The pv magazine weekly news digest

A common language, interchangeable pop cultures and a worrying obsession with the Royals – the U.S. and the U.K. share many similarities. But the lesser-examined aspects of this ‘Special Relationship’ reveal that the two nations are not so close as they initally appear.

Indeed, much of this cultural homogeneity glosses over some of the more profound differences between the two nations.

And nowhere is this distinction more starkly apparent than in politics.

This week, the U.K.’s Conservative government proposed drastic cuts to the country’s successful feed-in tariff (FIT), just days after President Obama had announced a number of supportive actions on clean energy that will serve to boost solar deployment even further in the U.S.

For the U.K., this latest blow lands after a flurry of PV punches hit the solar sector in July when the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced it would be removing subsidy support for small-scale solar farms early.

Critics of the proposals were quick to decry the decision, with Solarcentury CEO Frans van den Heuvel capturing the mood with his "calculated turmoil" salvo aimed at the government. “In little more than three months the Conservatives have turned upside down the certainties that had characterized the U.K. renewables market and the cross-party consensus that underpinned it," he added.

The Solar Trade Assocation (STA) called the proposals self-defeating, while dissenting voices from across the British clean energy landscape had their say on an action that has been universally derided in the U.K. Where the industry goes from here – having been the poster child of European PV in 2014 and so far in 2015 – remains anybody’s guess.

Solar stimulus stateside

A brighter and more certain future lies on the horizon in the U.S., however, following President Obama’s latest round of support for clean energy. In what was the strongest provision of funding and support for the industry since 2009’s Stimulus act, this new raft of support promises to tip $1 billion in loan guarantees towards distributed generation projects, and the White House has also amended the PACE program through the department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) – a move that earned the approval of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

"These actions by the Administration clear the way for communities to generate their own power, and stabilize the local grid, by providing a simple financing mechanism for homes and businesses to go solar," said SEIA CEO Rhone Resch.

The third major action executed on Obama’s authority will be augmentation of solar on military homes via a White House partnership with the companies that provide housing for members of the U.S. military and their family. The goal is to install 233 MW of solar PV on military bases, adding to the existing capacity of 72 MW.

Raise the roof

Innovation in solar need not always come from the ground up – it can be top-down. Quite literally in the case of solar mapping provider Mapdwell, which this week sent both the east and west coast agog with data detailing just how much untapped solar potential exists on the roof spaces of San Francisco and New York City.

San Francisco could add 3 GW of high-yield rooftop solar, Mapdwell found, while New York City’s five boroughs have 11 GW of untapped PV potential just waiting to be developed.

These findings follow a week after Google launched a new mapping and analysis tool for potential solar customers that could change the U.S. public’s relationship with solar. Called Project Sunroof, the software tool has been designed to make the choice to install PV "easy and understandable for anyone", and is another string to solar’s increasingly liberalized bow.

Germany leads the way once more

Nowhere does liberal and solar go together as well as in Germany. The PV pioneer has had a rough couple of years as new installations have slowed and the country has embarked on a slow, often expensive, energy transition.

But the fruits of these labors of love are beginning to bear, with this week a particularly heartening one for the solar industry. On Monday it was reported that the country’s second pilot solar tender for ground-mounted PV systems attracted a bid of just €0.01/kWh, with the highest just €0.1098/kWh – an outcome that proves that uniform pricing is an unsuitable method for Germany’s tenders.

"A number of project developers went into the bidding round with unrealistic prices," said Berlin Layer Margarete von Oppen. "With this, they are hoping to raise the unit price from the expensive, more realistic bidders." Von Oppen calculates that the unit price the successful bidders will receive will be around EUR 0.085/kWh.

The following day, official government data revealed the true power exerted when German flexes its renewable muscles – Sunday August 23 saw renewables meet 80% of the country’s power needs at midday, prompting industry watchers to suggest that a "100% renewables day" could be possible by spring or summer next year. Which would be quite something.

French fancy, TSMC says goodbye

Next door in France, the country’s stilted solar industry received a government-approved fillip when the Ministry of Energy, Ecology and Sustainable Development (MEDDE) announced that it is to double its large-scale PV solicitation to 800 MW as part of the country’s energy transition.

In less edifying news, Taiwan’s TSMC – a world-record holder in CIGS efficiency having recently produced a module at 16.5% – announced it is to leave the solar industry to focus on its core business in the microchip industry.

"TSMC Solar’s late entry to the market and lack of economies of scale led to a substantial cost disadvantage," read a company statement. "After careful consideration, TSMC has come to the conclusion that despite its world-class conversion efficiency for CIGS technology, TSMC Solar will not be viable even with the most aggressive cost reduction plan."

In other news…

The WTO has ruled this week that India is in violation of global trade rules in insisting on certain stipulations for its local content requirement following a U.S.-requested probe. The Indian government will likely appeal the decision, which should give the National Solar Mission a two-year grace period in which to at least instigate some of its proposed strategies on domestic content.

Bankrupt U.S. solar firm Solyndra, which exited the PV industry in 2011, may well have misled government officials to the tune of $535 million when seeking federal loans, a four-year probe has found. Although no criminal proceedings are likely to be brought, the probe did suggest a tightening of due diligence in the Department of Energy to ensure nothing similar happens again.

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