The pv magazine weekly news digest

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Sometimes the solar industry delivers a set of stories over seven days that segue seamlessly from one narrative to the next. Be it continued British befuddlement on solar support contrasting sharply with U.S. positivity; EU protectionism and wholly-unrelated tales of further European PV decline, or something as tenuous as India’s clean energy targets and Brazil’s latest auction, there is usually some sort of continuous thread running through the narrative.

Not so this week, where the leading solar stories have hopped around like a three-legged cat on a bouncy castle, but without the inevitablly deflating denouement. From reports of Germany’s storage-led future, via new efficiencies for PERC and solar’s successful showing at auction in Chile, this hotch-potch of tales are your most-read yarns on pv magazine this week…

Batteries all the (sto)rage

VW emissions scandal aside, Germany’s enviable record on clean power innovation has been admired the world over for decades. The PV pioneer may no longer be the world’s largest solar market – ceding that crown to China these past few months – but it might well lead the way when it comes to solar+storage, found a report this week by Agora Energiewende.

According to the report, Germany’s power grid can easily support 150 to 200 GW of solar PV capacity, provided 40 GW of storage support was also forthcoming. As prices continue to fall among both the solar sector and the storage/intelligent software sector, Germany could well switch to a renewables-driven power mix within a decade, eschewing the need to build more high-voltage power lines, as is the current post-2025 plan.

From grid, to off-grid

OK, this one kind of flows. A report released this week by the World Bank Group and the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) has found that the global off-grid solar market is now worth $300 million annually, with more than 13 million off-grid related products having been sold to date.

Sales in Africa alone have tripled over the last three years, and solar lanterns account for 50% of those off-grid solar products sold thus far. Lamps with phone chargers have accounted for 45% of the three million items sold in the first six months of the year, adds the report, which also revealed the positive impact solar-powered products are having on rural communities the world over.

"Modern solar technology now offers solutions that are cheaper, safer, easier – indeed better [than kerosene] in every respect,” said GOGLA executive director Koen Peters. “From quality, reliable solar lanterns that can now be sold for below USD 10 (and earned back from kerosene savings within weeks) to solar home systems that provide light, phone charging, radio, television and other basic services that are made affordable also to low-income customers with pay-as-you-go payment options. The demand is huge – and this market can only grow from here."

Demand, and deliver

Demand is also growing for multicrystalline silicon PV… so much so that it has begun to exceed supply, pv magazine reported last Friday.

Analysis by EnergyTrend confirmed reports that show rising prices and pending shortages are altering the multicrystalline landscape, which for years had suffered from a persistent oversupply. An additional report from GTM Research found that module capacity is already hitting a shortfall, exacerbating the problem.

"We’re definitely seeing impacts on a regional basis, meaning markets that are high-demand markets, especially in Q4," GTM Research Solar Analyst Jade Jones told pv magazine.

"In the U.S. we are going to see more price stability instead of decline," explains Jones. "For China, we are likely to see prices increase quarter-over-quarter in Q4."

New kit, new efficiencies

Tapping into the growing commercial rooftop market of the U.S. has become something of a priority for many leading domestic solar firms, and SunPower has this week thrown its not-inconsiderable hat (think Spring-Breaking-in-Cancun-oversized-sombrero) into the ring with the launch of its Helix commercial rooftop PV kits.

Helix combines SunPower’s high efficiency modules, dual tilt racking that modules can be clipped into, factory installed connectors, bespoke cable management system and SunPower’s EnergyLink monitoring software. SunPower offers its 25-year power and product warranty with the Helix system.

Long-time SunPower customer Bed Bath & Beyond will deploy the Helix package on eight stores in early 2016. The U.S. homeware retailer has already installed 17.5 MW of SunPower modules across 26 of its buildings.

"The cost savings we expect to see with the new SunPower Helix systems, such as plug-and-play power stations that greatly reduce installation time, will enable Bed Bath & Beyond to grow our solar program more quickly, delivering operational savings at more of our facilities," said Robert Eckhardt, head of architecture and renewables development for Bed Bath & Beyond, in a statement from SunPower.

SunEdison, meanwhile, has this week unveiled its new zero white space module, which boasts a design that features split overlapping PV cells without standard busbars. This new approach represents an entirely new way of stringing cells into modules, and has been made possible with the technology developed by Solaria, which on Monday announced a technology licensing and equipment deal under which SunEdison will manufacture its new 400 watt ZERO WHITE SPACE line of modules.

The technology provided include Solaria’s proprietary techniques and equipment for slicing PV cells into segments, and then stringing them together.

For the ZERO WHITE SPACE module SunEdison will attach overlapping cell segments with the electrical connection directly between the cells and no busbars, an approach which Solaria estimates offers a 15% improvement in performance.

Further innovation came via 1366 Technologies this week, which revealed that customer trials of its new PERC PV cells have yielded an average efficiency of 19.1%.

1366 Technologies’ direct wafer technology has set a new PERC record, as verified by Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE, which confirmed the performance on industrial lines, not in lab conditions. 1366 operates three Direct Wafer furnaces at its facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, which it says will serve as a blueprint for its first commercial-scale facility in New York to house 50 of the furnaces.

Solar still FIT, takes selfies

Feed-in tariffs (FITs) of the world rejoice – you’re still FIT in the eyes of solar customers, driving two-thirds of the market. But – and don’t worry, it’s not a big but – the rise of selfie culture (that’s self-consumption to you and me) is taking hold, with self-consumption and net metering growing into significant PV market drivers, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS).

The 2015 report’s sections on markets and manufacturing document the shift of both from Europe to Asia, trends which are hardly surprising to anyone in the industry. However, halfway through the 64-page report is a lesser-known detail: that incentivized self-consumption and net metering programs are becoming increasingly important policy supports for global PV markets.

Feed-in tariffs still remain the most important policy supports and drivers of global demand. However, according to IEA feed-in tariffs, including those awarded through tenders, accounted for only 64% of the global market in 2014, whereas historically these drove 67% of the market.

And over in LatAm…

A number of the world’s leading solar companies were awarded substantial development contracts in the latest Chile energy supply auction (links in Spanish), including First Solar, Solarpack (which will build a 55 MW solar park in the country) and Amunche Solar SpA. But most surprising was a winning bid by Abengoa to supply a total of 39 GWh power during the two overnight blocks. While Abengoa also did not respond to requests for comment, it is clear that in order to supply electricity during these hours the company will need to incorporate some form of energy storage, which means either a concentrating solar power (CSP) project with molten salt storage or battery backup. In other news, Brazil’s government confirmed it is to contract 1 GW of solar PV every year, adding around 3 GW between now and 2018.

German news

Litarion made waves this week with the launch of its "Made in Germany" lithium-ion batteries (links in German) into the German market, which will be produced domestically in Saxony. The company plans to manufacture at least one million units in 2016. Elsewhere, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economy came in for criticism this week when it was revealed that utility companies RWE, Vattenfall and Mibrag are eac going to be compensated to the tune of €230 million a year for the decommissioning of their lignite power stations, which will eventually remove 2.7 GW of total capacity from Germany’s grid.

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