Hanergy’s TF stock remains frozen after a seismic and precipitous decline in value in May.

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