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Perspective: Despite Solyndra’s death, the future of solar energy is sunny

10 November 2011

by Steven Pleging, CEO/President of Quantum Solar Power Corp.

I believe that the loss of industry players Solyndra, Evergreen, and SpectraWatt opens the market for more innovative solar companies to succeed with smarter tactics and mainstream products that fit into existing manufacturing models. Remember when the dot.com bubble burst in 2000 and, seemingly overnight, some companies ceased making millions hand-over-fist? Flash forward to 2011, when nearly everyone is online, Internet technology has become more accessible and fortunes continue to be made. Real innovation always finds its pot of gold.

We’ve seen a considerable reduction in solar panel costs, but that is exactly why there is reason to be optimistic. Lower prices open markets that were previously barred economically. I believe most people fail to understand the solar sector. Unlike other established markets the solar industry is still a tiny fraction of the overall energy production worldwide. Solar’s competition is really fossil fuel, or in other words, the established way electricity is being generated. With subsidies long in place for nuclear, coal and gas in the US along with the cheap cost of production for coal and natural gas, solar is essentially competing with that $0.10/kWh average cost of electricity in the United States and globally.

It is not only wise we devote our resources toward solar technology; it is essential. We are already facing serious ramifications of fossil fuel emissions. Increases in carbon dioxide concentration along with global surface temperatures are showing a decline in agricultural yields due to climate change.[1] This along with melting glaciers and shifts in climate zones do not bode well for climate change stabilization without drastic efforts in greenhouse gas abatement.

There are also the obvious human costs of other sources of energy, from water quality issues related to gas fracking and the loss of mountain tops and streams with coal mining to the shocking failure of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant reactors in March of 2011 that has forced one hundred thousand Japanese in a twelve mile radius to evacuate.

Yes, solar energy does need to arrive at end-user costs that are closer to fossil fuels, and concurrently, our research and development areas need to lead us beyond current solar PV technologies. The recent fall of Solyndra is a lesson in over-specialization but is not a damning of solar’s viability. The US has 1,750 MW of PV planned for 2011 and currently employs 100,000 people, more than coal mining or steel manufacturing. Solyndra was producing a PV product that did not fit within traditional balance of system (BOS) solar industry structures. Their novel cylindrical solar modules which have a capacity to capture sunlight from 360° (if rooftops are painted white) and resist snow and dust, also required a shift in the industry as a whole in order to adopt them.

Unfortunately, Solyndra’s timing was terrible, global poly-silicon supplies caught up with rising demand, going from a high of $500 per kilogram in 2008 to a mere $35 on spot markets today. Combined with a Chinese manufacturing boom, that lowered the overall cost of panels by 40 percent this year, Solyndra was unable to compete. On October 19th, seven solar PV manufacturers filed a federal trade dispute claiming China is dumping solar panels in the US below their own manufacturing cost, which likely in part, explains the 40 percent decrease in panels. Unfortunately, for Evergreen and Solyndra, that filing is too late.

The United States spends almost $500 billion annually purchasing energy from other countries. About $4 billion of taxpayer money is allotted to nuclear, natural gas, and nuclear company subsidies, even when many geothermal sources are reaching or have reached, capacity. We need a better paradigm. New solar technologies can change this. The US has vast regions that offer some of the sunniest places on earth, and you don’t need to live in the desert to harness solar power. New Jersey is second only to California in adoption of solar infrastructure. Despite the announcement recently that Germany will be lowering their feed-in tariffs in January of 2012, they remain 40% of the total solar market globally while receiving less average daily solar radiation than New Jersey.[2]

In the US, we are seeing a likelihood of long-term thin-film implementation when we develop the right technological fit. Within a few years, we expect at least a dozen markets will be economically viable without subsidies. Tariff reductions are occurring throughout Europe as the EU struggles with the Greek financial crisis. Despite this the solar market there has increased 65 percent as opposed to the 82 percent increase in 2010. While changes in policy are lowering European expectations slightly, the US market is projected to increase by as much as 9 percent this year. The global solar market is expected to install 22 MW of electricity in 2011.

Of course, the largest solar demands will be coming from China and India. From a purely economic standpoint, there will be no reason for China to remain with silicon when better alternatives become available. Solar PV installations in Asia grew by over 57% from 2006-2010, and 2010 showed an incredible 100% increase from 2009[3] and yet China still exports nearly 95% of their total PV production. However, China recently announced a national feed-in tariff program, increasing 2012 solar market projections.

Many venture capitalists have established funds dedicated to launching green technology initiatives. First Solar, the largest thin-film manufacturer in the world, will see approximately $3.75 billion[4] in revenue this year, and there are a number of solar companies emerging with very attractive growth opportunities precisely because there is so much room for improvement in terms of efficiencies and a reduction in materials costs. As with the dotcom crash, the death of Solyndra, Evergreen and others will usher in a more robust solar industry not signal the disappearance of PV as a viable alternative for future energy needs. Both companies were a tiny fraction of an enormous and rapidly growing global market. The egalitarian balance is one that will afford large-scale, global installation of solar energy panels at a price people can manage.

Steven Pleging is CEO/President of Quantum Solar Power Corp., a US-based public company engaged in developing and commercializing a revolutionary new solar power technology.

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November 10, 2011 in Perspective, Solar | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

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If China and India are the best future solar markets and China manages to lower solar panels price by 40% in the last year....that is very positive and very good news for the world solar market.

Secondly, Sharp will produce (probably in China) their new very high efficiency (up to 45%) panels within 12 to 24 months.

If 50% of the $$$B in subsidies currently given to Coal, Nuclear, NG and Oil was re-directed to Solar and Wind, does two sustainable, clean sources could supply a much greater part of the energy needed.

What is becoming ever more apparent is there is energy everywhere. In all forms. And those who can produce or harvest it simply and inexpensively, will reap profits. But there is an even more interesting phenomenon taking place. The transfer and development of beneficial technology with less demand for profit. And greater demand for diversity.

This does not undermine the "market" philosophy. Rather it guarantees a more level playing field by challenging monopolies. We have long promoted the concept of a broad energy portfolio. This guarantees multiple solutions for different energy needs.

We will continue to push for REAL diversity, by bringing attention to viable technology that is little known. We can no longer afford to sequester good ideas because they are disruptive. Disruption is a precursor to evolution.

Or China is playing the long game to dominate the solar market so it can trade solar power technology for oil with the middle east!

PV to BEV wins for most miles per sq meter, and PV and EVs can both make use of improvements in batteries and power electronics

AND YET our president wants to be Brazil's best customer of oil drilled off their shores & in our Gulf of Mexico (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2V4EM_jaFg ), but yet after 3 years of his presidency we still don't have ANY offshore wind farms up and running, 500 million tax dollars were poured down the Solyndra rathole, AND he is going to stonewall the Keystone XL project with one of our closest allies while record unemployment continues unchanged. PATHETIC.


Reminds me of BP crowing about their safety measures just after the Macondo coming out party.

There is something rather distasteful about a company demanding more subsidies. I don't dispute that solar needs or deserves it but I'd rather see them providing through a market mechanism.

In addition blaming subsidized Chinese solar panels for his companies problem is disingenuous. The lowest cost producer in the world is First Solar, an american company which produces solar at less than 80 cents per peak watt. I think it is good that Chinese companies are forcing prices down to where companies no longer receive excess profits. Now we'll get real competition which will hopefully push Solar to lower prices to real customers and reduce the need for those subsidies.

Pretty soon, if not now, installation will be the major part of the cost of a home solar array. The PV cells practically don't require any human labor to produce, like Nanosolar's PV printing machine. So importing solar panels will have little effect on the unemployment rate.

Installation takes a lot of labor, the roof of every home is different, so will take different design of brackets, wiring, fasteners, grid-tie inverters, etc. This work can't be imported, so Americans or illegals will do the work, and the money for that business will remain in our economy. If there is a boom in PV home power systems, there will also be a need for maintenance, repair, upgrade, and replacement, not to forget PV-related hardware and product distribution. Training for HVAC workers will be needed, insurance companies will be involved, as well as inspectors, regulators, and advertising companies.
If every home had a PV system, which would cost $5,000-$20,000, it's quite a large chunk of the home value. Since the home market is a large part of the economy, a boom in Solar, caused by cheap imports, could be significant.

Z....your points are well taken.

Future homes will have to be properly oriented, designed with high efficiency, low cost, solar panels fully integrated into southward roof-walls-windows and doors + associated wiring - controllers to reduce installation cost. Of course, ultra high efficiency heat pumps would be part of it.

Retrofitting existing homes will cost much more because it will be ADD-ON or replacement parts of existing houses which are not necessarily well oriented.

The program could start with new homes, properly oriented, designed etc. Should solar systems be mandated and be part of the new construction code?

Gentlemen, the real challenge to solar comes from the new branch of physics which can deliver MW heat for pennies. We will have to accept this challenge as it is already in the marketplace and no attempt to kill it will work.

Again, we subsidize all kinds of crap and pork no one is screaming about. If we did an honest review of Pentagon projects that have thrown billions at screwy weapons programs, well, we'd have a lot of shame going around. They hide their failures, free market players cannot.

I find the whole Solyndra thing funny. Why?
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/#45143060

Yes Reel$$...a small 3.0 Kw LENR + a 30 Kwh ESStor unit could supply most of the energy required by the average home + one BEV on a continuous 24/7 basis. The main problem is that neither are available (at any price).

To have a solar executive complain about subsidies is as ridiculous as the Kettle calling the Pot Black...

Other energy conversion technologies have at least the prospect of producing competitive power at prices that compete with present technology.

Solar executives not only want prohibitive subsidies for their diffuse and useless technology. In addition, they want the price of electricity to quadruple to bring it with in 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost of their folly. With electric prices that high, attractive uses such as HVAC and BEVs become economic basket cases.

Harvey, if you've got $2.3M you can order the 1MW e-cat from Leonardo Corp. He's hired National Instruments of Austin Texas to handle the instrumentation. You can sell excess electric to your neighbors!

Hey Reel!

For only a single million I'll sell you a box that you can plug into the power line and make steam.

but that is exactly why there is reason to be optimistic. Lower prices open markets that were previously barred economically. I believe most people fail to understand the solar sector. China Manufacturing

Qualcomm announced a WEVC trial in London to commence in 2012 that is supported by a cross section of stakeholders ranging from government departments and agencies to commercial and private sector enterprises. moving to london

New Jersey is second only to California in adoption of solar infrastructure. Despite the announcement recently that Germany will be lowering their feed-in tariffs in January of 2012, they remain 40% of the total solar market globally while receiving less average daily solar radiation than New Jersey New Jersey Tax Preparation

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