Unisolar in the dumps (ENER)

According to their press release, Republic Services "embarked on a revolutionary new venture"earlier this year – apparently, they glued 1,050 Unisolar laminates ona TPO membrane covering their landfill hoping to generate someelectricity from the Sun (here are some more pictures). ECD showcased this installation on the May-11th earnings call in a slide titled "New Applications Provide Opportunities" (see page 11 of the presentation). The installation was labeled as 132KW in that slide, although a September American Recycler article rates the system 134.4 KW DC (which makes much more sense as Unisolar do not make any PVL-126 modules, but, apparently, they do make the PVL-128ones and probably used that rare opportunity to offload some). Anyway,the same article provided a glowing review of the system:
"The system has been working great. But keep in mind it’s only been online since April. We’re averaging about 750 kWh per day. It’s not a big system, but very reliable and low maintenance.We have done no maintenance since we installed it. We get quite a bitof rain so it washes down the panels for us,” said Tony Walker,Republic’s project manager, who also pioneered the concept"[The modules] work in very low light and we will probably be over our estimate in projected kilowatt hours by the one year anniversary date,” Walker said. Like other types of solar panels, Republic’s are performance warranted – 92 percent of minimum power output for 10 years, 84 percent for 20 years and 80 percent for 25 years… Republic reported only one outage of less than 24 hours since the system became operational.That was caused by a major electrical storm. Lightning struck theinverter unit, but as the unit was designed to handle lightning, itonly required changing a blown fuse." [bold mine]
The article also reveals that "Mr.Walker, who is based in Phoenix, is able to remotely monitor theTessman Road system on a web-based monitoring system by Fat Spaniel, aprovider of monitoring and control systems to the solar industry."
So,let us see whether Mr. Walker told the truth. Here is what Fat Spanielreports for the electricity generation from this system over the past month (the full real-time system monitor is available here):
Asyou can see, nothing has been generated in the middle of September andin the past few days (since last Thursday), and on the days theelectricity production was reported over the past 30 days, it wasalways below 700 kWh a day. Here is the monthly generation data sincethe system went online as of today (average daily generation has beencalculated off the reported monthly kWh generation and the calendardays in each month, with only 13 days counted for October):
Month kWh Avg Daily kWh Generation
April 13,161 439
May 14,770 476
June 19,859 662
July 19,900 642
August 20,531 662
September 13,752 458
October 2,573 198

Asyou can see, the system NEVER averaged more than 662 kWh a day in eachmonth, which is 12% below the 750 kWh claimed by Republic’s projectmanager. In fact, based on the reported data by Fat Spaniel, the systemis unreliable and has suffered at least two outages that have lasted afew days.

The article also makes another outrageous claim: "Traditionalground-mounted PV does not work for landfills because of prohibitionsagainst drilling into soil caps to build the foundations necessary forsteel racks to support conventional PV arrays, and the land is far toounstable to support other heavy structures like wind towers. After longterm settlement these lands may serve as green space, golf courses orparklands, but usage is often problematic because of the underlyingdecomposition." No doubt, the author (and Republic) have failedto consult Pfister Energy, an important Unisolar partner (at least, sofar), who installed in March of 2008 a 1,090 kW ground-mounted crystalline PV system(or 8x as large as Republic’s "science experiment") on the Pennsaukenlandfill in New Jersey (see their picture on the left). And, of course,they pretend to be oblivious of the tens of megawatts of glass PV solar installations by Juwiall over Germany on landfills/brownfields. In fact, rack-mounted(penetrating or non-penetrating) glass-solar-panel systems withproperly designed degrees of freedom offer the best solution forlandfills, both in terms of energy generation and reliability, and, ofcourse, cost. Unisolar’s glued-on solution runs the risk of losingadhesion over time as the geomembrane moves and stretches, leaving thelaminates free to fly in the wind (which they can do). Finally, one has to wonder whether Republic Services were aware that Unisolar’s laminates ignited on the rooftopof the Long Beach Convention Center in February of 2008 – becauseRepublic’s landfill has been producing so much flammable biogas thatthey actually already have a system there to collect and process it to generate electricity.
By the way, this "test project" apparently cost $1.3 million, or $9.67 per Watt, when First Solar’s (and some crystalline’s and glass a-Si’s) ground-mounted systems could cost close to $3 per Watt. So much for Unisolar’s claim, as reported by the American Recycler article, that "the payback time on investment is better than conventional panels."


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