The pv magazine weekly news digest

Question: how do you make solar shingles exciting? Answer: Stick one in Elon Musk’s hand, and a microphone in the other. The fanfare generated by Tesla Motors’ Energy’s latest product unveiling could well power a Model S from San Francisco to New York. We’re not talking column inches here; we’re talking front pages, going viral, even appearing on the Facebook feeds of middle-aged soccer moms who think it’s "A super cool idea! x".

How does Musk do it? It’s not as though the entrepreneur has struck upon some secret marketing or technical formula. Rather, it is the strength of his and his companies’ convictions that consistently serves them well.

But with great visibility comes great scrutiny, so pv magazine duly looked under the hood of Musk’s latest unveiling with solar industry veteran Barry Cinnamon to ask just what the promise and challenges of Telsa’s solar roof really are.

Cinnamon said: "BIPV is the holy grail for rooftop solar installations. I commend Tesla for launching such an innovative product in this category. From what I have seen so far, Tesla has done an admirable job of improving the aesthetics of solar shingles, certainly much better than any similar products I have installed or evaluated over the past 15 years. However, without more detail on their solar shingle costs and UL certifications it is difficult to evaluate the ultimate potential of this product.

"Ultimately, the biggest obstacle relates to total installed cost of solar shingles. Hopefully Tesla can overcome some of the following limitations of these solar shingle products:

· High cost of shingles on a per watt basis

· Since shingles run hotter, power output is typically less than conventional modules (effectively increasing per watt cost)

· Uneven shingle surfaces are not optimized to capture incident sunlight, reducing efficiency (effectively increasing per watt cost)

· Each shingle (or group of shingles) needs a pair of wire connections. These connections are expensive to purchase and install.

· “Dummy” shingles are needed to meet fire setbacks (typically 3? around roof), and to install in shaded areas."

SolarWorld’s African adventure

Germany’s SolarWorld is another clean energy company that is adept at securing headlines, but in recent times has tended to attract bad press following its controversial stance on the EU and U.S. trade tariffs imposed against China.

So it was somewhat heartening to learn that the company’s 20 MW supply deal to a solar farm in Senegal was so well received online. Senegal has been beset by energy problems for many years, exacerbated by frequent droughts in many regions that have led to a rural exodus, thus piling demand on to already-overstretched city grids.

For Senegal and many other nations in West Africa, solar PV energy offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly means of meeting these challenges, creating much-needed jobs in the meantime.

"With this project, we are once again documenting that PV represents a safe, clean and affordable solution for millions of people," said SolarWorld CEO Frank Asbeck. "It is a wise decision that the customer has bet on sustainability with durable products."

JA Solar settles up

But now back to more serious matters. While SolarWorld’s legal battle with polysilicon producer Hemlock Semiconductor rumbles on, Chinese Tier-1 company JA Solar this week opted for a settlement on its own $1 billion lawsuit with Hemlock.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Hemlock in January 2015 but earlier this year the complaint was updated, pertaining to an alleged breach of polysilicon supply contracts. JA Solar was on the hook for close to $1 billion, but today’s settlement saves the firm the hassle and expense of becoming embroiled in the type of legal battle currently facing Germany’s SolarWorld, which was hit by Hemlock for a similar claim.

Details on JA Solar’s settlement are scant, but suffice to say an agreement has been struck that suits both parties: the Chinese firm avoids the threat of a $1 billion payout, while Hemlock has tied JA Solar in to a solar grade polysilicon supply agreement until October 31, 2026.

pv magazine understands that polysilicon is currently selling at around $15 per kilogram (kg) on the market, and it is highly likely that Hemlock has locked JA Solar in to a commitment to purchase polysilicon above that price. However, given that polysilicon prices can fluctuate wildly, locking in a price for the next decade may in fact be a sensible step by the Chinese firm.

EU don’t want to do that

Some worrying news emerged from Europe this week after the Guardian newspaper reported that the priority dispatch status enjoyed by solar and wind power on European electricity grids could soon be over.

The newspaper reports that it has seen documents modeling four confidential impact assessment scenarios that could see carbon emissions rise by 10% if renewable sources lose their priority status.

The EU’s renewable energy directive has been charged with becoming more flexible and cost-competitive, and is currently being redrafted to cover the period after 2020. According to the Guardian, one strong suggestion doing the rounds in Brussels is to strip priority dispatch for renewable energies in order to meet these cost-cutting goals – a move that many see would be to the detriment of the EU’s carbon reduction targets.

"We believe that priority access must be given for renewable energy sources," SolarPower Europe CEO James Watson told pv magazine. "We are concerned that the European Commission seems to be moving to becoming less ambitious than the Member States, but we also know that there is still time for the Commission to change sentiment."

"Removing priority dispatch for renewable energies would be detrimental to the wind sector, which would face more curtailment across the continent," WindEurope spokesman Oliver Joy told the Guardian. "It also seems to be at odds with Europe’s plans to decarbonize and increase renewables penetration over the next decade."

Oil be damned

But let’s end on a positive note. Details of a global investment fund for renewable energy development driven by seven of the world’s leading oil executives were announced in London on Friday.

Chief executives from BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Statoil, Repsol, Eni and Saudi Aramco will club together to create the investment fund, which will focus on developing technologies to promote renewable energy, a source told Reuters.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) is the leading fossil fuel-rooted group tasked with actively tackling climate change, and was set up in 2014 with the backing of the United Nations. Those seven oil companies all belong to the OGCI, which includes a total of 11 companies that represent around one-fifth of the world’s gas and oil production.

According to Reuters’ sources, these oil bigwigs will outline plans for an investment vehicle designed to support technologies that lower carbon emissions. Further details on how much will be invested, or by whom, were not forthcoming, but there will be a keen focus on car engine and fuel efficiency, said the report, as well as finding ways to lower the cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

There are also expected to be further details on how these seven oil giants are planning on lowering their own emissions, building upon last year’s call to world leaders to introduce a set price on carbon emissions to drive the uptake of cleaner technologies.

And in other news…

Oh, Canada: the increasingly impressive government of Justin Trudeau confirmed this week that all federal government buildings will source their electricity from renewable energy within the next eight years, while in India, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects 2017 to be a bumper year for rooftop and off-grid solar.

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