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EIA: U.S. solar output increases 47% in 2017

The latest monthly report from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency shows that PV output in the first nine months of 2017 grew 47% over the same period in 2016, with market growth across the nation. PV represented 1.9% of total generation during this period.

Latest USEIA report shows continued rapid growth of PV power generation, propelled by traditional markets like California, and new ones like Minnesota, with a community solar installation featured here.

Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association

The latest Electric Power Monthly by the U.S. Energy Information Agency shows solar PV continuing its impressive growth, generating 47% more electricity from January through September 2017 than the same time period in 2016. Every state in the U.S. increased its output from solar, from South Dakota, the only remaining state that did not generate more than 1,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) or one gigawatt-hour (GWh) in the nine month period, to perennial PV giant California.

California, with its 24,877,000 MWh, more than laps the field over next place Arizona, with 4,593,000 MWh. However, as PV output growth across the U.S. accelerates, the Golden State’s share of PV generation, shrank from 48% in 2016 to 43% in 2017. Rounding out the top 10 generators are North Carolina, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Utah and Colorado.

Of those top 10 states, Georgia had the highest year to year percentage growth, increasing 186% from 2016 to 2017, followed by Texas with 165% and Utah with 123%. Other states that made impressive percentage and quantity growth gains in the same time period are Minnesota, Idaho, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.

In market segment terms, utility scale growth was twice as high, increasing 58% from 2016 to 2017, as small scale at 29%. The residential sector increased by 32% year-over-year, while the smaller sectors, commercial and industrial each grew 23%. Overall, PV continues its climb of market share of total electricity generated, going from 1.3% from January through September 2016 to 1.9% in the same time period in 2017.


Some of the UK's trains could be running on solar power by 2020

If you live south of London, chances are your train journey could soon be powered by solar energy. Well, sort of.

New research by Imperial College and green energy charity 10:10, has found that solar energy could supply ten per cent of the power needed to fuel the UK's DC-powered rail routes.

The report argues that this can be achieved at a cheaper rate than if the network were fuelled by normal electricity supplies as solar would bypass the national grid and avoid subsidiary costs.

According to the Riding Sunbeams report, 15 per cent of the train networks across Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex could be powered by track-connected solar PV arrays.

On top of this, six per cent of the London Underground’s energy demand could also be supplied by solar-power. This is about half of the electricity used on the Piccadilly line. In the north of England, 20 per cent of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool could also be solar-powered. Rail networks closer to the equator could be completely supplied by solar PV arrays, the report explains.

"This study has concentrated on confirming that the power from a typical solar farm site could be matched with the patterns of train energy use," says Nathaniel Bottrell, an overseer of the project and a researcher at Imperial College. "The good news is that this is technically feasible and economically attractive."

By using direct current (DC) rail systems, the solar energy, which is also DC, would not need to be converted to and from alternating current (AC) systems, saving an estimated £4.5 million per year. "It just so happens that solar rays produce direct current (DC) electricity," says Leo Murray, director of 10:10. The railway needs 750 vaults of DC electricity, and solar comes in at between 600 and 800. "This is a very happy coincidence that solar energy produces the same type and same voltage the trains need," Murray says.

DC railway networks were some of the first to be built in the UK and have since been replaced with safer AC networks. In AC networks, the electricity cables are above the train rather than near the track, making them less dangerous. However, the compatibility of DC lines with solar rays means the study by Imperial College and 10:10 only focuses on DC traction networks for solar energy expansion.

"The fall in the cost of storage now make this proposal economically feasible," Bottrell says. Advances in storage technology mean that there is no energy waste from the solar rays. "There could be times when there is power available from the solar panels but no train close by to use it," adds Bottrell, as often the flow of energy has to be constant. This is solved by including a battery to store the energy and support the rail network during the evening or following the morning rush-hour.

"All of this equipment must be compatible with the railway systems, notably it must pass tests to prove it does not interfere with the things like the signalling system," says Bottrell. However, the report predicts these tests could be approved and effectively implemented in two to three years.

"There may not be a business case for implementing storage systems in the first place," Murray says. But installing storage systems down the network rail lines could be costly and will be something Network Rail needs to look into, he adds.

Phillip Thies, a senior lecturer of renewable energy at Exeter University agrees that business negotiations may prove the biggest complication for the idea. "The proposed method is to install them on land close to the power substations. This may have practical implications regarding availability of land and planning permits for large-scale solar arrays," he says. Nevertheless, he says the research provides a robust basis to explore potential investment in more detail.

However, in terms of vision, the UK may already be falling behind. India has the most ambitious target for implementing a solar-powered network, hoping to make 100 gigawatts of energy from solar PV generating capacity by 2022. "We have also seen news of something a bit similar in the Netherlands where the Dutch rail network is being powered by 100 per cent renewable energy," says Tim Green, director of the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London and lead on this project.

While the UK remains small-scale in vision, ultimately such proposals could be more significant for proving the economic advantages of solar. "It unlocks direct access to a major purchaser of energy in a way which enables subsidy-free solar energy to expand," Green says.


Armenia sees another finished solar PV plant

Armenia’s Minister of Energy Hayk Harutyunyan

Armenia’s Ministry of Energy Infrastructure and Natural Resources

Arpi Solar has completed work on a 1 MW solar PV plant in Armenia. While it designed the plant and carried out construction work, JinkoSolar, Staubli, Enerparc, Sungrow provided the necessary equipment.

An opening ceremony, attended by Prime Minister Mr Karen Karapetyan and Deputy Minister of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources, Mr Hayk Harutyunyan, among others, was held in the city of Talin last month.

“Talin-1 sets new standards in solar energy sphere in Armenia,” said Harutyunyan. “The engineering activities were delivered in 20 days, which is a very short period for implementation of such initiatives according to international standards and which also proves the competence of the project construction company.”

In December 2016, the Armenian Public Services regulation commission (PSRC) announced a special tariff regime for PVprojects ranging in size from 150 kW up to 1 MW. At the time, Harutyunyan said the tariff would be equal to those for wind energy, which is AMD 42.645 (US$0.09)/kWh without VAT.

By this October, the Ministry said a total of 11 licenses had been awarded for plants in this category. Construction on three had already begun by March 2017.


Scheme launched to power remote Amazon communities with solar

Spanish renewable energy developer Acciona’s Microenergy Foundation has launched a new scheme to power isolated communities in the Amazon region.

In its first stage, the scheme aims to provide solar PV systems to around 1000 households in the Peruvian basin of the Napo river.

So far, 61 home PV systems have been installed, providing electricity to 325 people in four settlements. This enables residents to use three electric lights and a 12 V charger for small appliances such as mobile phones, rechargeable flashlights or radios.

The eventual goal is to replicate the model in other river basins in the region that are not able to be grid-connected due to geographical isolation or the potential for negative environmental impact.

The Acciona Microenergy Foundation has begun expanding the project to an additional 350 households in the Napo river basin, in co-operation with the Technical University of Madrid's Innovation and Technology for Development Centre, the ICAI Engineers Foundation for Development and the Institute for Research in Technology at the School of Engineering (ICAI) of Comillas Pontifical University of Madrid.

The project is co-financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation.


PV increases efficiency of cultivatable land use by more than 60%, Fraunhofer ISE says

In the past year, Germany’s solar energy research center, Fraunhofer ISE has been testing Germany’s largest agro-photovoltaic system in the Demeter Heggelbach agricultural community, located on the shores of Lake Constance. The results obtained so far from the first harvests planted in the experimental plots are promising, according to the institute.

For instance, in the case of clover, the yield was only 5% lower compared to the reference plot. At between 18 and 19%, yield losses for potatoes, wheat and celery, were slighlty higher. Several years of testing are necessary in order to draw conclusions, said Fraunhofer.

Furthermore, losses in crop yield are offset by gains in the yield of electricity. The 194 kW system from the test facility could supply 62 homes of four people each, the researchers say. In the first 12 months, 1,266 kWh of solar energy per kW installed have been harvested, one third more than the average of 950 kWh per kW installed across Germany. Overall, the dual use of space increased the efficiency of land use by 60%, claimed the Fraunhofer ISE experts.

“The project results from the first year are a complete success: The agrophotovoltaic system proved suitable for the practice and costs as much as a small solar roof system. The crop production is sufficiently high and can be profitably sold on the market,” said Stephan Schindele, project manager of agrophotovoltaics at Fraunhofer ISE.

The project, dubbed “Agrophotovoltaic – Resource Efficient Land Use” (APV-Resola)”, has used solar modules that were installed on an area of one third hectare of arable land. The APV project will mean new sources of income for farmers.

Andreas Bett, director of the Fraunhofer ISE, emphasizes the potential of the APV with regard to a new space for the much-needed expansion of photovoltaic energy in Germany. “Until the technology is ready for the market, however, other sectors and sizes of plants should be tested and promoted for technical integration, for example in storage,” says Bett.

Expanding the space between the five meter high rows that form the 720 solar modules of bifacial glass, and thanks to the orientation towards the southwest, the researchers made sure that the crops received uniform solar radiation. The modules not only obtain solar energy in the front, but also use the reflected radiation in the back. In favorable ambient conditions, e.g. snow cover, they can increase the energy yield of the area by up to 25%. From an energy point of view, the dual use of arable land is more efficient than the pure cultivation of energy crops, which constitutes 18% of agricultural land in Germany.

In addition, about 40% of the solar electricity generated in the farming community was used directly to replenish the electric vehicle’s fuel and process the products. In the summer, the load was almost completely supplied by the photovoltaic system during the day. In the future, Demeter farmers want to further optimize consumption and use the energy generated to self-supply up to 70% with the help of an energy storage system.

The project “APV Resola” is for the first time testing in real conditions the economic, technical, social and environmental aspects of combining photovoltaics and agriculture. It is supported by funds from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Research for Sustainable Development (FONA).


An uncertain energy future

The government faces a renewable energy trilemma. It has set itself a target of quadrupling the generation capacity of solar energy by 2022 and shifting the production of new automotive vehicles from the internal combustion model to electric vehicles (EV) by 2030. In parallel, it wants the clean energy industry to develop within the framework of its “Make in India” agenda. Finally, it wants to reduce the country’s dependence on energy and energy-related imports.

The trilemma is that it cannot achieve all three of these objectives, as matters stand today. It can, conceivably, meet its solar energy and EV targets but only if it allows the industry to trawl the international market for the cheapest sources of polysilicon, photovoltaic (PV) modules and lithium-ion batteries to ensure competitiveness. PV panels account for 60 per cent of the cost of solar power and lithium-ion batteries 40 per cent of the costs of an EV. Currently, China dominates the market for all three products. On the other hand, it can promote its objectives of “Make in India” and energy self-reliance but only by imposing tariffs, and/or anti-dumping duties, on the imports of these products. The consequential impact will be higher costs and the uncompetitiveness of solar energy generation and EV production. This would deter consumers from shifting to these cleaner alternatives and the government may have to forego its generation targets. In short, the government can at best achieve only two of its three objectives.

The government has set itself the target of increasing the generation capacity of solar energy from the current approximately 15 GW to 100 GW by 2022. The breakdown of this target (as originally indicated) was 60 GW from utility scale solar power through solar farms greater than 1 MW and interconnected to the high-voltage transmission grid and 40 GW from distributed solar of less than 1 MW and connected to the low-voltage distribution grid. (It is hoped that another 3 GW will be generated “off grid”.) This target was, and is, an ambitious goal but the progress to date has been commendable.

The generation capacity of solar, at the time these goals were announced, was barely 2.5 GW. Today, there are 11.5 GW of capacity under construction and another 5.6 GW of tenders on the anvil pending auction. Had the government not set itself such a high bar, it would deserve commendation for this rate of growth. But not so against its own target. At this rate, it will not achieve its goal. It will have to pick up the pace but doing so will not be easy. For, the economic circumstances have tightened in recent months. The prices of PV modules have increased sharply (14 per cent in 2017 over 2016) because of a sharp increase in Chinese demand (China installed 45 GW of solar capacity in 2016/17, more than the aggregate of what it has installed over the past decade); the GST tax rate is higher than expected; and the bugbears of land acquisition, permitting and contract enforcement have yet to be satisfactorily resolved.

On electric vehicles, the government has set itself an even more audacious objective. It wants to replace all new cars with electric vehicles by 2030. Two cabinet ministers have gone public with this objective. The underlying purpose is to contain vehicular emissions. This is a laudable objective. But the actual target stretches credulity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated, for instance, that India would need to sell more than five times (that is, 10 million) the number of EVs that are currently on the road worldwide. Furthermore, and perhaps more relevant, this goal cannot be achieved without creating the enabling eco-system for the wave of associated investments, regulatory changes, innovative financing and partnerships that will be required to achieve the commensurate scale-up. Thus, for instance, the government would have to find the land for establishing the network of charging stations, align the charging protocols and standards, create the financial instruments for low-cost financing and credit guarantees and, if Tesla’s current experience offers any insight, it would have to bring on board the incumbent automobile manufacturers. Tesla is facing huge cost and time overruns because it did not have the experience to manage its supply chain effectively.

The above targets will be difficult to achieve even if the government does clear the domestic hurdles related to land acquisition, financing costs, conflicting regulatory standards and inconsistent policy. The task is further complicated by a dynamic that is specific to the solar and EV industry: The near monopoly of China over the production of the critical raw materials and components required for the growth of the solar and EV industry. Currently, China has approximately 50 per cent of the global market share of polysilicon; 80 per cent for PV modules and 55 per cent for lithium-ion battery cells (and based on existing investments already made, this will increase to 75 per cent by 2021). China invested hugely in these materials and components in anticipation of the growth of the renewables energy market and whilst today, a number of the Chinese companies that made this early investment are struggling to survive because prices have fallen more sharply than they expected, the cheapest source of supplies of these products is still out of China. The CIF price of Chinese materials landed in India is significantly cheaper than the prices offered by our domestic producers. One should also note that, given that the Chinese investments are “sunk” and that there is global “overcapacity” of polysilicon and PV modules, the economics of greenfield investment by our domestic industry makes, prima facie, no sense.

So what should we do? Our industry does not have the incentive to create indigenous capacity. And, if the government were to offer subsidies, tax credit and cheap financing, the policy would fly in the face of “good economics”. But in the absence of such incentives and the creation of a domestic industry for polysilicon, PV modules, and lithium-ion batteries, India would have to tie its “energy future” inextricably to the policies of China. Can it afford to do that?

This is not an easy trilemma to resolve. Choices will have to made, trade-offs considered. But as a first step, it should carry out a strategic and comparative value analysis of the three objectives and rank order them. Maybe one of them will have to be dropped.


The rising tide of floating renewables

From a wind farm off the coast of Scotland to a solar plant on a former coalmine in China, some recent record-breaking renewable energy schemes all share one common trait: they float.

As land becomes increasingly expensive and planning consent for large-scale projects is more difficult to acquire, both the number and size of floating renewables projects are on the rise worldwide – especially solar.

In the UK, the first fully-operational floating solar facility was completed in 2014, on a reservoir at Sheeplands farm in Berkshire. More recently, the largest floating energy farm in Europe powered up in 2016 on the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir, in Surrey, England. Boasting a 6.3MW capacity, its 23,000 panels of solar PV cover the equivalent of eight football pitches. Coming in at twice that size is the floating solar installation on the Yamakura Dam reservoir, in Japan which will deliver 13.7MW of power.

In 2017, however, the rule book was rewritten when China switched on what is now the world’s largest floating renewable energy plant. With a $45 million price tag, the giant installation of 120,000 solar panels covers an area equivalent to over 160 American football fields and generates enough energy to power 15,000 homes.

Setting new boundaries

In contrast, wind has only taken its first steps with the Scotland installation. This world first, known as Hywind Scotland has a 30MW capacity capable of powering up to 20,000 homes. Its five turbines were towed from Norway to around 15 miles off the coast of Scotland and tethered to the seabed at depths up to 129 meters.

Given that traditional fixed turbines operate typically in waters only up to 60 meters deep, the project illustrates perfectly the potential for floating technology, says Dominic Szanto, Director and Head of Offshore Wind, JLL Energy and Infrastructure.

“There are countries with water too deep for conventional offshore wind where floating technology provides significant advantages – such as off the coast of Japan, west coast of USA and the Mediterranean,” he adds.

Full of promise, the technology is still commercially unproven though says Steven Black, Director – Planning and Development, at JLL.

“The ocean environment brings with it engineering challenges – as has been evidenced by struggles with emerging wave-power technology. The potential, though, is fantastic and allows deeper and more distant coastal waters to be looked at as an option,” he explains.

“Floating technology, will open up new opportunities and could ease some of the challenges associated with existing sea bed-fixed development sites.”

Economics at play

The numbers are stacking up more and more for renewable energy. New technology can be expensive in the short-term, but necessary and cost-effective in the longer-term.

When it comes to wind energy, costs are moving downwards worldwide. “General trends in offshore wind have seen costs coming down quite dramatically, not least with economies of scale coming into play. It was the auctions in the Netherlands and Denmark that proved the real catalyst for falling rates,” says Szanto. “As a result, strike prices that might have been thought revolutionary not so long ago are now operating in the market.”

And these lower costs could act as a big plus point for future floating projects, he believes. “Falling costs for wind and solar already help offset extra charges associated with floating, which combined with the costs involved in acquiring land, makes the business case more feasible and attractive. In addition, there’s no fundamental reason why something that floats should be significantly more expensive, it is just a case of additional pump-priming costs.”

Yet design remains a challenge before floating installations become more widespread. For solar, floating projects may have greater PV efficiency thanks to the cooling effects of the water and marine environment yet they also need to withstand effects of humidity and maybe salt.

At present, there are a number of competing designs for bases or foundations of floating wind technologies and it remains to be seen which ones take off commercially.

A sea of possibility

For real estate, floating energy installations could help to meet the higher energy demands of modern living without taking up scarce land resources. “At very high level, the more you take technologies offshore, the less pressure there is on land use, particularly with demand for housing, urban density and greenbelt concerns,” Black says.

Storing the energy produced is another prime consideration to ensure that countries can meet drops in supply from intermittent sources and smaller grid-feed locations.

While government backing for renewables remains important for consumer and market confidence, the issues of energy use and decarbonisation remain priority topics within the property market. “There is an element of carrot-and-stick, as regulations tighten and occupiers such as RE100 corporates and brands commit to shrinking carbon footprints,” says Black.

“In times to come companies may see higher value in having their own supply via renewable sources. This rising demand will inevitably encourage floating solutions for supply, at least indirectly. Ultimately, in real estate, the full effects of the revolution in floating renewables truly will be felt worldwide when it has an effect on capital values.”


Debating solar-plus-storage viability in Southeast Asia - SORSEA

The opening day of Solar and Off-Grid Renewables Southeast Asia event in Bangkok. Credit: Solar Media

For the most part, it will take some years for solar-plus-storage in the ASEAN region to become economically viable on a large scale, but panellists at the opening day of Solar and Off-Grid Renewables Southeast Asia event in Bangkok, have warned that investors who come on board quickest are going to gain a huge advantage.

The ‘ASEAN Storage Market Potential’ session saw panellists disagree strongly over whether solar-plus-storage had already become an economically viable solution, with some claiming it had already reached grid parity with conventional power generation.

Leandro Leviste, CEO, Solar Philippines, said there was a need for more “daring” developers to enter Southeast Asia and take risks to allow for solar and storage to take on coal-fired power through the unregulated market. This echoed comments back in October about how Leviste's company had commissioned a large-scale solar project in the Philippines without receiving approval from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), achieving a sub-6 US cents per unit tariff by taking merchant risk.

However, not all developers are able to take these risks from either a PV or solar-plus-storage perspective.

Edward Douglas, partner at Southeast Asia renewables-focused firm, Armstrong Asset management, said that putting together a commercial solution for PV and storage had been a challenge. He also noted that there is a lack of system integrators in the region and the storage technology providers were not interested in the smaller markets so far.

He added: “You've got this situation where, commercially, from a financing standpoint, the battery guys won't want the work of the system integrator and vice versa.”

However, he also said the potential for solar-plus-storage is enormous, adding: “Investors aren’t waking up to it really yet; they are beginning to, but the execution of that idea or potential into real projects isn’t happening quickly enough and I think investors who manage to put their pieces in place quickest are going to gain a very significant advantage, because the cost curves like solar are moving much more quickly than most people anticipate.”

Patrick Jaeger, vice president of Conergy Group, a frontrunner in storage deployment, said there was still a lack of understanding of how storage and solar really work when connected to the grid. This was in spite of the large amount of theorising and risk modelling that has been undertaken already. Jaeger also said regulation is far behind the energy storage concepts and this “throws wrenches” into people’s economic models.

Whether storage and solar is commercially viable in the present day or in several years’ time, there was a generally optimistic outlook from the panel.

Franck Constant, CEO, Constant Energy, said that back in 2007, there were only three global markets where one could make money in solar PV: Germany, Italy, Spain. Looking ahead to 2017, he noted that today there are only three markets where energy storage can really make money: UK, Korea, Australia.

Noting the incredible rise of solar since 2007, Constant added: “We've seen this movie before and we know how it ends."

He also said: “There’s tremendous capability to drop the existing price of batteries and on the other side there’s tremendous potential for utilities and regulators to actually create regulatory conditions for battery payback.”

The panel also highlighted how in Southeast Asia, the value of this hybrid technology is not just about making commercial sense.

Leviste said many consumers would go for PV and storage not just because of savings, but because of reliability, as brown outs are a fact of life for many people in the region.

Jaeger added: “If you look at the real cost of energy for most of the population in Southeast Asia, it's the energy that they don’t have, that’s the most expensive energy.”

Of course, the panel generally agreed that regulation in the region is not helpful to the cause at present, but the future emergence of the Electric Vehicle market was seen as a major driver for reducing battery costs. Leviste also said it was important to factor in the costs of new-build coal-fired power plant in five years’ time (the rough time it takes to build such a station) rather than present day costs of coal. Such modelling could make solar-and-storage economics more compelling right now, he said. However, some of the panel still said it would take several years before the hybrid technology really breaks through.

Leviste also noted that there needs to be more projects deployed to demonstrate the viability of batteries to investors and dispel any misconceptions.

Forecasting a future of massive deployment of solar-plus-storage in place of fossil fuel power stations, he added: “We are going to have a lot of stranded assets but investors are not reacting to that because they don't believe its going to happen, because they haven't seen enough projects and they want to see it before they believe it, so its important to have demonstrative projects.”


TNB wins 30MW solar project in Malaysia

The Project was won via a competitive bid process conducted by the EC. Credit: Tom Kenning

Malaysia utility Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) has received a Letter of Acceptance of Offer from the Energy Commission (EC) to develop a 45MW (30MWac) solar PV project at Bukit Selambau, Kedah, according to a filing on the website of exchange holding company Bursa Malaysia.

The Project was won via a competitive bid process conducted by the EC.

The Letter of Acceptance of Offer requires TNB to satisfy certain obligations, including completion of negotiations and execution of project documents prior to EC issuing the formal Letter of Award for the Project.

A representative of TNB attended the Solar and off-Grid Renewables Southeast Asia conference in Bangkok last week, and discussed how to be successful in Malaysia’s solar tenders.


Australia breaks record again for rooftop solar installs in November

Back in April this year Green Energy Markets noted that the rooftop solar sector was staging what looked to be a second boom for 2017.  Since then installation numbers each month continued at a solid pace but were still below the all time records set in mid 2012.

In October this year we managed to break 100MW of capacity installs, a major milestone but still below the June 2012 record (this is using the STC creation date as our measuring stick, see bottom for further explanation).

Then last month the industry managed to install 120MW, knocking off the record set in June 2012.

That 2012 record was fuelled by a rush by householders to get in before the Queensland government closed eligibility for its 44 cent premium feed-in tariff, and also before the federal government cut back the amount of STC rebate certificates it provided. After that point solar capacity installs trended down.

For much of 2016 solar installs were below 60MW and January of that year was truly awful at less than 45MW. One would never have imagined we’d soon be within reach of the levels the industry managed when feed-in tariffs and STC rebates were vastly higher than what they are now.

Source: Green Energy Markets Solar Report. Please note the capacity illustrated is based on the date at which STCs are created in the Clean Energy Regulator’s registry, which is slightly different to the date the system would have been installed.

Our April article explained a series of tailwinds that had supported the revival in the solar sales including:

  • Most importantly the large rise in wholesale power prices which has hit retail power bills, particularly for businesses;
  • Excitement around new battery storage products such as the Powerwall 2; and
  • Conservative politicians and the media’s poorly informed, pro fossil fuel commentary about threats to power reliability and prices from renewable energy – which only made people even more anxious to take power supply into their own hands through use of solar.

This was supported by the solar industry managing to make further cuts to the cost of solar systems. Those cost cuts allowed the industry to achieve strong sales even though government carbon abatement incentives were hit by:

  1. STC rebates being awarded for a year less of generation (down from 15 to 14 years);
  2. A mid year collapse in STC spot prices. For 2 years STCs had hovered between $39.70 and $40. Then between 22 May and 21 July they lost a quarter of their value to hit $30. A recovery only came in September and they have only just recently recovered to $38 a few days ago.

The cost cuts by the solar industry have also made solar a cost competitive alternative to business consumers, not just householders. So far this year commercial-sized systems represent 28 per cent of all capacity installed. Back in 2012 they made up just 3 per cent. This is notable because business customers will often face much lower energy-related charges that can be a third to a half lower than residential retail energy charges.

This record breaking year for solar PV illustrates that the technology is now delivering on its promise. Australian electricity consumers that buy power from the grid now face some of the highest electricity prices in the world, and also the most emission intensive. But if they buy it via a Solar PV system it is some of the lowest cost in the world and with no carbon emissions at all.

Government support programs for solar PV used to be a high cost way to reduce carbon pollution.  But thanks to the wonders of learning by doing effects they are now one of the most cost-effective.

Tristan Edis is Director – Analysis & Advisory with Green Energy Markets. Green Energy Markets assists clients make informed investment, trading and policy decisions in the areas of clean energy and carbon abatement. Follow on Twitter: @TristanEdis

Note: The data we report above on the amount of capacity installed is derived from the Clean Energy Regulator’s small-scale technology certificate (STCs) registry. This data on capacity installs per month is based upon the date that the STC was created in the registry. This is technically not the actual date that the solar system was installed, with the STC always created after the system is installed and often this will occur with a lag of a month or more after installation.  We use the STC creation date as a proxy for installation date rather than the installation date itself because the registry does not make available data on installation dates for systems associated with STCs. While the regulator does publish data on capacity by actual installation date this is only released periodically and with substantial lags. The use of creation date means our data on capacity installs will misalign by date with that published by the Australian Photovoltaic Institute which uses installation date.  


Switzerland¡¯s solar power production could reach 19 TWh by 2050

According to a new report published by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), a Swiss research centre for natural and engineering sciences, solar is the renewable energy source with the largest potential in Switzerland.

Much of this is due to the fact that the country’s large-scale hydropower plants, which have an electricity production of 32.7 TWh per year, are already largely exhausted . Solar PV currently reaches about 1.1 TWh of power generation. The PSI scientists, however, believe that it may reach between 5.5 and 16 TWh by 2035, and between 11 and 19 TWh by 2050.

For comparison, the Swiss researchers see a potential of just 1.4 to a maximum of 4.3 TWh in 2050 for wind energy, which currently has a share of only 0.1 TWg. The PSI scientists specified that they considered only rooftop PV systems for the investigation of Switzerland’s solar potential. “In contrast to other renewable energies, PV systems are more likely to be accepted, and potential exploitation seems more realistic,” they wrote.

The scientists also believe that PV will prevail ahead of wind in terms of costs. The electricity generation costs for small PV systems with a total output of 10 KW, equivalent to about 15 to 27 euro cents per kilowatt hour (0.18 to 0.31 francs), are still comparatively high (wind energy 11 to 18 euro cents per kWh, gas combined cycle power plants 9 to 11 euro cent, nuclear energy 4 to 11 euro cents, coal-fired power stations abroad 3 to 7 euro cent). The cost of electricity, however, would drop to 7 to 16 euro cents per kWh for small PV systems by 2050, thus almost reaching the price level of utility-scale wind turbines (8 to 13 euro cents per kWh).

For large PV systems with 1 MW of capacity or more, the development of costs looks even rosier, according to forecasts. Accordingly, the current cost of electricity will fall from 7 to 11 euro cents per kWh to 3 to 8 euro cents by 2050. This increases competitiveness compared to Switzerland’s dominant hydropower (6 to 26 euro cents) sector.


Egypt¡¯s first grid-connected solar PV plant goes live

Egypt’s first megawatt-scale solar PV plant is now up and running.

Commissioned in two phases during this year, the 20 MW plant in Toshka was built by Complete Energy Solutions, an EPC company specializing in turnkey solar solutions with operations based in Egypt and the UAE.

“The solar plant will add reliable power capacity to the grid in Toshka, which will support agricultural infrastructure development in this area,” said Yasser El Shazly, executive director of Complete Energy Solutions.

“The plant also utilizes green technologies helping to reduce CO2 emissions as well as the usage of conventional sources of energy, reducing the petro-chemical subsidies for Egypt.”

ABB supplied all electrical and automation for the plant, including the design and engineering works; PVS800-IS inverter stations; PVS800-MVP pad-mounted, medium-voltage (MV) solutions; string boxes and a SCADA system for controlling the plant.

“We are proud to have participated in this eminent project, which serves the country’s ambitious renewable energy plans, generates a positive environmental impact and makes the best use of its natural resources,” said Naji Jreijiri, managing director of ABB in Egypt, Central & North Africa.

The 20 MW project was built with eight PVS800-IS inverter stations with a 2000 kW rating. Each inverter station contains two PVS800 central inverters. The inverter stations are connected to PVS800-MVP medium-voltage pad mounted solutions, containing a MV transformer and ring main unit for the MV connection. 


India¡¯s Green Shift to Renewables: How Fast Is It Happening?

India is moving at a rapid pace to adopt a green shift in its power sector, across industry and in transport, aiming to reduce dependence on the black fossil fuelled energy economy, write Simran Talwar and John A. Mathews. But finance remains a problem: many banks are complacent in their lending to fossil fuel projects. Attempts in the international trade arena to curb India’s strategies of building green power industries using the tools of local content requirements have also had a negative impact, forcing Indian ministries to rethink their strategies – but not their goals. Courtesy the Global Green Shift blog by John A. Mathews.

It has been conventional wisdom that India is powering ahead with its industrialization in the same manner as earlier industrializing powers, and most recently in the footsteps of China as a leading producer of black, coal-fired electric power. It has been widely assumed that India would be the next major producer and consumer of coal and of coal-fired power, taking over where China has left off.

But just as China has surprised the world with the speed and scale of its shift from black to green power, so attention is now shifting to India as it shows every intention of following in China’s green footsteps. And like China, India has powerful reasons for doing so – from a means to curb the ever-worsening urban air pollution associated with burning fossil fuels, to the economic security that comes with having to import lower volumes of coal, gas and oil, and the enhancement of energy security that comes with becoming less reliant on geopolitical hotspots for fossil fuel supplies.

And of course there is the issue of building the manufacturing and export industries of tomorrow, where clean energy and circular economy technologies promise to become central to future economic prosperity.

In October 2017 the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris reviewed progress around the world in building renewable energy industries, finding China, India and the US to be the world’s foremost players. The IEA projects that solar power will be the world’s fastest growing renewable energy source over the next five years (until 2022), raising the global level of power sourced from renewables from 24% in 2017 to an anticipated 30% by 2022.

For all these reasons it makes sense to closely examine India’s green strategies, to assess the impact that they might be having. India is already celebrated for having adopted very ambitious clean energy targets by 2022, when it is anticipated that India will have installed 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of wind power, totaling 175 GW of clean power to be installed within the next five years. How realistic are these ambitious targets, and is there any evidence that India is on track to achieve them? To what extent can India be viewed as following the clean energy strategies that have powered change in recent years in China and Germany?

India’s electric power generation and the incipient green shift

India has been building a vast electric power system with heavy reliance on coal as primary fuel. New companies like Adani have emerged, with almost total focus on building coal-fired power stations and coal infrastructure. But in recent years there has been a marked shift to wind and solar power which have now together taken over as leading alternative to fossil fuels from hydro-power. Indeed, whereas in some countries like China and Germany the proportion of electric power generated from water, wind and sun (WWS) is rising, sometimes steeply, in India it is falling – largely because of declining hydropower generation. But there is a marked rise in the proportion of power generated from wind and sun – designated as Renewable Energy sources (REs) in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 reveals that India has reduced dependence on fossil fuels for electric capacity to less than 70%, with WWS sources now accounting for 31% of capacity. But it is solar and wind (main contributors to Renewable sources) that are increasing rapidly, reaching 17.4% in 2017. Details on solar and wind power additions are provided below.

There are two aspects to the discussion of any country’s green shift – and India is no exception. There is electric generating capacity (in billion watts, or gigawatts, GW), and there is generation of electric energy, measured in billion kilowatt-hours (billion kWh) or terawatt-hours (TWh). The totals are displayed in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1 demonstrates the contribution of fossil fuels and renewable sources to India’s electric power capacity. The total system is rated at 329 GW in early 2017 – with coal accounting for 194 GW (or 59%) and fossil fuels overall accounting for 220.6 GW (or 67%), while capacity utilizing WWS sources was rated at 101.9 GW (or 31% of the total).

But as in the case of China, it is important to look at the shift over the course of the past year. In the year 2016/17, thermal sources added just under 10 GW capacity, while solar and wind added 11.4 GW, plus hydro added 1.8 GW, making 13.2 GW for WWS sources. Thus, in terms of capacity added in the past year, which amounted to 24 GW, thermal sources accounted for 42% while WWS sources accounted for 55% (with nuclear and other minor sources making up the balance). So in terms of the leading edge, where new capacity is being added, already in India WWS sources outrank thermal sources by 55% to 42%.

The trends for electricity generation are shown in Table 2, where the green shift is less clear (because of differing energy capacity levels for the different sources).

Table 2 reveals that India’s annual electric power generation as at early 2017 is 1236 TWh (utility power generation, not counting captive power generation in industry), which has been growing rapidly as India industrializes: in just half a decade it has grown from 922 TWh, and in a decade, it has grown from 270 TWh, or by five times over the course of the past decade (an annual rate of growth of 5.7%).

This puts India in the industrializing ‘super-power’ league. The same Table reveals that in 2017 coal accounted for 944.9 TWh (or 76%) and thermal sources altogether for 993.9 TWh (or 80%), while renewables (mainly wind and solar) accounted for 81.9 TWh (6%). Adding in hydro (accounting for 122.2 TWh) means that WWS altogether accounted for 204.2 TWh, or 16.5% of electricity generated in 2017.

When month-by-month data is examined, the shift to green power generation becomes clearer. It was reported that in July this year, Indian power generators sourced 13.2% of power from wind and solar – as compared with just 6% over the whole year 2016-17.[1] This provides a sense of the pace of change in the green shift in the power sector in India.

So — coal constitutes the source of 76% of power generated and just under 60% of electric power capacity. India is still a black energy economy, but one that is greening rapidly at the margin.

The 2022 targets: 175 GW of clean power

India’s erstwhile five-year plans have now been replaced by rigorous three-year plans, overseen by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog). In 2015 new energy targets, taking the country up to the year 2022, were announced. An initial 100 GW solar target was proclaimed – a fivefold expansion of the existing target (announced as part of the J. Nehru National Solar Mission), which was itself considered very ambitious.

This was later complemented by a 60 GW target for wind power. With additional targets for 10 GW of biopower, and 5 GW of small hydro, the total targets for clean energy sources by 2022 are set at 175 GW, to be achieved over five years. This promises to be a huge expansion of renewable power in India, approaching 102 GW in 2017 (WWS), bringing it to a level comparable to Germany (104 GW), the USA (202 GW) although still trailing China (603 GW clean power, including hydro) – as shown in Fig. 2.

If we project India’s total power capacity to 2025 as being around 400 GW (allowing for economic growth but with energy expansion moderated by improvements in energy efficiency), then 175 GW in renewably sourced capacity (wind and solar) would represent 43% of total capacity. Adding around 40 GW sourced from hydro would mean capacity sourced from WWS of 215 GW – or more than 50% of India’s projected total capacity by that date. So, the tipping point where India can be expected to cross over from a predominantly black power system to a green system (in terms of capacity) is probably less than five years away. This is extremely good news for India (and bad news for coal exporters like Australia).

Within the 100 GW solar target, the Indian government has specified that 60 GW should come from large-scale (utility-scale) solar PV, and 40 GW from household/industrial rooftop solar. So, let us look at solar and wind developments in greater detail.

Solar targets

In April 2016 the Indian government specified yearly targets needed to achieve the solar target of 100 GW. These are specified as in Table 3.

The World Resources Institute has recently published charts showing how these appear to be realistic steps towards fulfilment of the targets. Figure 3 shows the case for solar.

Of the 100 GW solar target for 2022, 60% is expected to be fulfilled by large- and medium-scale grid-connected solar power projects, and the balance by solar PV rooftop installations. Over 34 solar parks have been approved in the first phase, with plans to double their power generation target to 40 GW. Solar parks enable all-round infrastructure development including land use, road network, water and other utility upgrades, and state-of-the-art power transmission facilities.

International investment to the tune of USD 500 million has already been committed to these projects by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in addition to interest from the European Investment Bank and Asian Development Bank. Rooftop solar has been slow to pick up and at the end of 2016 was 1 GW, with Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Punjab states in the lead.

India’s solar capacity is projected to reach 18.7 GW by the end of the year: 6% of the 303 GW global solar pie, and a growth rate of 89% over 2016. A 50% increase of 5.5 GW was recorded as of 31st March 2017; although, this increase was noteworthy, it did fail to meet the 12 GW annual target (Table 3). Rooftop installations, transmission infrastructure and finance availability need to be strengthened in order to continue the pace and surpass current growth.

While the former Power and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal was probably over-enthusiastic in claiming that India could achieve the 100 GW solar target by the end of 2017, nevertheless India is making significant progress towards this goal. The current level of solar power capacity is at 12 GW (tripling over the past three years), and the country is on track to install 20 GW for the full-year 2017.

It is the rapidly plunging costs of solar PV power that are driving the accelerated take-up. Public auctions of utility-scale solar have seen costs reduce from 4.3 rupees per kWh in January 2016 (itself a record) to 2.4 rupees (just a little over 3 US cents) in May 2017. This latter result means that solar is cheaper than coal – a world-historic milestone. Large-scale solar and wind are currently roughly equal in cost, and both are cheaper than coal and nuclear – according to investment bank Lazard’s.[2]

Wind power

India has had two successive record years in installing wind turbines, and promises to break new records in 2017/18. India added 3.4 GW of new wind power in fiscal 2016 and a further (record) 5.4 GW in 2017 – bringing India’s cumulative total to 32.3 GW, as shown below in Figure 4.  Mr Tulsi Tanti, the founder of Suzlon, India’s premier wind power company, has gone on the record to predict that India is likely to install a further 6 GW of new wind power capacity in fiscal 2018.[3] This is impressive – and exceeds the year-on-year addition needed for 2018 as calculated by WRI and shown in Figure 4.

The chart reveals that India’s installation of new wind power capacity in 2017 is already ahead of what would be needed to meet the 2022 target of 60 GW – meaning that the target is likely to be achieved sooner than projected. The latest guidelines for wind power project development and competitive tariff bidding in wind energy auctions have prompted keen interest. India has attained the status of the fourth largest installer of wind power in the world, after China, the United States and Germany.

Investment and FDI

Several leading power and technology firms are making large investments in India’s emerging renewable power sector. In mid-2015, the leaders of three of the largest tech firms in India, Taiwan and Japan announced their intention to build 20 GW of renewable solar power in India, with investments of USD 20 billion.

Japan’s Softbank for example, led by Japan’s leading technology entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, led the way, along with Taiwan’s Foxconn and India’s Bharti Enterprises. Since then, Son’s Softbank has already announced investment in a solar farm rated at 350 MW.[4] Mr Son went on the record in 2016 in committing Softbank to at least $10 billion in investments in renewables in India over the next 5-10 years.[5]

The World Bank has welcomed India’s national solar target of installing 100 GW of solar PV by 2022, and moved to provide unprecedented levels of lending to support this. Over $1 billion in loans have been committed, according to a statement from the World Bank in June 2016 – the largest investment in solar power from the World Bank in any country.[6]

After the acquisition of 1.1 GW of solar and wind energy assets from Welspun Energy in mid-2016, Tata Power, which owns cumulative solar/wind/hydro capacity of over 3 GW, announced the scale-up of renewable investments to the tune of USD 90 million. Immediate plans include the setup of large-scale solar power projects across six Indian states. Adani Green Energy, on the other hand, is seeking to raise USD 200 million to build a pipeline of over 2 GW solar projects. Aditya Birla and Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Group, Piramal Enterprises and Dutch pension fund asset manager APG Asset Management, Singapore sovereign fund GIC Pte Ltd, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Canadian pension fund Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) are other active players in India’s renewable landscape.

Some of India’s banks have been exposed in 2017 as being complacent in their approach to lending to fossil fuel projects, putting no less than USD 1.8 billion at risk in coal plants with an uncertain future.

A damning report from India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) issued in August 2017 found that this was the sum at risk after two financial institutions – the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) and the Power Finance Corporation (PFC) – have been making loans to fossil fuel projects with what the CAG described as having little or no prospect of ever being viable. Most of the projects which were designated by CAG as having defaulted or as deemed to be ‘non-performing’ were for major coal projects.[7] Clearly India has need for national guidelines in the greening of finance, as pioneered by China and the People’s Bank of China.

Manufacturing of renewables devices

India’s consumption of solar modules this year was around 4 GW, of which domestically manufactured modules contributed 30%, and the rest was fulfilled mainly by Chinese imports pegged to be 10-20% cheaper than domestic competition. Competitiveness of India’s solar equipment manufacturing industry, presently facing severe pressure from Chinese producers, is critical for the long-term attractiveness of the sector. Investment in domestic manufacturing across the entire value chain, right from polysilicon, is needed. With latest projections that incentives for the sector will be gradually removed, it remains to be seen how and when commercial viability will make India’s power sector a formidable global force.

Meanwhile in wind turbine manufacturing, India already has a world class producer in Suzlon, which because of financial difficulties has slipped out of the World Top Ten manufacturers but is still an active presence in the Indian market.

Suzlon is a global turbine manufacturer, and the most vertically integrated of any of the world’s top firms. It has a manufacturing hub in India and one in China associated with its JV there. Suzlon is integrating vertically downstream by investing in wind farms, such as the 1GW wind farm created by Suzlon at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. As noted above, the company founder Mr Tulsi Tanti predicts that India will add 6 GW of wind power capacity in 2017/18.

India’s reducing dependence on coal

India’s immediate challenge is to move away from the heavy dependence on coal; in 2016, coal constituted 60% of India’s energy mix. This is in stark contrast with the steep solar (100 GW) and wind (60 GW) targets it aims to achieve, and will warrant speedy transformation. Some progress is evident in the draft National Electricity Plan released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in December 2016, which states that no new coal capacity addition was foreseen at least until 2027.

The CEA’s plan is in line with India’s international commitments for 175 GW renewables uptake as well as 20-25% reduction in emissions intensity. Not only will rapid expansion of solar and wind energy infrastructure offer a lasting solution to the electrification needs of over 20 million rural households but also scale up the green energy shift.

Tax reform

A 5% tax rate, the lowest slab under the Goods and Services Tax (GST), is applicable on solar water heaters and systems, renewable energy devices and spare parts for their manufacture, bio-gas plant, solar power-based devices, solar power generating system, wind mills and wind operated electricity generator. Ambiguity remains on GST for solar equipment which includes diodes, transistors and similar semiconductor devices, photosensitive semiconductor devices including photo voltaic cells, light emitting diodes (LED) and mounted piezoelectric crystals. An earlier decision to apply 18% GST is being reconsidered by the GST Council.

Industrial strategy and trade policy

Following in China’s green footsteps, India has been pursuing an industrial policy designed to foster manufacturing of renewables devices, utilizing trade tools known as Local Content Requirements (LCRs). While such LCRs are widely agreed to be very effective in building new industries (and were used to great effect by China to build its wind power industry), nevertheless many industrialized countries have sought to restrain their use by industrializing countries.

This was the case with India’s LCRs in its National Solar Mission, which have been challenged by the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO), beginning in Feb 2013. India has defended its use of LCRs as effective tools of industry development and ones moreover that are required by India if it is to meet its international climate-related obligations.[8]

India has lost the case at the WTO, with an initial negative finding by an Appeal body in mid-2016 and, after India’s further appeal against this ruling, with India being placed on notice in October 2016 that it would be required to bring its trade policies into conformity with the general WTO provisions.  India has been forced to bow to this decision (on pain of being exposed to the ultimate sanction of being expelled from the WTO) and informed the WTO jointly with the US in October 2017 that it would bring its trade policies into WTO conformity by December 14, 2017. The notification reads:

We wish to inform you that, pursuant to Article 21.3(b) of the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (“DSU”)the United States and India have agreed that the reasonable period of time for India to implement the recommendations and rulings of the Dispute Settlement Body (“DSB”) in the dispute India – Certain Measures Relating to Solar Cells and Solar Modules (WT/DS456) shall be 14 months from the October 14, 2016, date of adoption of the DSB recommendations and rulings. Accordingly, the reasonable period of time expires on December 14, 2017. [9]

This is a clock that is now ticking over India’s strategies of fostering green industries. One of us (JAM) has argued in a paper published in 2017 in the journal Climate Policy that the Paris Agreement on national reductions in carbon emissions requires countries to foster new green industries as a means of meeting their emissions targets.[10]

The paper argues that this Agreement ratified under UN rules should be taken to provide countries like India with a legitimate defense in cases brought before the WTO. So far there has been no response – and India has been forced to abide by free trade rules that have nothing to do with national industry development strategies nor with climate change concerns. This is a live issue that is triggering ongoing international debate.[11]

Concluding remarks

India is already the world’s fourth largest producer and user of energy, and is now clearly on track to move rapidly from its dependence on coal and fossil fuels to newfound energy independence and shift to renewables, becoming a leader in the green energy sector. Great progress has been achieved by the outgoing Minister for Power and Renewable Energy in the Modi ministry (Piyush Goyal) but there is still much to be done by the incoming Minister, R.K. Singh.

India’s ambitious targets amounting to 175 GW by 2022 are driving investment into the energy sector, with industrial giants like Softbank, Bharti Industries and Tata Power leading the way. But finance remains a problem: many of India’s banks have been revealed as acting complacently, facilitating investments in fossil fuel systems that could result in major losses for shareholders.

The attempts in the trade arena to curb India’s strategies of building green power industries using the tools of local content requirements have also had a negative impact, forcing Indian ministries to rethink their strategies – but not their goals. While many commentators continue to refer to India as largely a coal-burning nation, this ignores the real efforts that India has made to reduce its coal dependence, and to build its energy security around a commitment to renewables.

By  and 


Remote Filipino university gets solar-plus-storage systems

Filipino firm Kennedy Renewable + Technology Corp has partnered with AC Energy to provide seven school campus buildings in the Island of Tawi-Tawi, south Philippines, with solar-plus-storage systems.

In this remote province, just 30% of the population has access to electricity, with most power sourced from diesel generators and often hit by blackouts.

Such rolling blackouts have negatively affected the Mindanao State University (MSU) in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, which is aiming to be a centre for excellence in the areas of fisheries, marine and maritime science and engineering, as well as oceanography.

Kennedy is the main developer, while AC Energy is offering technical and financial support. The two firms equipped the campuses with solar panels, hybrid inverters and batteries, providing not only 141kW capacity to the university but also energy storage capability to help the school deliver uninterrupted education despite the inefficiencies of the local power supply.

Dr. Philip Ella Juico, chairman of Kennedy Renewable + Technology Corp, said: “The successful launch of this project highlights the reality of conglomerates successfully working with small companies that labour under challenging circumstances to promote sustainable development. This installation is a living, although modest testament of how organizations like AC Energy and Kennedy Renewable + Technology Corp. solve real problems of power shortages that affect critical institutions in remote areas. Many more projects like this will help advance the cause of energy derived from sources that are replenished by nature.”

AC Energy’s president and CEO, Eric T. Francia, added: “Our company sees great value in not only providing electricity to far-flung regions of our country but also to critical institutions of growth like MSU.”

Panellists at the  Solar and Off-Grid Renewables Southeast Asia event in Bangkok this week debated whether solar-plus-storage applications had become economically viable on a grand scale in Southeast Asia.


Rooftop PV key driver of 2017 installation forecast hike in China

With at least 22 GW of combined solar PV capacity, rooftop solar PV uptake and solar projects built before they have secured quota stand out as the key drivers behind increased 2017 installation forecasts in China.

This year's solar additions in China were driven by rooftop solar PV and solar projects built before they have secured quota.


Having comfortably exceeded last year’s installation figure of 34.54 GW and left far behind its official 2020 solar PV target of 105 GW, as laid out in the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, China keeps exceeding expectations, prompting industry bodies to up their forecasts for the nation’s 2017 solar performance.

The latest in line to do so was Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which earlier this week raised its installment estimates for 2017, from over 45 GW to 51- 54 GW, as it reported a total of 43 GW of solar power additions in the first nine months of 2017.

“The main factors driving the estimates boost were rooftop solar PV uptake, which so far this year already reached around 15 GW, as well as the number of projects built before they have secured quota, the qualification to receive national subsidy, which at this point amount to at least 7 GW. These were the two biggest surprises,” Yvonne Liu, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) analyst in Beijing, told pv magazine.

Meanwhile, the Asia Europe Clean Energy Consultants (AECEA) upped its expectations of 40-45 GW to be installed in China before the year’s end voiced in August, to more than 50 GW in 2017, as it reported that the nation had added roughly 42 GW of solar PV up to the end of September.


Celsia makes pact with indigenous peoples over 100MW Colombia solar project

The firm also completed its first 900kW corporate PPA-style solar system for a research institute. Credit: Celsia

Celsia, the energy arm of Colombian conglomerate Grupo Argos, has moved forward with its development of a 100MW solar farm in Colombia by reaching an agreement with the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the Andes mountains.

The Valledupar farm, to be spread across 197 hectares in the village of La Mesa, will be able to generate 187GWh of electricity each year, to power the equivalent of 105,000 homes. It is now expected to start operations in the first half of 2019, with 367,500 modules installed.

Situated in the municipality of Valledupar, the project is within the ancestral boundary of the Koguis, Arhuacos, Wiwas and Kankuamo indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. As a result, the company has had to go through a four-month process of prior consultation with these four indigenous peoples to progress the project.

The two parties have now agreed that, in order to build the solar farm, Celsia will support the communities in their efforts to teach traditional knowledge, and will create ceremonial spaces along with sanitation of these sites via a territorial strengthening programme. Celsia will also install some solar systems on certain roofs in the indigenous habitations of Valledupar and Pueblo Bello. There will also be forest preservation plans to help conserve medicinal plants and protect soils.

Julián Cadavid, leader of Transmission and Distribution of Celsia, said the agreement showed it is possible for companies and communities to reach agreements in good faith. Furthermore, development can go hand in hand with respect for traditions, cultural differences and conservation of the environment. 

Celsia, through its subsidiary Epsa, plans 250MW of solar in Colombia and Central America in the medium term. It recently completed Colombia's first utility-scale plant of 10MW at Yumbo, Valle del Cauca.

Celsia completes 900kW plant at CIAT

Celsia has also now completed a 902.4kW solar PV system at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a major agricultural research centre.

The plant at Palmira, Valle del Cauca, will have 2,820 modules.

"With the development of this project, executed through Epsa, we are contributing to CIAT achieving a 12% reduction in the energy tariff, which will generate significant annual savings," said Luis Felipe Velez, Celsia's commercial leader.

Celsia has carried out the project through a build, own and operate model, where the customer simply buys electricity at a lower rate than from the grid.

Corporate PPAs of a similar model are catching on across the globe, with the US market already burgeoning and Southeast Asia expected to make huge strides in the next 3-5 years.


The future of combining EV with PV

The company claims it can charge six times faster than a standard Level 1 charger. Credit: SolarEdge.

The electrical vehicle (EV) market has been revving up around the world in the past few years. An increasing number of countries, such as the UK, are planning to move away from conventional gas and diesel-powered cars. At the same time, automotive manufacturers are diversifying their fleets by adding electric vehicles to the mix. To date, the electric vehicle and the PV energy markets have existed independently of each other, despite the fact that they significantly overlap both in terms of goals and target market. By combining EV charging with PV energy, both industries are able to benefit and can potentially hasten the adoption of each technology.

There are multiple motivating factors for going solar or transitioning to an electric vehicle, such as lowering ongoing energy costs, becoming more energy independent, and reducing the carbon footprint at both the individual and national level. By charging electric vehicles with solar energy, consumers and countries have a greater ability to fully achieve these goals. This is because transitioning only to an EV does not especially protect the environment, as fossil fuels are likely still burned to charge the car.

However, when EV is combined with PV energy, carbon footprints can be reduced in a more meaningful way. When cars can be charged using solar energy, it helps reduce the pressure from the grid, and can potentially accelerate charging time. With innovative technologies, such as "solar boost mode", it can take less time to charge an electric vehicle. In PV markets where increased self-consumption is the goal, charging an electric vehicle using solar energy is yet another way to help achieve energy independence.

EV becomes another tool that supports demand response so that consumers can adapt their power consumption to better match power supply.

At the installation phase, there are multiple benefits of combining solar energy with electric vehicles that can help the acceleration of both. With a traditional PV inverter and a separate EV charger, there is typically an additional installation cost, and other expenses such as extra wiring, conduit, breakers, and possibly an upgrade of the main electric panel.

However, all of these extra expenses can be reduced or even eliminated with the time and cost-efficient installation of inverter-integrated EV chargers, which require only one piece of hardware to be installed. This can help homeowners prepare for the future. So, even if a homeowner does not currently have an electric vehicle, an EV-ready PV system can be installed. This will allow a homeowner to easily upgrade a PV system to supply energy to an electric vehicle when needed.

The potential for combining EV and PV does not stop there. Once the two technologies are integrated, there are many interesting features and functions that can be offered. For instance, as both PV and EV batteries operate on DC, this could potentially change the landscape of EV charging. Another example is EV batteries may have a second life as storage for home energy backup. This could be supported by modular batteries that can be extracted and replaced for charging or offer home energy during peak times or blackouts. Another exciting function that EV batteries can offer when integrated with PV inverters is V2G (vehicle to grid) services, which means the EV battery could feed energy into the grid or throttle its charging rate as part of a demand response service.

This is particularly useful as smart inverters and distributed energy systems are beginning to replace the centralized grid. An interesting impact that this could have is shifting the standard high peak times. Yet, this is indeed just the beginning.

As the industries continue to integrate, it is expected that their growth and impact will increase. For instance, this could help commercial grade vehicles more quickly move to electric or stimulate the development of nationwide networks of DC charging stations. While in the first stage, combining EV and PV can offer homeowners more energy independence, these advancements on a national level could help countries increase their energy security. 


India-World Bank signs $100 million loan agreement for Solar Parks

India signs loan agreement with the World Bank for $100 million for large-scale solar power projects named as “Shared Infrastructure for Solar Parks Project”.

India Signs Loan Agreement with the World Bank for $100 Million for utility-scale Solar Parks.

Image: Meeco

India and the World Bank have signed a guarantee agreement of $98 million provided through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and Clean Technology Fund (CTF) loan and grant agreement for $2 million for the “Shared Infrastructure for Solar Parks Project” in India, on November 20, 2017.

Sameer Kumar Khare, Joint Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs on behalf of Government of India, and Hisham A. Abdo, Acting Country Director, World Bank India, has signed the agreement.

A loan agreement was also signed by K S Popli, Chairman and MD, India Renewable Energy Development Agency Ltd (IREDA) and Hisham A. Abdo, Acting Country Director, World Bank India.

The project consists of two components namely, first, shared infrastructure for Solar Parks (estimated total project cost of $98 million, including $75 million in IBRD loan and $23 million in CTF Loan) and second, $2 million technical assistance under CTF Grant.

The objective of the project is to increase solar generation capacity through establishment of large-scale parks in the country.

The project will help establish large-scale solar parks and support the government’s plan to install 100 GW of solar power out of a total renewable-energy target of 175 GW by 2022.


UN report shows China is becoming major PV technology stakeholder

The report describes how knowledge assets are shaping the current structure of the PV supply chain, and how China was able to catch up technologically by acquiring the necessary assets to enter at different stages of the value chain.

The solar module factory of Chinese company BYD in Brazil.


China became the world’s leader in PV-related patent filings in the period 2011-2015, with around 46 percent of the world’s first filings, according to the report “Intangible Capital in Global Value Chains” released by the United Nations.

The report reveals that China had the largest share in first filings for technologies related to each PV segment, and that it has the majority of these in the case of silicon, wafers and modules. The authors stress, however, that China has specialized more in filing for alternative solar cell technologies than crystalline ones, where the largest share still remains the preserve of the United States, Japan and Korea. “These figures,” the report highlights, “contrast with China’s current competitive advantage as regards crystalline PV cell production.”

More than half of the filings in the period 2000-2015 were for solar module technologies, while a third of them related to solar cell technologies, with wafers accounting for the remaining percentage. The peak year was 2011, with around 15,000 and 20,000 patent applications for cells and modules, respectively. The number of filings, however, decreased by 44% between 2011 and 2015. This drop was registered across all segments of the value chain, but was particularly pronounced for silicon, cells and production equipment. The decrease in filings (which was not recorded in China) was also due to the fact the number of applicants decreased, while the amount of patent applications filed per applicant increased.

“Many players,” the report says, “have exited the market and entry is becoming even more difficult. However, surviving firms are reacting by increasing their innovation efforts and filing more patents. In addition, these players are reacting to the industry shake-up by focusing their innovation efforts on the next generation of technologies. This suggests that IP-protected knowledge assets may become more valuable in this time of sectoral recomposition.”

Furthermore, the UN report stresses that China was able to close the technological gap over the past two years by acquiring the necessary knowledge assets to enter at different stages of the value chain. “There were two main channels for technology transfer to China: production equipment and skilled human capital,” the UN experts state.

The report further reveals that, in 2016, the world’s major PV equipment providers were headquartered in China, with the next most significant headquarter locations being the United States, Germany and Japan.

Yet, it stresses how brand protection is becoming increasingly crucial in the PV market, as a consequence of its vertiginous growth. The authors of the report, in fact, conclude that intellectual property protection of intangible assets was not a key factor in the success of Chinese solar companies, but it may become nevertheless “a key ingredient for commercial success in the coming decades.”


Rotating molecule discovery could bring higher efficiencies to perovskite PV

A team of researchers led by the University of Virginia in the USA has discovered that rotating molecules within a solar are one of the key mechanisms behind the high levels of conversion efficiency seen in perovskite solar cells. The discovery could allow scientists to select and design new materials capable of even more efficient PV generation.

Scientists working with hybrid organic/inorganic perovskite solar cells have discovered that positively charged molecules rotate within a solar cell, and that this movement has the effect of screening excited electrons from recombination, thus increasing the solar cell’s performance.

The team, led by researchers from the University of Virginia, discovered a mechanism whereby positively charged organic molecules (cations) rotate within a perovskite crystal, screening the excited charge carriers. The researchers describe this as the dominant mechanism behind the long carrier lifetime which is responsible for perovskite material’s strong performance as a solar cell.

A combination of neutron and x-ray diffraction, high-performance computing, and opto-electronic measurements was used to observe the effects. The research paper, Origin of long lifetime of band edge charge carriers in organic-inorganic lead iodide perovskites, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that the more freedom to rotate available to the cations, the longer the charge carrier lifetime of the material.

This discovery could allow scientists to further even higher efficiency perovskite materials, though as with all developments in this area, the prospect of stability and degradation remains a barrier.


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