Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘thin-film solar’

first solar

Photo: First Solar

First Solar became the first U.S. solar company to break into the Chinese market on Tuesday and it did do in a big way when it signed an agreement to build a two-gigawatt thin-film solar power plant in Inner Mongolia. As I write in The New York Times:

Chinese government officials signed an agreement on Tuesday with First Solar, an American solar developer, for a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in the Mongolian desert.

Set for completion in 2019, the First Solar project represents the world’s biggest photovoltaic power plant project to date, and is part of an 11,950-megawatt renewable-energy park planned for Ordos City in Inner Mongolia.

The memorandum of understanding between Chinese officials and First Solar, the world’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, would open a potentially vast solar market in China and follows the Chinese government’s recent moves to accelerate development of renewable energy.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

First Solar Electric, 701 El Dorado Valley Dr., Boulder City, NV

photo: First Solar

Sempra Generation on Wednesday said it has signed a deal for the United States’ largest photovoltaic power plant, a 48-megawatt solar farm to be built by First Solar in Nevada.

The thin-film solar power station will add on to a 10-megawatt solar farm built by First Solar (FSLR) last year adjacent to a Sempra  natural-gas fired power plant in Boulder City, Nev., outside of Las Vegas. Sempra Generation CEO Michael Allman told Green Wombat that Wednesday’s deal is part of a strategy to bring 500 megawatts of solar electricity online.

“The initial focus is on projects that are next to natural gas fired plants in the desert Southwest,” said Allman, whose company is a division of San Diego-based power giant Sempra Energy (SRE).

By building solar farms on the site of existing fossil fuel plants, Sempra can plug them in to the existing power grid, cutting costs for land, permits and electricity transmission. The 10-megawatt solar plant in Boulder City went online six months after ground was broken. Allman said Sempra also owns land next to its Mesquite natural gas power plant outside of Phoenix suitable for solar development.

“Those two power plants provide us with a substantial competitive advantage in both timing and cost,” said Allman. “These two initial projects will be the lowest cost energy delivered out of a solar project anywhere in the world.”

He declined to say what that cost is but an executive with PG&E (PCG), which is buying the electricity from the 10-megawatt Boulder City solar farm, previously told Green Wombat that the California utility was “very happy” with the rate it negotiated.

Allman said Sempra owns more than 4,000 acres in Arizona that could generate 300 megawatts of solar electricity. The company has also filed lease claims on 11,000 acres of desert land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in California’s Imperial Valley. But Allman said Sempra’s preference is to acquire private land to avoid the years-long BLM permitting process. The company will consider a range of solar technologies, including solar thermal, for future solar projects.

The 48-megawatt deal announced Wednesday is contingent upon Sempra signing a power purchase agreement with a utility.

Read Full Post »

cstste_eldorado_13850021

photo: First Solar

The arid Southwest has no shortage of sun but has been rather slow to embrace Big Solar power plants, at least compared to California, where more than a half-dozen massive megawatt solar farms are being licensed.

That appears to be changing. On Tuesday, First Solar said it will give New Mexico its first big solar power plant, a 30 megawatt photovoltaic farm that will generate electricity from the company’s thin-film panels. Once the plant is built in Colfax County in northeastern New Mexico, First Solar will sell the electricity it generates to the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association under a 25-year power purchase agreement. Tri-State is an electric cooperative.

The deal continues First Solar’s (FSLR) move into the power plant business. Earlier this month, the Tempe, Ariz.-based company acquired OptiSolar’s 1.85 gigawatt project portfolio – including a 550-megawatt photovolatic power plant for California utility PG&E (PCG) – in a $400 million stock transaction.

First Solar has also signed contracts for smaller-scale solar farms with Southern California Edison (EIX) and Sempre (SRE).

Read Full Post »

topaz-solar-farm-app

In the green stimulus sweepstakes, big potential winners are companies like Silicon Valley startup OptiSolar.

The solar-cell maker came out of nowhere last year to score a deal with utility PG&E to build the world’s largest photovolaic power plant, a 550-megawatt monster that would cover some 9 1/2 square miles on California’s central coast. OptiSolar subsequently began construction of a factory in Sacramento to produce the thousands of thin-film solar panels needed for the project. Then the economy tanked and as financing dried up, OptiSolar laid off half its workforce – some 300 employees – and halted construction of the Sacramento facility.

With a Colorado solar company executive joining President Barack Obama as he signed the $787 billion stimulus legislation into law Tuesday at a solar-powered museum in Denver, OptiSolar and other renewable energy companies stalled by the financial crisis may see their fortunes revive. The package allows builders of big renewable energy projects to apply for a government cash grant to cover 30% of construction costs in lieu of claiming a 30% investment tax credit. A dearth of investors who finance solar power plants and wind farms in exchange for the tax credits has put in jeopardy green energy projects planned for the desert Southwest and the Great Plains. The cash grant would shave about $300 million off the projected $1 billion price tag for OptiSolar’s Topaz Solar Farm.

The stimulus package also includes $2.3 billion to fund a 30% manufacturing tax credit for equipment used to make components for green energy projects, a provision OptiSolar can tap to help finance its solar cell factories. And the company may be able to take advantage of the legislation’s government loan guarantees for large renewable energy projects.

“It will lower the cost of the factory we’re building in Sacramento and make it easier to attract financing,” OptiSolar spokesman Alan Bernheimer told Green Wombat, noting the company’s priority is to complete the facility and begin production of solar panels. “The factory is more than shovel ready – our shovels are hanging on the wall where we put them when we had stop work in November.” (OptiSolar currently manufactures solar modules at its Hayward, Calif., plant.)

Fred Morse, senior adviser to Spanish solar energy giant Abengoa, says the stimulus package puts back on track a $1 billion, 280-megawatt solar thermal power plant the company will build outside Phoenix to produce electricity for utility Arizona Public Service. “With the stimulus bill we’re very confident we’ll be able to finance the project,” says Morse. He says Abengoa expects to use the government loan guarantees to obtain debt financing to fund construction of the project and then apply for the 30% cash refund. “I think the entire industry is very optimistic that these two aspects of the stimulus package, the grants and the temporary loan guarantees, should allow a lot of projects to be built.”

Mark McLanahan, senior vice president of corporate development for MMA Renewable Ventures, agrees. “I expect the government grants to attract new investors,” says McLanahan, whose San Francisco firm finances and owns commercial and utility-scale solar projects.

There are some strings attached, though.

To qualify for the cash grants, developers need to start shoveling dirt by Dec. 31, 2010. That means only a handful of big solar thermal power plants planned for California, for instance, are likely to make it through a complicated two-year licensing process in time to break ground by the deadline. One of those could be the first phase of BrightSource Energy’s 400-megawatt Ivanpah power plant on the California-Nevada border. But BrightSource’s biggest projects, part of a 1,300 megawatt deal signed with Southern California Edison (EIX) last week, won’t start coming online until 2013 at the earliest.

Another Big Solar project, Stirling Energy Systems’ 750-megawatt solar dish farm for San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE), will be racing to meet the 2010 deadline. The project is in the middle of a long environmental review by the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management which currently is scheduled to stretch into 2010.

SolarReserve CEO Terry Murphy says his Santa Monica-based startup has a couple of solar power plant projects in the works that should be able to take advantage of the stimulus provisions. “The likelihood of us being able to close on a financial deal has increased,” Murphy says.

Solar analyst Nathan Bullard of research firm New Energy Finance expects the stimulus package to prompt a push for large photovoltaic power projects. That’s because in California such solar farms – which essentially take rooftop solar panels and mount them in huge arrays on the ground – do not need approval from the California Energy Commission and can be built relatively quickly.

That’s good news for companies like thin-film solar cell maker First Solar (FSLR), which builds smaller scale photovoltaic power plants, and SunPower (SPWRA), which has a long-term contract with PG&E (PCG) for the electricity generated from a planned 250-megawatt PV solar farm to be built near OptiSolar’s project.

“It’s great for PV because you can definitely can get construction done by the end of 2010,” says Bullard. “It’s also good news for smaller and mid-sized developers who couldn’t access tax-equity financing.”

The catch, however, is that renewable energy companies still must raise money from investors in a credit-crunched market to cover construction costs, as the government doesn’t pay out the cash until 60 days after a solar power plant or wind farm goes online. And as McLanahan points out, the cost of raising capital from private equity investors is typically higher and will add to the cost of renewable energy projects. Those costs will only rise if the government is late in paying out refunds.

MMA Renewable finances large commercial arrays and solar power plants and then sells the electricity under long-term contracts to customers who host the solar systems. The loan guarantee provision of the stimulus legislation will help secure financing from investors skittish that some of MMA Renewable’s customers may default on their agreements, according to McLanahan.

Says Murphy: “The fact that we’re getting iron into the ground and getting things moving helps us.”

The wind industry also stands to gain from the stimulus package through a three-year extension of the production tax credit for generating renewable electricity as well as the government cash grants and manufacturing tax credit. Despite a record year for wind farm construction in 2008, projects have come to a standstill in recent months as the financial crisis froze development and forced the European-dominated industry to lay off workers.

“I think it’s good down payment on what needs to happen,” says Doug Pertz, CEO of Clipper Windpower, one of two U.S. wind turbine makers. “A lot more needs to be done but I think this will start to bring a lot of people back into the marketplace.”

Read Full Post »

In a move that will bring thin-film solar panels to the U.S. residential market, First Solar has signed a deal to provide installer SolarCity with 100 megawatts’ worth of solar arrays over the next five years. First Solar is also investing $25 million into SolarCity, the Silicon Valley startup backed by Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.

This is First Solar’s initial foray into the home market — and apparently the first of any thin-film solar module maker. Thin-film solar panels are made by depositing solar cells on sheets of glass or flexible material and use little of the expensive silicon that forms the heart of more bulky conventional solar modules. That makes thin-film panels cheaper, although they are less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. And thin is in for homeowners who prefer less-obtrusive panels on their roofs.

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive told Green Wombat that First Solar’s more economical panels will allow the company to expand to the East Coast and other areas that do not heavily subsidize solar. SolarCity installs solar panels at no cost to the homeowner and then leases them back for a monthly charge. “What matters is not efficiency but cost per kilowatt-hour,” Rive says, noting that solar programs like California’s reduce rebates to panel makers as the number of installations increase. “We need solutions that address declining subsidies.”

Added SolarCity communications director Jonathan  Bass: “When we talk to customers their four biggest priorities are cost, cost, cost and aesthetics.”

Beginning in early 2009, SolarCity will start receiving 20 megawatts’ worth of First Solar panels a year. Rive won’t disclose how many megawatts SolarCity currently installs annually, but 20 megawatts would seem to represent a significant expansion of the startup’s operations. Over the past two years, SolarCity has installed solar arrays for 2,500 homes and small businesses and a spokeswoman says the First Solar deal would supply enough panels for about 5,000 homes a year.

The deal also marks a move to diversify on the part of Tempe-Ariz.-based First Solar (FSLR)  — known as the Google (GOOG) of solar for its once-stratospheric stock price. The company, backed by Wal-Mart’s (WMT) Walton family, had primarily focused on the overseas commercial rooftop market. This year though First Solar has signed deals to build thin-film solar power plants for utilities like Southern California Edison (EIX) and Sempra (SRE).

First Solar on Wednesday reported that third quarter revenues rose 30% to $348.7 million from the second quarter and was up 119% from the year-ago quarter. Profit spiked 42% to $99.3 million from the second quarter and increased nearly 116% from a year ago.

Read Full Post »

Photos: Solyndra

SAN FRANCISCO – The chatter of the Financial District types who lunch at One Market is a bit deafening, so I’m sure I’ve misheard when Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet tells me how much funding his stealth solar startup has raised. “You said $60 million, right?” I ask.

“$600 million,” he replies.

That pile of cash from investors ranging from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to Richard Branson to the Walton family wasn’t the only big number Solyndra revealed to Green Wombat in anticipation of the solar panel manufacturer’s public debut Tuesday after operating undercover for more than three years. “We have $1.2 billion in orders under contract,” says Kelly Truman, the Fremont, Calif.-based company’s vice president for marketing and business development.

The stealth startup is a Silicon Valley archetype, along with the baby-faced Web 2.0 mogul and the millionaire stock-option secretary. But perhaps no company in recent memory has managed to hire more than 500 people and build a state-of-the-art thin-film solar factory – in plain view of one of the Valley’s busiest freeways – without attracting much attention beyond a few enterprising green business blogs.

Thin-film solar has been something of a Holy Grail in Silicon Valley, with high-profile startups like Nanosolar – with nearly $500 million in funding itself – all vying to be first to market with copper indium gallium selenide solar cells. CIGS cells can essentially be printed on flexible materials or glass without using expensive silicon. While such solar cells are less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, production costs are expected to be significantly lower than making traditional silicon-based modules. (Thin-film companies like First Solar (FSLR) – also backed by the Waltons – use an older technology.)

Yet Solyndra bursts onto the scene with a factory operating 24/7 and a billion-dollar book of business. The reason for Solyndra’s secrecy – and success with investors and customers – is sitting in a bazooka-sized cylinder propped up beside Truman at the restaurant. He pulls out a long, black glass tube that is darkened by a coating of solar cells.

The cylindrical shape is the key, according to CEO Gronet. Conventional rooftop solar panels must be tilted to absorb direct sunlight as they aren’t efficient at producing electricity from diffuse light. But the round Solyndra module collects sunlight from all angles, including rays reflected from rooftops. That allows the modules, 40 to a panel,  to sit flat and packed tightly together on commercial rooftops, maximizing the amount of space for power production.

“We can cover twice as much roofspace as conventional solar panels and they can be installed in one-third the time,” says Gronet, a boyish 46-year-old who holds a Stanford Ph.D. in semiconductor processing and was an 11-year veteran of chip equipment maker Applied Materials (AMAT) before he started Solyndra in May 2005.

And because air flows through the panels they stay cooler and don’t need to be attached to the roof to withstand strong winds. That means installers simply clip on mounting stands and then snap the panels together like Legos.

“For flat commercial rooftops this is game-changing technology,” said Manfred Bachler, chief technical officer at European solar installation giant Phoenix Solar, in a statement.

Solyndra’s target is the 30 billion square feet of flat roofspace found on big box stores and other buildings in the U.S., according to Navigant Consulting – a potential $650 billion solar market.  The emerging business model is for a solar developer to finance, install and operate a commercial solar array and then sell the electricity to the rooftop owner. Solyndra’s business is to supply the solar panels to the installers, a market crowded with competitors like SunPower (SPWRA) and Suntech (STP).

A good chunk of the $600 million the company has raised has gone toward building its 300,000-square-foot solar fab. A video Gronet and Truman played for me shows a highly automated factory, with robotic assembly lines and robot carts moving the solar modules through the production process.

The fab – which can produce 110 megawatts’ worth of solar cells a year – already is shipping panels to big customers like Solar Power in the U.S. and Germany’s Phoenix Solar – three-quarters of its $1.2 billion in orders are destined for European companies. Solyndra is in the process of obtaining permits for a second 420-megawatt fab in Fremont; upon its completion, Solyndra would become one of the biggest solar cell manufacturers in North America. (Gronet says a third fab will be built in Europe, Asia or the Middle East.)

That has helped Solyndra attract a long list of investors, from Silicon Valley VCs like CMEA and US Venture Partners to Madrone Capital – the Walton family’s (WMT) private equity fund – and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi company whose mission is to transform the oil-rich emirate into a green tech powerhouse. Another high-profile investor is Richard Branson’s Virgin Green Fund.

“We looked at 117 solar companies and have made two investments, including Solyndra,” says Anup Jacob, a partner at Virgin Green Fund and a Solyndra board member. “Dr. Chris Gronet and his team came out of Applied Materials and really took the best and brightest of Silicon Valley. They’re great scientists and operations people.”

Jacob told Green Wombat that Virgin hired Stanford scientists to evaluate Solyndra’s technology and engineering firms to vet its solar factory. “Because we’re late-stage investors, we were able to look at all their major competitors,” he says. “There’s a number of well-heeled solar companies that have said they are going to do a lot of things but haven’t delivered.”

Virgin concluded that Solyndra could make good on its promise to make solar competitive with traditional sources of electricity. “As a rooftop owner, all you care about is how much electricity you can get from your rooftop at the cheapest price possible,” he says.

One challenge, he adds, was keeping mum about Solyndra. “I gotta tell you that Richard Branson is a guy who loves to talk about what’s he’s doing and it was real effort to honor Solyndra’s wishes to keep quiet.”

Read Full Post »

The looming expiration of a crucial renewable energy investment tax credit doesn’t seem to have spooked investors. Silicon Valley thin-film solar startup Nanosolar said Wednesday that it has secured another $300 million in funding and is jumping into the Big Solar game as well.

Writing on the Nanosolar blog,  CEO Martin Roscheisen said that the latest financing round – the company’s funding now totals half a billion dollars –  comes from oldline utility AES (AES), French utility giant EDF and the Carlyle Group, among other investors. Nanosolar, which prints solar cells on flexible materials, will supply solar panels to the newly formed AES Solar, which will build medium-scale – up to 50 megawatts – photovoltaic power plants.

The Nanosolar news is just the latest of a spate of deals to take solar panels off rooftops and plant them on the ground to generate massive megawattage. Two weeks ago, thin-film solar startup Optisolar won a contract from utility PG&E (PCG) for a 550-megawatt PV solar power plant while SunPower (SPWR) will build a 250-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm for the utility. Leading  thin-film company First Solar (FSLR), meanwhile, has inked deals over the past few months to build smaller-scale PV power plants for Southern California Edison (EIX) and Sempre (SRE). And thin-film solar company Energy Conversion Devices is assembling a 12-megawatt array for a General Motors plant in Spain.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »