The pv magazine weekly news digest

Within days of the UK government declaring war on renewable energy subsidies, Democrat presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton brought cheer back to the green brigades with a demonstration of how clean energy announcements should be made across The Pond.

After Democrat rival Bernie Sanders (nope, we’ve never heard of him either) criticized the former First Lady for a lack of environmental policies, she responded in style by announcing an aim to install half a billion solar panels across the U.S. within four years of entering the White House, though presumably not by fixing them on herself.

That ambitious 700 per cent expansion of capacity would be a step towards having every U.S. household powered by clean energy within ten years, said Clinton in a speech delivered to Iowa State University and, with that goal in mind, the wife of former president Bill, announced her intention to extend the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar beyond the end of next year and to rebalance the tax system towards renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels.

It’s fair to say clean energy announcements are unlikely to be a central plank of the campaigns of Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee and quite what ‘Onion Loaf’ makes of such grand ambitions is impossible to discern. When contacted by pv magazine for comment, Donald Trump roared: "You’re fired!"

SolarCity, coming to a shop near you

Having conquered the world of residential third-party solar, at least according to its PR material, SolarCity, the Universe’s largest solar leasing company, this week trained its sights on the commercial market.

SolarCity, lest you forget, is the U.S.’ largest solar leasing company and, in this age where financial losses are dismissively brushed aside by analysts captivated by unique users, monthly page impressions and the like, the San Mateo-based company is a runaway success, having enjoyed a record second quarter which saw 189 MW of installations and a hardly noticeable loss of a measly $22.4 million (down from $47.7 million on the same period last year) – what’s not to like?

The company is about to start generating similarly impressive losses by expanding its business to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), offering owner-occupied customers a discount of 5-25 per cent on the price of electricity in its home state of California before the program is rolled out on the east coast later in the year.

SolarCity says its installers can get more panels on business roofs, faster and 30 per cent cheaper than third-party installers with businesses able to repay the cost over 20 years through their building tax bill now that solar qualifies for such an arrangement under the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bill in California.

That’ll help Hillary out some, eh?

High efficiency market looking PERCy

Never mind the Powerwall, PERC is the new sexy in solar, it emerged this week, with rumors the insatiable demand for the higher-efficiency type of cells among Asian manufacturers is causing a bottleneck in the supply of PERC manufacturing equipment worldwide.

With Taiwanese manufacturers ready to roll out the manufacture of passivated emitter and rear cell products – if they’re not already doing so – in a fit of pique at American sanctions applied to their bog-standard cells and modules, the moment their Chinese counterparts jump on the bandwagon will cause a goldrush among equipment manufacturers, such as Meyer Burger, which already has a six to eight month waiting list, according to Taiwanese customer Motech.

The prediction PERC cells – which currently account for around 10-15 per cent of the market – will become the new normal, will also be music to the ears of the larger-than-life weekly digest favorite Frank Asbeck, whose SolarWorld claims to have the world’s largest PERC manufacturing capacity. Although that 800 MW could soon be surpassed once the big boys in China get PERC-ed up.

Rise of the (washing) machines

Boffins – as lazy journalists like myself habitually refer to academics in a subject we don’t understand – at the University of Bremen have identified a terrifying glitch in the smart meters being rolled out on the back of energy efficiency goals worldwide that could see washing machines rise up and plunge humanity into a pre-electricity Dark Age.

Researchers at the university’s Institute for Theoretical Physics (yes, just like Sheldon) have hypothesized that if everyone in the world programs their dirty smalls to hit the spin cycle when the price of electricity is at its cheapest, a new artificial electricity market is created which could lead to an unbearable burden on grids, with blackouts a possibility.

And the scientists in question have even coined a memorable term for such a Rise of the (washing) Machines doomsday scenario: the collective avalanche mechanism. You have been warned.

China Crisis (that’s them, below)

There were more mind-bogglingly large capacity figures emerging from China this week, along with the news China’s huge solar ambitions are causing grid integration problems.

The nation’s National Energy Administration (NEA) revealed 7.7 GW of solar were added in the first six months of the year – 6.7 GW of it utility scale – to keep the Communist country on track to beat its 17.8 GW target for the year and take its solar capacity to 35 GW as the organization pushes for a 200 GW 2020 target that would leave other delegates at December’s COP21 climate change summit mumbling, shuffling papers in embarassment and staring at their shoes.

But alongside the encouraging news, the NEA also announced nine per cent of its solar capacity lay unused from January to the end of June because of problems integrating the tidal wave of clean energy into the grid.

The regions of Gansu, where 28 per cent of solar capacity gathered dust and Xinjiang (19 per cent) were the biggest culprits, although the admission that the large number of new coal-powered plants coming on line exacerbated the problem would suggest a fairly simple remedy to the problem.

Now the world will wait to see if the NEA can successfully confirm that blockbusting 200 GW figure. Just imagine what will happen when all those washing machines come on. Better stock up on candles and tinned food…