How To Make Solar A ‘Hot’ Sector Again – Part II

This is the concluding part of my conversation with Dr. Robert N.Castellano, president of The Information Network, based in New Tripoli,USA.

The question of adding new, additional solar capacity willalways arise. Is t certain that no new additional capacity will bebrought on board in 2009? Dr. Castellano said: "Actually I said 2010.Solar manufacturers are already losing money this year and the capacityutilization is 27.9 percent. Also, the days of inventory are currently122, up from 71 days in 2008. If they continue to add new capacity,things will only worsen, exasperating the recession."

43 How To Make Solar A ‘Hot’ Sector Again   Part II

Lessons for India? Turningour attention to India, which has lately been witnessing a lot of talksof building new capacity. According to Dr. Castellano, now is a goodtime to talk, as a plant will take at least a year to get into fullproduction. By that time, prices should be stabilized and increase.

What then are the lessons to learn from all of this for the Indian solar PV industry?
Headded: "What has to be weighed is the cost of making the solar panelsin India versus buying the outside the country. It can take severalyears for a plant to be profitable. If the venture was established frommoney from India’s government through subsidies, it can lessen theimpact of potential losses, while the plants ramp and selling pricesmove up to a level where production becomes profitable."

I hopethis valuable piece of advice is noted by the existing players or thoselooking to entering the solar photovoltaics segment in India.

Bring down solar production cost per watt
Dr.Castellano had mentioned about First Solar bringing production costsdown to $0.93 per watt. How many of the others are capable of matchingor bettering this?

He said, for that matter, Oerlikon, expectsthat its lines will deliver a cost of $0.70 cents per watt by the endof 2010 and has achieved an initial conversion efficiency of 11percent, which comes out to about 9.5 percent of stabilized efficiency.

How can manufacturers differentiate their solar products?
Another query has been, how should solar manufacturers differentiate their products and how can they do it cheaply?

Certainly,there are new avenues of manufacturing, such as CdTe from First Solar,CIGS from half a dozen manufacturers, multi-junction cells fromcompanies such as Uni-Solar, and building integrated photovoltaics(BIPV) from an increasing number of manufacturers, advised Dr.Castellano.

He said: "These technologies differentiate thecompanies’ products, but the proportion of wattage manufactured, whilegrowing, is small compared to the majority of solar panels sold usingtraditional methods of production, i.e., a thin film on a glasssubstrate.

"Long life and low cost of ownership are ofparamount importance if solar is to grow, particularly, if there is tobe a large acceptance at the residential level. Manufacturing canintroduce defects in solar cells that can result in low electronmobility (EM), electron traps and photo-degradation from UV light.These issues affect the efficiency and lifetime of solar cells and theimportance of measuring electron mobility at the wafer and cell stage.

"Thelifetime of minority carriers has been widely identified to be the keymaterial parameter determining the conversion efficiency ofpn-junctions in silicon solar cells. Defects in the crystal latticereduce the charge carrier lifetime and thus limit the performance ofthe solar cells. Another major efficiency loss is due to impurities inthe cell.

"These can be foreign atoms or molecules in thecrystal lattice (including the dopant atoms), and provide sites whereelectrons and holes can recombine, thereby reducing the number ofcharged particles available to create an electrical current.

"LehightonElectronics (Lehighton, PA) is an example of a company that hasdeveloped a variety of tools to test and measure solar wafers. One toolcan measure sheet resistance and resistivity to see if there is anysubsurface damage. Another system can measure minority carrierlifetimes, while a third model can find traps in solar wafers."

How to make solar hot (all over again!)?
Finally, isn’t solar hot enough ? What would really make it hot (all over again)?

Accordingto Dr Castellano, oil is now $70 a barrel [around August 23, 2009] andrising, which, to him suggests that people will start rethinkingalternative energy. However, the second point about the credit marketcrunch remains. Who can get a loan to build a solar plant anyway? Thatwill change once the recession is over.

He added: "Spain has notresumed its incentive program and will subsidize just 500 megawatts ofsolar projects this year, down sharply from 2,400 megawatts in 2008.Mainland China’s stimulus and now Taiwan’s incentives (we suspect moneycoming in from Mainland China) will counter the downturn in Spain andGermany.

"In the past six months we have seen somewhat of astabilization in the worldwide economies and the share prices of solarcompanies ramp in recent weeks.

The passage of stimulus billsaround the world will provide a ray of hope for the industry. In theUS, for example, the new Stimulus Bill of 2009 changes the rules on howinvestment tax credits are awarded, allowing companies that arebuilding power plants to take 30 percent of the cost as a tax break ina project’s first year. This could prove vital because, in the lastquarter of 2008, 10 out of 14 tax-equity providers stopped doingbusiness in the solar market."

On SolarPA
Unknownto many in this part of the world, Dr Castellano started SolarPA, a fewmonths ago. Providing more details, he said: "SolarPA, a company Istarted a few months ago, has demonstrated increases in efficiency ofpolycrystalline and silicon solar cells by up to 10 percent using aproprietary nanomaterial coating. Increasing the efficiency by 10percent will automatically increase a 50MW production line to 55MW,reducing material and labor costs.

"We are looking for fundingand I have been in talks with solar material and equipmentmanufacturers to partner for further development. We have NDAs withApplied Materials, Air Products, and Baker Mallinkdrodt, and areexpecting them from Oerlikon and Ferro. These companies would developthe technology and then our joint partnership would license it to thesolar manufacturers.

"Another possibility is to get investormoney to develop the technology in-house, eliminating the need for themiddlemen above. 1366 Technologies, for example, is developing atechnology that it claims can boost multicrystalline silicon cells from16 percent efficiency to 18 percent efficiency, thereby reducing theircost per watt, by giving the solar cells a rougher texture. The startupraised $12.4 million in 2008.

"Xerocoat developed a coatingstrategy that increases efficiency by 4 percent on not only amulticrystalline silicon cell but thin film cells as well. The companyreceived $3 million in DOE funding in 2009.