Navigant Consulting's Paula Mints explains several lessons that the PV industry should recall from its past that will shape its future; she also reports on key themes coming out of the EPIA's recent thin-film conference in Munich.
From embracing the past to engaging a promising future, attendees and speakers at EPIA's Thin Film Conference were realistic yet positive about the status of thin-film technologies in the current competitive environment.
It's been a long and winding road for all photovoltaic technologies, from kilowatt annual demand in the 1970s to multi-gigawatt annual demand in 2010. Demand in 2010 over 2009 is expected to surge >100% to ~16GWs, and will represent 40% of total industry cumulative demand. With over 80% of industry cumulative volume installed between 2005-2010, it may seem expedient to ignore previous PV industry history. However, in an incentive driven industry this would be unwise, because:
And Now, On with the Show
From embracing the past to engaging a promising future, attendees and speakers at EPIA's 3rd Thin Film Conference (Nov. 9 in Munich) were realistic yet positive about the status of thin-film technologies in the current competitive environment.
During the opening session, EPIA vice-president Winfried Hoffmann offered his insights on future advances for photovoltaic technologies, and updated attendees on the status of Applied Materials' thin-film endeavors. (Yes, the company is still selling thin-film manufacturing tools; it recently achieved 11% efficiency on 1.43m2 for its tandem junction technology.) Other highlights from his presentation:
For thin films, which are lower in efficiency that crystalline technologies, costs increase with area, while power costs are constant and module costs are lower, Hoffmann noted.
Arnulf Jager-Waldau, representing the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC), spoke about the impact of regulations on the deployment of thin films in Europe and Asia, noting that there are very few countries with distinguishing regulations for thin films. In China there are upfront subsidies for manufacturers, fixed subsidies for off- and on-grid solar, but a national feed in tariff is still under discussion. Concerning the current tender process, 280 companies bid, with the large state owned companies winning the first round at bids of 0.72-0.99 RMB/kWh. The results of the second round of bidding have not been announced. Thailand's 10-year FiT rate will decrease by -19% from 8THB/kWh (approximately US$0.27) to 6.5THB/kWh (~$0.22). Thailand is targeting 500MWp by 2020, which is small when considered alongside Germany, Italy and other European countries, and even in comparison with Ontario, Canada and expectations for the US market. A feed-in tariff has been proposed for Malaysia, and one is under discussion in Vietnam.
Concerning Europe's "20/20/20" mandatory targets, member states were required to submit plans (NREAPs). Out of 27 required plans, 22 have been submitted and are currently under review in Brussels. Under the EU Electricity Directive 2009/72, grid operators may be required to give priority to renewables.
Jager-Waldau also made several sobering, but important points during his presentation:
Offering a utility's perspective into Italy's booming market for PV systems was Ricardo Lama from Enel Distribuzione. In Northern Italy, PV installations are primarily BIPV or retrofit, while in southern Italy PV installations are primarily large-field or multi-megawatt. Enel receives 2000 requests a month for high-voltage connections, and he noted there is no efficient management of network saturation -- in many regions the connection requests are larger than the load. Peak load in Italy is 55GW, while connection requests are significantly higher at 150GW. Since 2008, of >33,000 requests to connect, only 7% (2.2GWp) have made it through the process from acceptance to authorization to connection. To help match generation with load, in overloaded areas a fee is paid to compensate for network overload, and this effort has shown some success, he said.
In the operation of the distribution grid, undesired islanding, voltage regulation, and high-voltage network saturation are critical, Lama said, and there is little room for embedded generation. Smart grid technology, he offered, is the solution to the problems associated with connecting renewable technologies to the grid. To be specific, he defined "smart grid" as "an electricity network that can intelligently integrate the behaviors and actions of all users connected to it in order to ensure sustainable, economic, and secure electricity supply" -- in sum, "build networks that can manage the load, not host the load." Transmission grids are already smart enough, he said, so the focus should be on smart distribution, and of course building new transmission. One fundamental problem is discovering how to build a transmission and distribution system around the capability of customers to change their behavior. Lama also pointed out that governments and others need to invest in R&D while also financing some degree of failure.
Three afternoon panels on the subjects of bankability, module prices generation costs, and bottlenecks for thin-film technologies made important, though in some cases overlapping, points:
Asked more than once about the impending indium shortage, Bernhard Dimmler from CIGS maker Wurth Solar said there is none. If the price of indium increased 5×, he noted, it would add ~2% to the manufacturing cost of the technology, and even a 10-fold increase in the price of indium would have a marginal impact on manufacturing costs. Most CIGS manufacturers are working on reducing use of indium by replacing it with gallium, and current research is focusing on replacing both indium and gallium.
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