Monday, September 7, 2009

Dr. Robert Castellano on how to make solar a ‘hot’ sector again – 2

This is the concluding part of my conversation with Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president of The Information Network, based in New Tripoli, USA.

The question of adding new, additional solar capacity will always arise. Is t certain that no new additional capacity will be brought on board in 2009? Dr. Castellano said: "Actually I said 2010. Solar manufacturers are already losing money this year and the capacity utilization is 27.9 percent. Also, the days of inventory are currently 122, up from 71 days in 2008. If they continue to add new capacity, things will only worsen, exasperating the recession."

Lessons for India?
Turning our attention to India, which has lately been witnessing a lot of talks of building new capacity. According to Dr. Castellano, now is a good time to talk, as a plant will take at least a year to get into full production. By that time, prices should be stabilized and increase.

What then are the lessons to learn from all of this for the Indian solar PV industry?
He added: "What has to be weighed is the cost of making the solar panels in India versus buying the outside the country. It can take several years for a plant to be profitable. If the venture was established from money from India’s government through subsidies, it can lessen the impact of potential losses, while the plants ramp and selling prices move up to a level where production becomes profitable."

I hope this valuable piece of advice is noted by the existing players or those looking to entering the solar photovoltaics segment in India.

Bring down solar production cost per watt
Dr. Castellano had mentioned about First Solar bringing production costs down to $0.93 per watt. How many of the others are capable of matching or bettering this?

He said, for that matter, Oerlikon, expects that its lines will deliver a cost of $0.70 cents per watt by the end of 2010 and has achieved an initial conversion efficiency of 11 percent, which comes out to about 9.5 percent of stabilized efficiency.

How can manufacturers differentiate their solar products?
Another query has been, how should solar manufacturers differentiate their products and how can they do it cheaply?

Certainly, there are new avenues of manufacturing, such as CdTe from First Solar, CIGS from half a dozen manufacturers, multi-junction cells from companies such as Uni-Solar, and building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) from an increasing number of manufacturers, advised Dr. Castellano.

He said: "These technologies differentiate the companies’ products, but the proportion of wattage manufactured, while growing, is small compared to the majority of solar panels sold using traditional methods of production, i.e., a thin film on a glass substrate.

"Long life and low cost of ownership are of paramount importance if solar is to grow, particularly, if there is to be a large acceptance at the residential level. Manufacturing can introduce defects in solar cells that can result in low electron mobility (EM), electron traps and photo-degradation from UV light. These issues affect the efficiency and lifetime of solar cells and the importance of measuring electron mobility at the wafer and cell stage.

"The lifetime of minority carriers has been widely identified to be the key material parameter determining the conversion efficiency of pn-junctions in silicon solar cells. Defects in the crystal lattice reduce the charge carrier lifetime and thus limit the performance of the solar cells. Another major efficiency loss is due to impurities in the cell.

"These can be foreign atoms or molecules in the crystal lattice (including the dopant atoms), and provide sites where electrons and holes can recombine, thereby reducing the number of charged particles available to create an electrical current.

"Lehighton Electronics (Lehighton, PA) is an example of a company that has developed a variety of tools to test and measure solar wafers. One tool can measure sheet resistance and resistivity to see if there is any subsurface damage. Another system can measure minority carrier lifetimes, while a third model can find traps in solar wafers."

How to make solar hot (all over again!)?
Finally, isn't solar hot enough ? What would really make it hot (all over again)?

According to Dr Castellano, oil is now $70 a barrel [around August 23, 2009] and rising, which, to him suggests that people will start rethinking alternative energy. However, the second point about the credit market crunch remains. Who can get a loan to build a solar plant anyway? That will change once the recession is over.

He added: "Spain has not resumed its incentive program and will subsidize just 500 megawatts of solar projects this year, down sharply from 2,400 megawatts in 2008. Mainland China’s stimulus and now Taiwan’s incentives (we suspect money coming in from Mainland China) will counter the downturn in Spain and Germany.

"In the past six months we have seen somewhat of a stabilization in the worldwide economies and the share prices of solar companies ramp in recent weeks.

The passage of stimulus bills around the world will provide a ray of hope for the industry. In the US, for example, the new Stimulus Bill of 2009 changes the rules on how investment tax credits are awarded, allowing companies that are building power plants to take 30 percent of the cost as a tax break in a project's first year. This could prove vital because, in the last quarter of 2008, 10 out of 14 tax-equity providers stopped doing business in the solar market."

On SolarPA
Unknown to many in this part of the world, Dr Castellano started SolarPA, a few months ago. Providing more details, he said: "SolarPA, a company I started a few months ago, has demonstrated increases in efficiency of polycrystalline and silicon solar cells by up to 10 percent using a proprietary nanomaterial coating. Increasing the efficiency by 10 percent will automatically increase a 50MW production line to 55MW, reducing material and labor costs.

"We are looking for funding and I have been in talks with solar material and equipment manufacturers to partner for further development. We have NDAs with Applied Materials, Air Products, and Baker Mallinkdrodt, and are expecting them from Oerlikon and Ferro. These companies would develop the technology and then our joint partnership would license it to the solar manufacturers.

"Another possibility is to get investor money to develop the technology in-house, eliminating the need for the middlemen above. 1366 Technologies, for example, is developing a technology that it claims can boost multicrystalline silicon cells from 16 percent efficiency to 18 percent efficiency, thereby reducing their cost per watt, by giving the solar cells a rougher texture. The startup raised $12.4 million in 2008.

"Xerocoat developed a coating strategy that increases efficiency by 4 percent on not only a multicrystalline silicon cell but thin film cells as well. The company received $3 million in DOE funding in 2009.

To be concluded

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