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Solar Tech Outlook

Manufacturers scale up for utility applications.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2010

help control O&M costs.

MacDonald, Skyline Solar: We see upgradability, a core feature of Skyline’s high gain solar systems, as an extremely promising feature. Many potential PV customers could save money today by going solar, but hold off because they expect cell performance to improve in the next few years. Our upgradable design solves that problem—customers can go solar today without having to worry about missing out on future technology improvements. Five or 10 years from now, when much more efficient and affordable cells are available, our customers can easily swap out the Skyline modules for new ones at a reasonable cost. Our reflectors, posts, trackers and other non-silicon components won’t need to be changed. In the United States, we expect customers will achieve a good return on an upgrade even if the ITC has reverted from 30 percent to 10 percent.

Gillette, First Solar: For us, most promising is the continued drive to reduce costs in our modules and balance-of system components. The bottom line is that solar electricity has to be clean, sustainable and affordable—if solar isn’t affordable, it ultimately won’t survive in the marketplace, so we have a relentless primary focus on ensuring the levelized cost of energy from our proven technology is competitive.

Of course we’re looking at technological improvements and enhancements we can make—and we’re even looking at other technologies—but we believe the most promising near-term thing we can do to support and promote solar is reduce cost, and continue to prove solar electricity can reach grid parity and compete directly with traditional generation and other alternative sources.

We’re in the utility-scale solar business, and we recognize what that requires and what the market will tolerate, and it’s not promises—it’s delivering power reliably and affordably, so that’s what we are focused on.

Kuran, Petra Solar: The most promising area of emerging development lies in the coupling of solar generation and smart-grid technology. If we are to succeed in creating utility-scale solar generation, first we must be able to meld new power sources into our existing electric grid in a transparent manner. Second, we must ensure we’re moving toward managing that grid effectively and efficiently, in ways that haven’t been done heretofore. We’re on our way to making solar generation an integral part of the grid.

In terms of addressing cost challenges, there’s no instant solution. But in the longer term, as we increase the level of solar utilization, we ultimately will lower the cost of energy generation.

Woolard, BrightSource Energy: Our efforts at the Solar Energy Development Center in Israel’s Negev Desert represent a very critical step in the evolution of solar performance and cost. The facility, a 6-MW thermal power tower system, is producing the world’s highest quality steam from solar—as measured by high temperature, verified by independent engineering firms. This breakthrough is being well-received in the marketplace as indicated by Bechtel’s joining as our commercial engineering partner on the Ivanpah project, as well as the DOE’s $1.4 billion conditional loan guarantee for Ivanpah, and Alstom’s decision to invest $55 million dollars in BrightSource as part