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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

KGO Radio Solar Project Update: SolFocus Installed!

Photo Credit: SolFocus, Inc.

Inspections expected later this week.

Last week, I noticed Stay Tuned! by Art Lebermann in the KGO Solar Blog chronicling the assembly and installation of the SolFocus, Inc., CPV (Concentrating PhotoVoltaic) solar arrays. Per SolFocus today, the inspections by the city of Fremont should be completed this week and then the solar arrays can go live.

Just after I posted the previous KGO Radio Solar Project Update: SolFocus install delayed on May 2, 2008, I added a comment with SolFocus clarifications to the post:

Nancy Hartsoch, SolFocus Vice President, Corporate Marketing, responded to my questions about the KGO Solar project earlier this week.

The KGO Solar project will use three (3) of the twelve (12) panel SolFocus CPV arrays rated at 2.46kW each for a total system capacity of 7.38kW. The 12 panel arrays will now use a new SolFocus/Inspira tracker and controller with the same fundamental design as SolFocus' 30 panel CPV arrays.

Ms. Hartsoch said:

"We hope to complete installation and have everything running for KGO prior to the end of the month."

The SolFocus installation appears to be running about three (3) weeks late. This seems reasonable to me for a new, evolving technology in a specialized application. The CPV arrays can be seen to the right as you drive on CA-84 west over the Dumbarton Bridge.

Now, if I could only get caught up with my own email Inbox.

Also, I want to thank SolFocus, PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), and Premier Power for responding to my inquiries about this project. But jeers to KGO Radio, owned by the Citadel Broadcasting Corporation (NYSE:CDL) radio group, for =never= responding to my requests for background information. Way to go for "the third largest radio group in the United States" including the ABC Radio Network business.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Powercom: More Polysilicon from Taiwan

Polysilicon intended to fuel solar cell subsidiary

Per this DIGITIMES article, Powercom to construct polysilicon fab in Taiwan (subscription may be required), by Nuying Huang and Esther Lam, Powercom Co., Ltd. (TPE:3043) plans to construct a polysilicon production facility in Yilan (County or City?), Taiwan. Powercom is best known as a leading provider of power protection products including uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).

Construction of Powercom’s polysilicon facility is supposed to begin soon with capacity added in eight phases. First phase capacity of 1500 MT (metric tons) is scheduled to ramp in the fourth quarter of 2009. The total capacity from all eight phases is slated to be about 12000 MT.


Industry sources indicated that the polysilicon fab will produce via the traditional Siemens method, with technology to be inherited from Germany and the US. Investors added in saying that Powercom will need to raise NT$6 billion (US$197.5 million) to fund the construction.

Polysilicon produced by the facility will be processed into ingots then wafers to feed the Powercom solar cell subsidiary, Top Green Energy Technologies, Inc. The upstream integration of polysilicon, ingots, and wafers complements existing Powercom solar cell, module, and inverter solutions showcased at the recent Intersolar 2008 trade fair.

Thanks to Craig Rubens at Earth2Tech for linking to my last post, SpectraWatt sources Wafers from PV Crystalox Solar, in the June 19, 2008, post of The Daily Sprout.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SpectraWatt sources Wafers from PV Crystalox Solar

Intel spins SpectraWatt outside!

Earlier this week, Intel Spins off Solar Energy Technology; Intel Capital Invests in SpectraWatt was the press mill news of the day. In a chat with SpectraWatt CEO Andrew Wilson, the Tech giant Intel joins IBM and Applied in big solar bet post by Neal Dikeman at the CNET Green Tech Blog or the Cleantech Blog foreshadowed the first silicon announcement:

According to Andrew, they have a significant supply of silicon secured, and while he cannot say who the vendors are, at least one of those vendors will likely be announcing soon, as the Spectrawatt contract is a material event for them.

Per the June 18, 2008, press release, PV Crystalox Solar Plc - New Contract:

PV Crystalox Solar plc is pleased to announce the signing of a contract with newly formed Intel spin-off SpectraWatt. The agreement relates to the supply of multicrystalline wafers with a total output of 125 MW during the period 2009 -2013 and is structured with predetermined prices and volumes.

PV Crystalox Solar PLC (LON:PVCS) claims to be the largest pure play producer of multicrystalline wafers in the world. PV Crystalox is in the process of constructing an 1,800 MT (Metric Ton) solar grade silicon production facility in Bitterfeld, Germany to complement their existing silicon sources and expects to start production in 2009 with about 900 MT per year ramping to 1,800 MT by 2011.

SpectraWatt will focus on the production of multicrystalline (and monocrystalline?) silicon solar cells for solar module manufacturers, and:

expects to break ground on its manufacturing and advanced technology development facility in Oregon in the second half of 2008 with first product shipments expected by mid-2009.

In the June 17, 2008, Hot Comment, “Solar Investments Further Validated”, Sr. Research Analyst Jesse Pichel and his Piper Jaffray & Co. Team said:

This factory is expected to have secured silicon supply to buy wafers to make 60MW in the first phase with future plans to expand into overseas markets with a targeted GW goal by 2012.

SpectraWatt had better have big plans to scale production. Renewable Energy Corporation ASA (OSL:REC) Invests NOK 13 billion in Singapore just announced expansion plans for their Singapore project Phase I that targets less than €1 per Watt-peak (Wp) silicon through module production costs and expands cumulative production to about 2.4 GWp (GigaWatt-peak) of wafers, 780 MWp (MegaWatt-peak) of cells, and 740 MWp of modules all by 2012. REC will decide on a Singapore Phase II expansion in 2009.

In the same Hot Comment, Mr. Pichel said:

Solon's stake in SpectraWatt is 16% and will be the majority customer of SpectraWatt near term.

If SpectraWatt has developed advanced technologies for high efficiency silicon solar cells, is it conceivable they will mount a challenge to SunPower’s efficiency leadership?

Thanks to Martin LaMonica, also at the CNET Green Tech Blog, for linking to my Stion post, Stion leaves Photovoltaic Patent Trail, in Green news harvest: 500-mile fuel cell car, Linux gets 'green flag'.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

ersol Solar and Bosch: Perfect together?

What is the fate of ersol Thin Film?

Way back on June 2, 2008, the Agreement between Ventizz and Bosch regarding sale of majority stake in ersol (Deutsch) or Bosch plans to acquire majority stake in ersol Solar Energy AG Activities in the photovoltaics field (Deutsch) announced the sale of Ventizz Capital Fund II LP, Wilmington, Delaware, USA, and its subsidiary Ventizz II Jersey Holding LP, Jersey, Channel Islands, 50.45% stake in ersol Solar Energy AG (FRA:ES6) to Robert Bosch GmbH, and Bosch’s plan to tender € 101.0 per share in cash for the outstanding shares. Please see this Financial Times article, “Bosch in €1.1bn solar power bid”, for the details.

Unlike the Ventizz Funds minority investment discussed in ersol Thin Film: solar (conflict?) at work, this press release discloses Dr. Helmut Vorndran had a dual role as:

Chairman of the Supervisory Board of ersol AG and Management Board spokesman of Ventizz Capital Partners Advisory AG, which has acted as a consultant to the fund for this transaction.

Is Ersol Solar Worth $1.67B?” asks Rachel Barron at Greentech Media.

Via the June 11, 2008, Industry Note, “Intersolar Field Trip Day 2; Ersol Meeting Confirms Positive Industry Trends”, Sr. Research Analyst Jesse Pichel and his Piper Jaffray & Co. Team:

learned that Bosch was not the only bidder for Ersol as several fortune 1000 companies have a longer term perspective of solar. Bosch valued Ersol's vertical integration, secure polysilicon supply contracts, and contractual base for significant expansion.

The Annual press conference and analyst conference presentation financial year results 2007 detailed ersol plans to expand silicon solar cell capacity from 180 MWp (MegaWatt-peak) in 2007 to 550MWp in 2012 fed by polysilicon sourced from Wacker Chemie AG, Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation, and the NITOL Group along with wafers from an unnamed Japanese manufacturer.

In addition, I suspect Bosch preferred ersol’s approach of not entering the systems business in their coverage of the solar value chain.

While Bosch hopes to extend its business in the area of renewable energies with the acquisition of ersol, I have to wonder if there is also a defensive aspect to this takeover. The Bosch Group is organized into three business sectors: Automotive Technology, Industrial Technology, and Consumer Goods and Building Technology. In 2007, Automotive Technology generated 61% or €28.4 billion of the Bosch Group’s €46.32 billion turnover. With Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) dominating auto industry news amid record oil prices, photovoltaics are sure to be welcome as options to extend the range or power auxiliary systems on electric vehicles. In the near term, high efficiency, monocrystalline, silicon solar cells are best suited to maximize power generation from the limited area available on automobiles. Although the primary reason for the Bosch takeover may be diversification, there are synergies with their existing business sectors.

For example, Sunways AG (FRA:SWW) partnered with Webasto Solar GmbH to produce solar sunroofs for cars using monocrystalline silicon solar cells. The solar sunroofs are used to power an interior car fan even when parked and is optional or standard equipment in select Audi, Lancia, Mercedes, and VW automobiles. Alas, Sunways may not have had the secured production scale to attract Bosch’s favor, and the Sunways inverter and MHH Solartechnik system businesses may not have been seen as complementary.

And what of ersol Thin Film GmbH? I got a quick confirmation from ersol Investor Relations that the sale of the Ventizz stake includes their minority investment in ersol Thin Film per ersol paves the way for growth for its Thin Film unit. ersol Thin Film plans to increase production capacity to 100 MWp in 2009 and 200 MWp in 2011 depending on the successful joint development of micromorph tandem thin film production technology with SCHOTT Solar (please see ersol Thin Film and SCHOTT Solar forge alliance for the joint development of micromorphous thin-film technology).

In the same Industry Note cited above, Mr. Pichel said the following about ersol Thin Film:

  • Ersol remains the leading Oerlikon customer in thin-film and believes it has solved big technical challenges and expects TUV certification in a few weeks on its 85 watt panels at ~6% efficiency, tandem structure is in development.
  • The company anticipates thin film cost/watt to remain below that of polycrystalline offset by lower ASP.
  • Material (TCO coated glass) remains the biggest cost component followed by depreciation and labor. The company can save on glass by coating in house.
  • Capex ranges from Euro 2.0/watt for 6% efficiency to Euro 2.3 - 2.5/watt for 8 – 9% efficiency.
  • Ersol believes that the price of its thin film panels can remain Euro 0.50 below that of crystalline's cost curve long term thanks to scale, efficiency, throughput, and other cost saving factors.

The ersol Thin Film Nova®-T 80 amorphous silicon (a-Si) module datasheet appears to have been released back in April 2008. I have been requesting this datasheet since the post, Oerlikon solar at work: Intersolar 2007! I calculated the implied Nova-T series efficiencies as shown in the following table:

70 75 80 85
Efficiency 4.90% 5.24% 5.59% 5.94%

These a-Si modules binned out 5 Wp (Watt-peak) less than expected, and the efficiencies are about half those of equivalent wattage First Solar production modules. A limitation notes “Transformerless inverters are not permitted.” By coincidence, Sunways claimed to have solved the issue earlier this year in “Transformerless inverters can now also be combined with thin-film modules.”

Despite the above limitations, ersol Thin Film signs module supply contract with Ralos Vertriebs GmbH (Deutsch) was the recent news of a 40 MWp supply contract for Nova-T modules delivered from 2008 to 2010 with Ralos Vertriebs GmbH.

Mr. Pichel also said:

We believe pending Bosch acquisition of Ersol may signal beginning of industry consolidation.

Perhaps this deal =is= a prelude to increased merger and acquisition activity in the photovoltaic space, but this deal does not result in significant photovoltaic consolidation just because Bosch has an existing investment matched by BASF Venture Capital GmbH in the organic thin film photovoltaics start-up, Heliatek GmbH, per German government and industry boost new technology, Using thin films to generate inexpensive solar power.

In the ersol version of the Bosch deal press release (Deutsch), Dr. Claus Beneking, CEO of ersol Solar Energy AG, announced plans to retire from the Management Board of ersol AG for personal reasons in the next few months and just before ersol's workforce passes the thousand mark (Deutsch). Dr. Beneking “will remain closely associated with the company and continue to be available for some years as a consultant.” This may have provided additional motivation for a takeover deal that Q-Cells AG or SolarWorld AG, for example, are too busy executing on 1 GWp (GigaWatt-peak) plus photovoltaic visions to even consider.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Concentrix Concentrator PhotoVoltaic System achieves 23% Efficiency

From sunlight to AC (Alternating Current)

On June 6, 2008, Concentrix Solar GmbH announced in 23% Solar Electricity Production fed into utility grid (Deutsch) their CPV (Concentrator PhotoVoltaic) system based on FLATCON technology had:

During the measurement period in May 2008, AC system efficiencies of 23% and higher were measured under normal operating conditions for a demonstration system located at the test site of the new partner Abengoa Solar in Seville, Spain.

The 23% or better AC efficiency reflects the actual electricity fed into the grid after sunlight is first converted into DC (Direct Current) by the photovoltaic modules and then into AC by the inverter under actual field conditions.

Concentrix claims this optimized 5.6 kWp (kilowatt-peak) CPV system includes a “new generation of improved concentrator PV modules” and mentions the inverter is also important to achieve the record efficiency. Data regarding these improved concentrator PV modules was first presented by Dr. Andreas Bett at PVSC 33 (33rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference) in the paper, OUTDOOR EVALUATION OF FLATCON® MODULES AND SYSTEMS.

The optimized CPV system is supposed to be on sale in Spain this Fall 2008 from Concentrix Iberia, a joint venture company of Concentrix and Abengoa Solar (see Abengoa Solar and Concentrix Solar team up to create Concentrix Iberia). Along with Good Energies, Abengoa Solar participated in the cryptic, second Successful financing round completed and new cooperation partner for Concentrix for an undisclosed amount.

In an update to ISFOC First Phase 1.7 MegaWatt Installations Underway, Concentrix said:

Just a few weeks ago in the province Castilla-La Mancha, Concentrix successfully installed the first 100 kW system within the Spanish ISFOC project that is ready to be connected to the grid.

Concentrix is now constructing a 25 MW (MegaWatt) production line in Freiburg, Germany, and plans to start operations in Fall 2008, an apparent delay from the previous goal of “start up by mid-2008”.

In my first update since GUNTHER Portfolio Hiatus, my hip fracture has now healed, and I was cleared to walk again last Thursday. Let the real physical therapy begin! Alas, I will miss attending Intersolar 2008 this week, but I was sure I was not up to the task. I have also enjoyed attending the pre-Intersolar PV Industry Forum (2008), and CEO Hansjörg Lerchenmüller is one of the experts at the PV Industry Forum in Munich (Deutsch).

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Stion leaves Photovoltaic Patent Trail

Even Stion needs patents.

Stion Corporation has crawled back into the news this last week with two press releases:

Stion Hires Product Development Expert Robert Wieting as VP of R&D
Stion Hires Thin-Film Expert Steven Aragon as VP of Engineering

along with Stion Bulks Up With New Hires for Production Scale Up and Stealthy Stion to Raise Another Round both from Greentech Media.

Thus far, Stion has disclosed little about their “next-generation solar photovoltaic company developing high-efficiency thin-film modules using proprietary materials and device structures.”

Stion’s patent applications provide the only insight available into their thin film structures, material sets, and manufacturing processes per:

USPTO Patent Application Publication Number US 20080092953
Method and structure for thin film photovoltaic materials using bulk semiconductor materials

These WIPO and USPTO patent applications seem like early iterations of the patent above:


USPTO Patent Application Publication Number US 20070264488

Per the Abstract in the latest Stion patent application:

A photovoltaic device and related methods. The device has a structured material positioned between an electron collecting electrode and a hole collecting electrode. An electron transporting/hole blocking material is positioned between the electron collecting electrode and the structured material. In a specific embodiment, negatively charged carriers generated by optical absorption by the structured material are preferentially separated into the electron transporting/hole blocking material. In a specific embodiment, the structured material has an optical absorption coefficient of at least 103 cm-1 for light comprised of wavelengths within the range of about 400 nm to about 700 nm.

With regard to the material set, the patent application tips Group IV materials and metal oxides using a nanostructure:

According to the present invention, techniques related to photovoltaic materials are provided. More particularly, the present invention provides a method and structure for manufacture of photovoltaic materials using a thin film process including Group IV materials (e.g., silicon, germanium, silicon-germanium alloys) and metal oxides, such as copper oxide and the like. Merely by way of example, the present method and structure have been implemented using a nanostructure configuration, but it would be recognized that the invention may have other configurations such as bulk materials and the like.

The Stion patent application is long, complex, and details a number of alternative material structures as shown in this Picasa slideshow:

Each alternate material structure describes different possible combinations of materials and nanostructures as well as the corresponding nanostructured material fabrication process. The patent further illustrates methods for forming nanostructured materials using solution phase deposition (SPD), electrochemical deposition (ECD), solution phase growth (SPG), and vapor phase deposition (VPD).

For example, the nanocomposite nanostructured material in Figure 1 above is:

comprised of, e.g., nanoparticles, quantum dots, quantum wires, nano-columns, nanorods, nanotubes, quantum wells, nanoshells, nanobelts, nanoporous materials. In a specific embodiment, the device includes a substrate member 101. The substrate member includes an overlying surface region. In a specific embodiment, the substrate member can be an insulator, a conductor, or a semiconductor, including any combination of these and the like. In a specific embodiment, the insulator can be a glass, quartz, plastic, ceramic, or other type of homogeneous and/or composite and/or layered material. In a specific embodiment, the conductor can be a metal, a metal alloy, or any combination of these, and the like. Alternatively, the substrate member can be a semiconductor material, such as silicon, silicon-germanium alloys, Group III/V, or Group II/VI materials, and the like. Of course, there can be other variations, modifications, and alternatives.

I have to wonder if the complexity and attempted all encompassing nature of this patent application will create litigation issues for Stion in the future. Would multiple patent applications based on the alternate material structures or fabrication processes have been a safer, modular approach?

Prior Stion news
Stion announced plans to relocate from Menlo Park to a San Jose
location back in March 2008:
Solar startup Stion plans move to San Jose, remains stuck in stealth mode
Solar Company Stion to Relocate to South San Jose’s Industrial Park

Earlier speculation on Stion and quantum dots:
connecting the dots by
Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party Physics
Harnessing quantum dots for solar panels

Quantum-dot solar power

As the only photovoltaic investment of Khosla Ventures, Stion justifies further scrutiny. Vinod Khosla has panned photovoltaics as a non-scalable solution that won’t impact climate change! For example, please see “Solar photovoltaics under the gun”. I still remember Mr. Khosla bad mouthing photovoltaics during his keynote at Solar Power 2006.