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Solar Tech Outlook

Manufacturers scale up for utility applications.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2010

cost of installation. By pre-engineering our systems, Skyline moves labor hours from the field to the factory. At the same time, our systems are remarkably easy to install.

Hall, Borrego Solar Systems: Standard non-concentrating PV is a proven technology and has the lowest risk and longest track record of all of the solar technologies. With utility-scale PV systems using crystalline silicon technology, the biggest risks are likely with the mechanical tracking system and the inverter, which converts DC to AC power. However, I don’t believe either of these risks are sufficient to be an obstacle to financing a project. Other technologies have greater challenges. For example, PV systems that use concentrators have issues related to the dissipation of heat, which many companies are trying to solve.

King, Canadian Solar: One of the biggest challenges facing the performance and cost of utility-scale power generating facilities takes place prior to construction, during the design phase, and that’s properly sizing the facility using existing design tools. It’s necessary to consider degradation factors of individual panels, inverter efficiencies, line losses and other critical sizing and design factors.

When properly sized, installed and maintained, crystalline utility-scale solar-generating facilities face minimal technology performance challenges.

Kuran, Petra Solar: The bottom-line is that we haven’t been able to make quantum improvements in the overall efficiency of PV generation. PV cells have gotten cheaper, but they’ve become only incrementally more efficient. With that as a given, however, I think there are more technological challenges with traditional solar than with our pole-mounted model. Traditional solar has yet to prove itself an asset on the grid; it tends to be a liability. Solar today lacks the smarts to interact intelligently with the grid. By making it smart, we make it contribute to the reliability of the grid. According to a recent study by Navigant Consulting, coupling solar and smart grid enables up to 70 percent more deployment of solar.

 

Fortnightly: What do you see as the most promising areas of near-term development for solar technologies? How are they addressing performance and cost challenges?

Hall, Borrego Solar Systems: The cost of solar has dropped substantially over the last two years, and we expect to see another 10- to 20-percent drop in system costs over the next two years. Costs are coming down as a result of manufacturing scale as well as better practices and technologies being used in system integration. A large barrier to adoption right now is the small number of utility-scale plants operating in the United States, and the lack of track record. Once the technology has a real track record at the utility scale, the cost of capital will drop substantially, making the energy price significantly more competitive.

King, Canadian Solar: One of the most promising areas of near-term development in solar is technology that eliminates the need for string inverters; such technology reduces the space required for string inverter placement, improves the quality of the power produced and lowers the overall cost and complexity of the installation.

Integrating these more advanced monitoring technologies will maximize uptime of systems and