R-Squared Energy Blog

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A Bright Story from the Solar Sector

It’s no secret that I think the best hope we have for transitioning to a post-petroleum economy is through solar power. I am optimistic that the thin film solar crowd – led by companies like First Solar and Nanosolar – will be able to deliver cost-effective solar power to the masses. I have also lately been looking at the possibility of a solar hot water heater, as I think these will be very good investments if energy prices continue to rise – especially given that there is a tax credit on these systems through 2008.

USA Today just published a new story that suggests that one solar firm (not a thin-film producer) will be able to deliver solar power for 7 cents a kilowatt hour by mid-2009:

Start-up: Affordable solar power possible in a year

I always take these claims with a grain of salt. I am hopeful, but also recognize that the majority of these sorts of promises generally fail to materialize. Nevertheless, it sounds promising:

SUNRGI’s “concentrated photovoltaic” system relies on lenses to magnify sunlight 2,000 times, letting it produce as much electricity as standard panels with a far smaller system. Craig Goodman, head of the National Energy Marketers Association, is expected to announce the breakthrough Tuesday.

Under its plans, which experts call promising but highly ambitious, SUNRGI would initially target utilities and large industrial and commercial customers. The company — founded by veterans of computer, digital design, aerospace and solar industries — would market to homes within three years.

Executives of the year-old company say they’ll start producing solar panels by mid-2009 that will generate electricity for about 7 cents a kilowatt hour, including installation. That’s roughly the price of cheap coal-fired electricity. “We’re bringing the cost of solar electricity down to be competitive with” fossil fuels, says Bob Block, a co-founder of SUNRGI.

Of course there are still barriers to transitioning to a solar economy. We need energy storage solutions, better batteries, and the price needs to continue to come down. But as I argued before, the future still looks to me to be solar.

April 30, 2008 Posted by | solar hot water heater, solar power, thin film solar | 46 Comments

Solar in Abu Dhabi (and Arnhem)

One of the consequences of higher oil prices is that a tremendous amount of cash is flowing into the Middle East and funding business ventures there. I see this a lot in my business dealings, as more and more ventures are being backed by Middle Eastern oil money. Here is a recent example:

Abu Dhabi’s solar venture

Abu Dhabi is not content to just sell you the oil that fuels your SUV; now its going to sell you sunshine to keep your lights on and power your electric car when the internal combustion engine goes the way of the buggy whip. Masdar, the oil-rich emirate’s $15 billion renewable energy venture, and Spanish technology company Sener on Wednesday announced a joint venture called Torresol Energy to build large-scale solar power plants in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States.

I think this trend will continue, as the cash-rich oil exporters will be able to fund loads of new business venture. I was speaking with someone about a deal there, and they said “We are only talking about $100 million.”

On the topic of solar, a factory is being built right next to our wood acetylation plant in Arnhem, where I am currently working. I asked a colleague one day what it was, and he said that it was a new thin film solar plant. Like me, he thought that was pretty ironic. I was told that the name of the company is Nuon, but there isn’t a whole lot of information out there on them. Here is a job listing that is apparently for that specific site (location given as Arnhem):

Research Scientist Reliability at Helianthos Solar Cells

Nuon Helianthos is a young, dynamic company that is developing roll-to-roll technology to produce flexible solar cells. Helianthos solar cells will be used in building integrated applications, feeding electricity into the grid directly. The aim of the company is to produce solar cells that enable generation of electricity at competitive kWh costs.

In the period ahead, the Helianthos team will focus on:

Optimization of pilot line production of solar cells, product development and test marketing

Further development of the roll to roll technology towards a full-scale production facility

Producing flexible solar cells requires a series of complex, high-tech process steps. All these steps may have an influence on the outdoor lifetime of our products. To establish this influence and to maximize product lifetime is a very challenging task, both scientifically and technologically.

I found a bit more on a Wikipedia page for Helianthos:

Helianthos is a program focused on the development of solar cell modules that can be manufactured via roll-to-roll processes on long foil substrates. Helianthos is run by a core group of industrial partners and is supported by universities, technology institutes, and other partners. Since 2006, Helianthos is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nuon, an energy company from the Netherlands.

Using this process, flexible photovoltaic (PV) laminates will be fabricated that can substantially reduce the per-kilowatt hour costs of solar electricity. Further, the resulting photovoltaic laminates are lightweight, unbreakable, aesthethic, and offer freedom of design.

PV laminates have the potential to be used for a range of applications, including:

– Large area roofing and other large area applications to generate electricity
– Rural electrification
– Industrial applications
– Consumer applications, e.g. solar cells for portable applications.

Maybe I can trade them some acetylated wood for some thin film solar. 🙂

March 13, 2008 Posted by | solar power, thin film solar | 36 Comments