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Solar Tech Outlook

Manufacturers scale up for utility applications.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2010

of our recent more than $150 million equity financing round.

 

Fortnightly: What are the most interesting ‘blue sky’ technologies for utilities to watch? What advancements might change the game for solar energy in the next five years?

Hall, Borrego Solar Systems: There are a number of companies working on PV technology using CIGS [Copper indium gallium (di)selenide]. This material has the potential to be both low cost and high efficiency. Unfortunately, many companies have been working on this technology for decades and there’s still a very small volume of product commercially available. Much of what’s available isn’t competitively priced. Also there are a number of companies working on new, more efficient ways to convert the DC power to AC. These range from producers of micro-inverters to novel approaches to max power point tracking (MPPT). To date, these technologies have been used primarily on smaller-scale distributed generation systems, but as their cost decreases and reliability improves, they could be game changers on the utility side as well.

Kuran, Petra Solar: This is truly blue sky, but if we were to see significant cost reduction of gallium arsenide (GaAs) PV cells to where Si cells are today, then grid parity would be well within reach. That would almost double today’s PV module efficiency to the 35 percent to 45 percent range. A similar reduction in the cost of the balance of the systems is required. Alternatively, a significant value add to the balance of the system can enhance the ROI and would change the game. We’re focused on the latter.

MacDonald, Skyline Solar: We’re excited about several technologies. At the cell level, we think there will be great advances in performance and the potential for significant cost reductions. In terms of energy storage, we’re bullish on flow batteries. These are very large chemical batteries with liquid electrolytes. They can help with the dispatchability issue mentioned earlier, and also will help store energy produced in the morning and deliver it to the grid in the afternoon or early evening when it’s more valuable. We’re participants in a flow battery RD&D grant proposal under consideration by the California Solar Initiative.

King, Canadian Solar: I don’t see any blue sky technologies that will be commercialized, bankable and ready to install in the next five years.

The most important game changers for the solar industry in the next five years will be political and financial, not technological. Once we in the United States have overcome the limitations placed on the industry by ineffective energy policy and an indecisive Congress, market competitiveness will force manufacturers to constantly improve efficiencies, take costs out of systems, embrace and fund new technologies and bring them to commercial reality.

Woolard, BrightSource Energy: The optimistic news is that we don’t necessarily need blue sky technologies. We have the capabilities today to offer cost-effective and reliable solar power. As we look forward, storage enhancements offer additional opportunity for solar. Solar thermal storage technologies—like molten salt—have been commercially proven. Over the next five years, we’ll see the cost of these technologies decrease and enhance our