The year 2010 was an interesting year for the solar industry. Certainly there were stumbles such as a 30% cut in the Spanish FiT, Southern California Edison dropping out of a power purchase agreement for energy produced by the Calico Solar Project, Solyndra and SpectraWatt shutting factories and laying off workers, and so forth.
But generally the industry was upbeat; the news was positive. Globally the growth in the solar industry was impressive. According to iSuppli, at least 15GW of PV systems were installed globally, compared to 7.2GW in 2009.
The boom in solar was good news at a bad time. Many seized the opportunity and launched new solar start-ups at a rate reminiscent of the burgeoning computer industry of the 1980s. Solar Novus Today, for instance, was launched in 2010. The first of many publications planned by parent company Novus Media Today, beginning with a publication for the solar industry proved to be a good choice.
The publication rapidly added writers, editors, advisors and sales staff located throughout the world. It regularly features articles with insight from industry leaders, has a loyal following on various social media sites, and can boast of attracting 20,000+ readers per month in its inaugural year-and it’s still growing.
Looking at the most read articles on the web site, we concluded that the top ten topics of most interest in the solar industry in 2010 can be grouped as follows: Government support; Energy storage and battery technologies; Emerging solar technologies; Space; Inverters and microinverters; Solar fads, green intent and big business; Utility scale solar; Smart grid; China and India; and Desertec.
Feed in tariffs (FiTs) vary widely from country to country and state to state, which may be a good thing, because we learn from what works and what doesn’t work for the solar industry. See the blog “FiTs for Schools.”
A hot topic across the globe in 2010 were politics in the United States, as House and Senate changed from Democratic control to Republican, putting pressure on the lame-duck session to pass some bills critical to the solar industry.
The extension of the Treasury Grant Programme was a big win for the solar industry. That programme is described in the article “US Solar Finance: Year end 2010”.
Proposition 23 was an initiative that would end California’s greenhouse gas laws. Losing by a margin of over 61 per cent proved acceptance of renewable energy initiatives.
Energy storage and batteries
Batteries for the solar industry are in great demand, and the best technology for solar is hotly debated. Fortunately much energy (no pun intended) is going into research, development and testing of utility scale and other batteries for renewable energy storage. See the article “Lithium-ion Batteries: High density storage for solar generation.”
Getting the most out of solar has long been the goal of researchers in labs around the world. Taking screen printed solar cells to the next level, silicon ink is under development by California-based Innovalight.
Dye-sensitised solar cells, developed by Professor Michael Grätzel and his team at Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, were inspired by photosynthesis. Based on dye-sensitised nanocrystalline semiconductor oxide, these cells cost less to produce and are more versatile than traditional silica cells.
A series on space weather, Dr. Frédéric Clette, a solar physicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, describes particle beams, solar wind and other instabilities that can affect solar energy generation on earth. “Our Inconstant Sun: Solar activity and flares” , is the first in the series.
Another topic of interest is space-based solar energy. Hotly debated for its cost, potential hazard, practicality and feasibility, the article “Space-based Solar Power: Nearing the tipping point?” examines the issues.
Inverters and microinverters
According to iSuppli, high-power inverters of 500kW or more that are designed for utility-scale solar will enjoy a 61 per cent compound annual growth rate on a MW basis over the next five years. For more on the technology, see “Understanding Inverter Strategies.”
Solar Fads, Green Intent and Big Business
Businesses are espousing their “green-ness” through sustainability practices for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most visible is when solar panels go up on places like Ikea, Kohls and Walmart stores, on the Parisien cosmetic manufacturer Sisley, on the US stadiums and headquarters of the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles football teams, and the homes of the Maldives and the US presidents. For more on solar in the public eye, see “Appearances are Everything: Solar in the public eye”.
Utility scale power
Massive solar power plants in Australia, Spain, Italy and the US made the news in 2010-demonstrating different solar technologies as well as challenges surrounding distribution, land-use, funding, politics and more.
The energy grid in place in most developed regions is antiquated and not designed for deployment of today’s technologies. The production of energy through distributed generation photovoltaic installations and its distribution is leading us to consider the smart grid, and its development will become increasingly important as renewable energy use increases. For more on Smart Grid technology, see “Smart Grid: Leveraging the disruptive impact of solar PV.”
China and India
China and India are in the midst of a development and modernisation. With such huge populations, the energy needs are massive. In fact China is quickly nearing the energy consumption of the US (which used nearly 2.4 billion tons of oil in 2009). Both countries have strong clean energy policies that require the adoption of renewable energy sources. See the article “PV Policy in China: 1997 to today”.
At a time when China is ramping up the installation of solar power, it has also become the leading manufacturer of solar panels. Suntech Power, Yingli Green Energy, Trina Solar and Solarfun (now Hanwha Solar One) are world leaders and all based in China.
The Indian government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, which plans for the installation of 10GW of solar by 2020. At the same time the government announced that it will provide Renewable Energy Certificates, which will help fund the projects, thus making 2010 the year of the solar launch in India. One downside for solar manufacturers outside India is that the policy calls for domestic cells and modules, but it bodes well for Indian manufacturers such as Moser Baer.
Desertec, the giant solar testbed in the desert, came to life in 2010 with its first conference, the founding of Desertec University, and contributions by the major stakeholders in the Dii Consortium who are working together to bring the vision to reality.