Friday, August 28, 2009

NREL Confirms Spectrolab's 41.6% Conversion Efficiency Record

PV-Tech, Tom Cheney

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has validated a new world record for terrestrial concentrator solar-cell efficiency using Spectrolab's latest multijunction photovoltaic devices. The cells from the Boeing subsidiary hit efficiencies of 41.6% during June tests at the Department of Energy lab in Golden, CO, topping the previous record of 41.1% held by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.

"This latest record asserts Spectrolab's leadership position in high-efficiency multijunction solar cells and brings the industry one step closer to achieving affordable solar electricity," said David Lillington, president of Spectrolab. "This cell is an advanced version of our lattice-matched cell technology that will be incorporated quickly and successfully into our production line. This milestone underscores our emphasis on realizing the highest efficiency cells in high-volume production."

Produced in February 2008, the new cell is an advanced version of the lattice-matched triple-junction technology already produced in high volumes for space and terrestrial applications at Spectrolab's fab in Sylmar, CA, where the new technology was pioneered more than a decade ago. The new cell incorporates several improvements in wafer processing to reduce metal grid shadowing and series resistance, increasing the device's overall efficiency.

"Over the past decade, Spectrolab's efforts developing terrestrial solar cell efficiency have achieved an average improvement of approximately one percentage point per year, and we expect to continue that pace," added Lillington.

Spectrolab says that its cells power 60% of all satellites in orbit around the Earth as well as the solar arrays providing the International Space Station with electricity. The Boeing unit expects to reach an annual capacity of 300MW in 2010, following a series of investments to meet increasing terrestrial concentrating PV demand from SolFocus and other customers.

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Suntech grabs 25% market share in California

PV-Tech, Mark Osborne

Although the realization has set-in that the expected U.S. solar market boom is increasingly becoming a 2010 affair, Suntech Power has already seen a significant increase in both sales and market share gains in the country, especially within California, which could be SunPower’s closest crystalline silicon competitor in the sunshine State. Suntech said it had notched-up approximately US$25 million in sales in California in the second quarter of 2009, close to 8% of sales in the quarter. The company claimed it had grabbed a 25% market share, up from only 8% in Q109, based on data supplied from the California Public Utilities Commission.

The all important pipeline of large-scale projects is also building strongly, according to Suntech's Chairman and CEO, Dr. Zhengrong Shi in a conference call to discuss second-quarter financial results;

“We still view the U.S. as one of the high-potential, global solar market particularly in 2010 and beyond. To help capture this demand, we have made significant investments in the U.S. We currently have over 50 people based there. To-date, we have bid on over 2GW of projects with Gemini Solar and other project developers, and we are on the shortlist for nearly 1GW of projects that requires multi-year delivery starting from 2010 and beyond.”

With a significant U.S. pipeline in the making, Suntech has had to focus on reducing shipping costs as well as logistics in the country to ensure shorter delivery times and improve overall customer satisfaction as the competitive landscape is becoming increasingly intense due to the massive over-capacity in PV module supply.

In the short-term all PV manufacturers will need to improve logistical aspects of their businesses and should the market take-off in 2010 and beyond, local manufacturing will become essential to retain and build market share.

Zhengrong Shi noted in the conference call that previously announced plans to build a module plant in the U.S. was progressing well, with site selection now down to just two locations with a decision due in a couple of months.

Main rival to Suntech in California is SunPower, which said in July that based on the California Public Utilities Commission data, it had increased its market share in the State to over 30%, noting that it had extended its share lead from the first quarter.

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Chinese Government Stops Import of Scrap Polysilicon

PV-Tech, Tom Cheney

China has stopped accepting scrap polysilicon recycled to make solar wafers from sources outside the country for environmental reasons, according to a Reuters report.

The move could send ripples through the Chinese supply chain, affecting the scrap poly traders and the companies that sell to them--including major foreign suppliers-- in a potentially negative fashion, while for Chinese polysilicon firms, the ban may lead to opportunities to increase their revenues.

"China's Environmental Protection Ministry said it imposed the ban because the heavy chemicals that come in contact with scrap polysilicon when reused to make solar wafers and panels produce waste that could harm the environment," according to the news service.

"In a way, the ruling was designed to protect (China's) very young polysilicon industry," KK Chan, CEO of Nature Elements Capital, told Reuters. "The sector needs all the help it can get given a supply glut of the material."

Chinese poly producers such as GCL-Poly, Yingli Green Energy, ReneSola, and Tongwei could all benefit, although ReneSola CFO Charles Bai was quoted in the news report as saying that the move "should not have an impact, given there is sufficient supply of polysilicon in the market."

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