Quickly catch up on the latest solar news in the solar industry…
Solar Module Price Fluctuations
Solar suppliers may be noticing recent pricing swings. Several events have led to price fluctuations in the solar supply market:
In mid-July, a series of flash explosions at a GCL Silicon polysilicon plant reportedly took down more than 10% of the global supply of polysilicon. Polysilicon is the base material for making mono- and poly-crystalline modules. This shortage was almost immediately followed by a 60% increase in the price of polysilicon.
Sourcing raw materials, specifically glass, has become a much longer process since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Glass shortages are resulting in higher prices and longer procurement windows for manufacturers.
These events are leading fluctuating pricing within the supply chain. Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables estimates that bifacial module pricing will stabilize by 2021.
26% Federal Tax Solar Credit – Act Now!
If you are considering adding a solar energy system to your commercial facility, do not let the market’s price fluctuations dissuade you from moving forward. There is a generous 26% U.S. federal Investment Tax Credit available for 2020 projects. In 2021, this credit steps down to 22%, eventually dropping to just 10% in 2022.
To be eligible for the 26% credit, construction must commence (i.e. physical work start) by Dec. 31, 2020, and the project must be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. There are options available to purchase now but not fully build the project until a later time. As a solar EPC firm, Melink Solar can help you navigate this process and determine what is in your company’s best interest — contact us today.
Solar Plant Growth
According to a survey of U.S. solar industry professionals, large solar plants have a longer operational life expectancy and are cheaper to run, citing the following:
Reductions in up-front expenses
Changes in capacity factors, financing costs, and tax rates
Improvements in project life
The assumed life of projects now averages 32.5 years, up from 21.5 years in 2007. This expanded lifeline comes with many benefits for solar plant owners. Read more on this topic.
Solar in the 2020 Election
In other solar news, the climate crisis is expected to be an important issue in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Most supportive renewable policy in the U.S. is coming at the state level, and many are advocating the need for support at the federal level. President Donald Trump has generally held an unfavorable view of supporting renewables. Presidential candidate Joe Biden supports a national plan to convert the U.S. to 100% clean energy by 2035. Read more about the candidates’ solar policy.
Solar Power World magazine’s Top Solar Contractors annual list includes Cincinnati-based solar installer.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cincinnati, Ohio — Although the COVID-19 pandemic is the immediate crisis, mitigating climate change is also an urgent issue. Solar installations are one way to help reduce greenhouse gases from fossil fuel-based power generation. Solar Power World has recognized the efforts of solar contractors across the United States in its 2020 Top Solar Contractors list, where local solar installer Melink Solar achieved a rank of 69 out of 407 companies.
The Top Solar Contractors list is developed each year by Solar Power World to honor the work of solar installers big and small. Solar firms in the utility, commercial and residential markets are ranked by number of kilowatts installed in the previous year. Companies are grouped and listed by specific service (developers, electrical subcontractors, EPCs, installation subcontractors, rooftop installers), markets and states.
“The Solar Power World team is so pleased to highlight more than 400 companies on the 2020 Top Solar Contractors list, especially during this unprecedented time,” said Kelsey Misbrener, senior editor of Solar Power World. “All contractors featured on the 2020 list reported strong 2019 installation numbers and are continuing to stand tall this year.”
This year’s collection of more than 400 Top Solar Contractors is facing obstacles that the industry has never seen before. The first quarter of 2020 was the country’s biggest ever capacity gain, with 3.6 GW of new solar capacity added. However, COVID-19 impacts slowed the market in Q2.
Melink Solar installed 27,266.8 kW (27.2 MW) of solar power in 2019. Since its founding, the company has installed more than 65 MW of solar, equivalent to 215,000 solar panels. Melink Solar is a commercial solar EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) firm offering turnkey solutions with projects across the U.S. The firm designs solar systems, procures all labor and supplies, constructs the solar array, monitors performance and provides remote and field troubleshooting assistance.
Solar Power World is the leading online and print resource for news and information regarding solar installation, development and technology. Since 2011, SPW has helped U.S. solar contractors — including installers, developers and EPCs in all markets — grow their businesses and do their jobs better.
If you are considering solar for your commercial building, an important concept to understand is net metering, whether it applies in your state, and how it works with your utility company.
What is Net Metering?
Net metering is a billing incentive that offers credits to the owner when a solar PV system produces more electricity than consumed. Any excess power generated through solar feeds back into the utility grid, thus qualifying the owner for a “credit” on his or her electric bill. Think of “debits” as energy used from the grid, or any electricity that solar power cannot cover during a given period.
How Does Net Metering Work?
Credits = Power produced by solar
Debits = Electricity consumed from the grid
The net of these two is how net metering functions, factoring in whether the owner is charged for grid usage, or owed credits for solar production.
Think of the daily variations of energy usage in the typical home. Assume that residents typically consume most of their electricity in the mornings and evenings, before and after work. If there is little or no solar production during the time when electricity is needed, energy will come from the grid. Hence, debits — or the costs one would otherwise see on the utility bill.
Solar energy systems usually hit peak production in the afternoon when sun exposure is maximized. So, what happens to all the solar generation during the day if the power is not used or needed? The excess solar power spins the meter backwards and sends energy to the grid. Hence, these credits serve to help offset your electricity bill.
Why is Net Metering Important?
Net metering ensures the owner is credited for those natural swings in daily production. Depending on your building’s energy usage and time of peak demand, net metering can help maximize the owner’s savings from solar power. Understanding net metering laws can help determine the ideal size of the PV system, after factoring in daily, weekly, monthly, or annual estimated energy usage.
If you are considering switching to solar, these net metering regulations should guide the solar company to design your system in the most cost-effective way. After evaluating your electricity usage, the solar provider should factor in net metering compensation to get the best return on your investment, depending on how much PV generation you prefer.
How Does Net Metering Compensation Work?
Forms of compensation will vary by state and utility company. Generally, the owner should be charged only for the net electricity used by the end of the month. In some instances, if more power is generated by solar than consumed over a month or year, the utility will roll over those credits to the next period. In other scenarios, the consumer will be compensated at the retail or wholesale rate at the end of a given cycle.
Consumers must elect to receive credits in a contract with their utility provider. Tariff sheets, or compensation rates, are provided by the utility and explain whether solar overproduction results in the following:
Monetary bill credits
kWh credits to offset future consumption from the grid
It is important to fully understand your state’s policies regarding net metering compensation. EnergySage explains how net metering rules can vary: “If you do generate more electricity than you use in a year, utilities in some states will let you carry credits over into future years, while others will reduce your credits.”
Do not let credits confuse you for cash payments, unless you live in a state that allows for that type of compensation. While you can stock up on credits to cover power you may need from the grid throughout the month or year, do not assume the utility companies will be sending a check covering the full retail rate.
Does Every State Have Net Metering?
While net metering is authorized in most states, there are different approaches to how they distribute credits, assign eligible technology, and handle capacity limits. The National Conference of State Legislatures expands on state-specific laws and advises one cannot make assumptions about compensation without digging into state rules. For example, “California credits excess generation to a customer’s next bill at retail rate. After a 12-month period, customers can choose whether to roll credits over indefinitely or receive a payment for credits at the wholesale rate. If no option is selected, credits are granted to the utility with no customer compensation.” In this case, the owner can opt in for credits at the end of the year, but it will be at the wholesale rate. Month to month, however, they receive credits at the retail rate.
Net metering policies were originally intended for areas with lower solar adoption. As more and more states become reliant on clean energy, we can expect some changes to occur. Regardless of your state or utility’s current policy, it’s important to understand how different factors can affect your long-term savings when installing solar panel systems.
Does Net Metering Eliminate Utility Bills?
A common misconception is that if you can attain Net Zero Energy for your building, you will not receive a utility bill. This is false, as the owner is still tied to the utility company in some capacity. If you are producing a lot of solar power, the building consumes the amount of electricity needed, and the remaining power shoots back onto the grid. Credits are accumulated through net metering and impact whether your utility bill is $0, or a lesser amount than in the past.
Sure, you may owe less to the utility, and the bill may look different depending on how much energy solar can offset. However, in most cases, solar will supply as much electricity as possible, and the remaining power is met by the grid.
How Does Net Demand Work?
The following chart shows a live example of how net metering works when savings occur with solar PV generation. These daily variations in current demand (debits), layered against solar PV power (credits), result in the building’s net demand.
The solar energy system at this site overproduces during the first two days since there is ample sunlight and little demand. The utility is crediting the owner’s account for that overproduction, which is then used to offset the bill when the system is under-producing.
Net metering occurs in the areas that display overproduction from solar. Excess electricity causes the meter to spin backwards. In these cases, solar generates more power than the actual usage. That excess power is sent back to the grid, while “credits” accumulate on the account.
Savings occur in every green area where solar produces power. For example, although the system is not overproducing during the last day, solar is still helping to offset part of the demand costs, or “debits.”
WEEKEND: On Saturday and Sunday, the building load is very low. Solar power is generated throughout the day with plenty of sun, which causes a lot of energy to be exported to the grid (accumulating credits). Credits are being used up at night while there is still some electricity load. MONDAY: The building energy load spikes, causing debits on the account. Solar generation doesn’t show a consistent curve since it’s cloudy outside. For the most part, the building is pulling power from the grid (at a reduced rate), and energy is exported for a small amount of time in the middle of the day. TUESDAY: A nice, sunny day. In the morning, the building starts pulling power from the grid as the energy load shoots up when workers arrive. Then, the load from the grid starts to slowly reduce as some of the electricity is produced by the solar array. Then, eventually, the building exports power back to the grid (accumulating credits), before the cycle reverses again. WEDNESDAY: No net-metering occurs because of the lack of sun. However, the load from the grid is reduced and savings still occur. The net of the debits and credits appears in the middle.
To invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy? A question often pondered by building owners, design engineers, investors, energy engineers, performance contractors, and anyone in between who has a say deciding how to invest money to make the strongest financial and environmental impacts. In an ideal scenario, one can invest in both efficiency and renewable energy.
Integrating Efficiency and Renewable Energy
When it comes to the materials we use in everyday life, we have all heard the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Well, there is a reason why reduction is mentioned first! It can be argued that the most sustainable energy source available is the energy that we never have to use.
Of course, there will always be energy used no matter how efficient a building is. But, in the energy spectrum, renewables reduce the cost for the electricity that must be used. Renewables also offer many other benefits, such as protection against fluctuating energy costs, incentives like federal tax credits, net metering, shaded parking lots… the list could keep going. And research confirms that investing in both energy efficiency options and renewable energy is a smart move. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) collaborated in a 2007 study, reporting that investments in both energy efficiency and renewable energy are essential for the United States to create a secure energy future.
Creating an Energy Synergy
Think about it like this… If a boxer has a great right hook but a poor defense, he may win some fights but could easily lose to an opponent with a solid defense and a timely counterpunch. Combining two strengths to be stronger overall is called synergy. That is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When energy efficiency and renewable energy are combined, they complement each other in a way that can maximize the total impact, both environmentally and economically. Consider this…
Right hook: An upgraded utility plan to reduce HVAC costs.
Left jab: Intelli-Hood®, Melink’s demand control kitchen ventilation system to further reduce HVAC costs.
And for the knock-out uppercut: A solar array made of super-efficient photovoltaic modules that meets the entire energy load of the building (taking into account the reduced energy usage from the previous energy efficiency measures).
And what’s even more of a win? By reducing the facility’s entire energy load, the upfront cost of the solar array is reduced. Plus, the quick payback as a result of the energy efficiency measures creates additional cashflow to help pay for a renewable energy source, like solar array (or even geothermal!).
Accounting for Energy Opponents
But what if? Let’s say that the uppercut was blocked in this scenario because, in many cases, the availability of renewable energy is limited due to geography and available space. For example, in the hills and valleys of Southern Ohio, wind energy is not going to be near as effective as compared to the plains of Northwest Texas.
Or, while solar performs well in Ohio, a building could have very limited space for an array. For the counterpunch here, one could implement new energy efficiency technologies and maximize efficiencies on existing equipment. Then, for the knockout, a smaller solar array like a parking canopy could still be very impactful.
The bottom line? There are many options at play when it comes to the powerful combo of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Together, this combo helps to reduce peak demand charges, which can be astronomically higher than off-peak charges. For example, if a new energy-efficient HVAC system is added to an office building, that building will still see high peak demand charges (although lower than before the upgrade) from the utility. However, capturing a renewable energy source, like wind or solar, can greatly reduce the impact of peak demand charges.
Winning the Fight on Climate Change
In summary, combining energy efficiency and renewable energy delivers the greatest environmental and economic benefits. Melink Corporation can help building owners, engineers, and designers with both energy efficiency and renewable solutions. We know this combination works from experience, too. With our own Zero Energy Building and another LEED Platinum building, Melink does not just talk the talk, we walk the walk.
Contact us today to protect your business from the volatile energy market, commit to sustainability, reduce utility costs, and fight climate change.
As devastating as COVID-19 has been, there’s a different lens from which we can view its effect on the world. How can businesses become more resilient? While it’s hard not to focus on just the next few months, it’s important to think about the kind of world we want to live in after this crisis ends.
One immutable constant is great leaders always want to prosper. Despite whatever challenges, they will continue to seek opportunities to grow their top and bottom lines. They will continue to build their brands and organizations for long term success.
Given you may be one of these leaders, there’s a growing secret across the U.S. and around the world. Solar power is slowly but surely becoming the way of the future – and businesses are primed to reap the benefits. If you sense shifting to clean energy is an intimidating undertaking, the following points should empower you more than anything.
Reasons to Consider Clean Energy
#1 Reduce Electricity Costs and Invest in Long-Term Savings
Using solar will lower the costs on your electric bill. Sure, the initial cost to install solar may be your biggest barrier. However, if you account for your average monthly electric bill cost, and budget for that expense on an annualized basis – after five, 10, 15, 20 years, the amount paid to the utility is a daunting reality that can be mitigated. Not to mention we should also factor in future rate increases over a 30-year period. The return on investment and savings over the lifespan of a solar panel system, depending on your energy consumption and the estimated production of the system, is a factor worth considering.
#2 Hedge Against Volatile Energy Costs
Purchasing solar can be much like investing in insurance. People pay for insurance because of the uncertainties of accident, injury, or death. Similarly, there are unknowns about the price of electricity through your utility and what it will cost down the road. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over the last decade, the average price of electricity has increased about 4.6%. However, over those ten years, the standard deviation of commercial electricity prices was 0.24%. This signifies the great variability of energy costs over the last decade. Instead of relying on the ever-changing lows and highs of electric power prices, you can create a more predictable budget by locking into your rate for solar. Investing in solar can help companies avoid rising energy costs, and the uncertainty that comes with depending on power from the grid.
#3 Boost Public Relations and Attract Talent
As more and more companies switch to clean energy solutions, they further enhance their brands. In an article by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, they indicate how practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reaps multiple benefits, such as engaged employees, loyal customers, and positive public attention. In fact, it’s a purchase driver for many. “In a Nielson survey, 66% of participants said they pay more for products and services from socially responsible companies.” People are simply targeting more businesses that strive for better Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) practices. It captures the interest of younger generations, brings talent, and drives morale within the workforce. Internally and externally, people are motivated by businesses that look out for the greater good.
#4 Improve Your Property Value
Think about buying and owning a house. There are various ways in which one can invest in its worth and longevity. Perhaps it’s an addition that makes the house more attractive. These investments should increase the value of your home or building when you go to sell it. People decide to stop renting because, well…it’s money down the drain. Like buying a house, when you purchase solar, you become an owner of your electric bills. Just like renovations maximize a home’s value, installing solar and producing your own energy appeals to buyers, employees, and consumers alike. An article from Money.com references a study provided by Zillow: “On average, solar panels raise a home’s value by 4.1% across the U.S. — that’s a boost of $9,274 on a $226,300 home.” Even more so with larger buildings, there’s always going to be operation costs that go into running a facility. Just like the importance of fixing leaks or fine-tuning plumbing, investing in solar relieves long-term expenses of running a commercial building. Thus, making solar pannels more valuable.
#5 Commit to Sustainability
There’s no way to avoid it. Helping the environment and leaving the Earth in better condition for future generations is a driving force for companies to consider clean energy. Businesses now have a duty to pay attention to CSR. In an article published by RE100, numerous companies are taking action — and explain why: • IKEA committed to “generate as much renewable energy as the total energy it consumes in its operations by 2020. And to consume 100% renewable electricity by 2025.” Why is that their goal? “(Our) investments into wind and solar energy generation contribute to the shift for low carbon economies. From a business perspective, this helps secure our future as we become energy independent,” says Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer. • AB InBev recognizes the “shift to renewables has potential to drive remarkable transformations in infrastructure, not only in the U.S. and Europe but also across emerging nations around the world. They “pledged to secure 100% of purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025,” says Brian Perkins, Global VP Budweiser. • Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Strategist, Rob Bernard, made a strong statement when asked why the company wanted to be 100% powered by renewables (achieved in 2014). He said, “We believe there is a clear and urgent need for society to address climate change, and we recognize that our responsibility begins with our own actions. We are working to consistently reduce our carbon footprint. We are committed to taking significant action to shape our energy future by developing clean, low-cost sources.”
Investing in solar is a commitment to cleaner air and a brighter future. It’s a commitment to not only maintain the health of our planet but to sustain the economy.
Is Clean Energy Worth the Investment?
Convinced yet? If not, compare solar power to other investments that may be in your portfolio.
The estimated Internal Rate of Return (IRR) – a metric to quantify the profitability of long-term capital projects – can be greater for solar systems than traditional equity investments in the stock market. Taking into consideration initial installation costs, scale of the project, and future electrical price estimates, IRR calculation over a 30-year period range between 10-13% for solar. This is in contrast to 7.4% for the S&P 500.
Of course, it’s important to assess the value of installation, or Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which quantifies the cost of the electricity produced over a solar system’s lifespan – usually up to 30 years. This metric helps directly compare what you would otherwise be paying for utility charges. Again, this is where locking in a predictable rate can be crucial. One can expect to significantly gain from an investment like solar because it provides a solution to fighting rising electrical prices. There’s no longer a need to depend on the utility’s energy costs.
If you’re a business owner or key decision maker in your company, these should be highly compelling reasons to consider clean energy for your facility footprint.
In uncertain times, it’s our responsibility to fool-proof our infrastructure and buildings. They need to withstand the social and economic costs of pandemics, global warming, and other unpredictable occurrences. Furthermore, there’s a need to think about the greater good of our decisions, their impacts, and what our world can become beyond the pandemic.
The growth of solar in the United States continues to be prohibited by tariffs placed on the industry in 2018. However, despite the tariffs, the commercial solar growth forecast is not all doom and gloom.
Tariffs and the Commercial Solar Industry
While tariffs may be prohibiting the overall solar industry from quickly growing in the U.S., the commercial sector is experiencing steady growth.
Wood Mackenzie reports costs for utility-scale solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC services like what Melink Solar offers) fell by more than 50% from 2013 to 2019 in the U.S. Moreover, Business Energy Investment Tax Credits (ITC), as well as state and federal financing programs, available for commercial projects can offset the tariffs’ impact.
Likewise, a business’
investment in solar can reduce its carbon footprint by 10% to 100%, lock in its
energy rate for the next 30 years, and support its long-term corporate social
The most well-known solar tariff is Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Section 201 composes a four-year program targeting imported solar crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules, These tariffs — starting at 30% and dropping by five percentage points each year through 2021 — were designed to boost U.S. manufacturing and to lock out unfair competition from foreign countries, primarily China.
Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 declares a 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminum. In turn, this increases the cost of solar racking, wiring, and ground mount posts.
Lastly, Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 taxes U.S.imports from China. In regard to solar, the tariffs target companies that manufacture products with semiconductors from China. This plays into solar inverters and modules.
The Tariffs’ Impact
the tariffs have slowed the flow of lower-cost product available to U.S. developers,
keeping the overall cost of solar projects cost-prohibitive to many, especially
in the residential sector. Consider the average homeowner: the higher cost of a
home solar project due to tariffs does not make the technology as easily
fact, according to energy research firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, solar modules imported
into the U.S. are 45% more expensive than those sold into Europe and Australia.
tariffs (and the resulting lost projects due to the cost of investment) equate
to 10.5 gigawatts in missed solar energy installations, according to the U.S.
Solar Industries Association, the leading solar trade association in the U.S.
The Future of U.S. Solar Tariffs
At this time, approximately 98% of solar panels and their components are manufactured outside the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service. In light of the tariffs, many solar manufacturers are circumventing the restrictions by cutting prices and moving production factories from China to Section 201-exempt countries such as Mexico and the Philippines.
Currently, the U.S. administration is conducting a midterm review of the tariffs. Experts suggest that a complete removal of the tariffs would result in a 30% drop in solar pricing, potentially creating an influx of large-scale solar projects for developers.
There are many barriers for property owners who are considering adding commercial solar capabilities to their buildings. Barriers may include installation cost, installation time, debt financing, and structural integrity of the roof. To help combat these obstacles, solar installation providers are trying to find the best ways to reduce hurdles and make commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) more appealing.
For instance, a few companies around the globe are rolling out re-deployable solar “pods,” modular systems that can be set up in a fraction of the time compared to traditional solar installs.
One such company is Scatec Solar, a Norwegian developer specializing in emerging markets. Scatec has designed a 200-kilowatt (kW) containerized solar PV system. Crews can install about one megawatt (MW) per week in this fashion. According to Scatec, the most cost-effective lease contract would have a power-purchase agreement period around 10 years. However, for higher rates, this could be shortened to as little as two years. Once the period is up, the panels can be removed and deployed elsewhere.
Another example involves the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which has announced funding for an Australian startup, Solpod. As part of their re-deployable solar strategy, Solpod will run a trial of re-deployable systems at 25 sites for a total of 2.5 MW. Additionally, Solpod’s racking system is fixed to the roof with an industrial-strength adhesive, eliminating the need to make rooftop penetrations or to install heavy ballast blocks on the roof.
Potentially, this design could sway a concerned building owner’s perspective, especially if the roof needs replaced in a few years or if they plan to move locations. Solpod’s product can even be chartered for a period to match a business’ lease, if renting their space.
So what does this mean for the future of solar? Simply put,
these modular, re-deployable solar systems could be a groundbreaking install
method for commercial properties everywhere.
Traditional solar modules are designed to capture as much light energy as possible on one side and convert that into electrical power, while any residual light is reflected away. A recent innovation in solar panel technology allows for light to pass through areas in the module and is re-captured on the back side for increased efficiency. These are known as bifacial solar panels. Many of these panels have a slim profile and limited framing dimensions to increase the surface area and collect as much energy as possible.
An ideal application for these new solar panels are on top of white membrane roofs, already designed to reflect light, to increase the efficiency of the total array. In a study conducted by a leading solar panel manufacturer, LONGi, panels were found to be 10-12% more efficient in baseline comparisons. Depending on the field application the efficiency gains can be as dramatic as 27% when combined with a tracking system to follow the path of the sun throughout the day.
A key benefit in analyzing the use case is the reduction in the overall array size, racking requirements, and balance of system components as more power can be produced per Sq/ft as compared to traditional systems. While these bifacial solar panels carry a slight cost premium today, this can typically be more than accounted for in efficiency gains and array size reductions. Additional applications could include building integrated solar installations and wall mounted solar to increase efficiencies with building reflective surfaces.
Melink Corporation is deploying bifacial solar panel technology at its new HQ2 building. This will help to further offset the buildings energy usage and drive to net-zero energy footprint. The modules will be part of an enhanced parking lot solar canopy that will include car charging stations for electric vehicles. In addition to our own building, several arrays that are currently in development by the Melink Solar team include bifacial module technology.
With innovations such as bifacial solar
panels, solar windows, and solar shingles, it is certainly an exciting time for
the industry. In today’s fast-paced market, it is important to adapt quickly to
consumer demands. These inventions have been made to tackle efficiency and
aesthetic concerns associated with traditional solar PV installs. For those who
don’t particularly care about the look of their solar system, efficiency is
everything. Bifacial modules collect light from the front and back of the panel
and can yield an additional 10% in electricity production compared to
monofacial modules with concrete or vegetation undercovers, and 30% with a more
reflective undercover. Despite our ability to capture both direct and reflected
sunlight, we are limited in the efficiency of our PV material used today.
The most widely used PV material is
crystalline silicon. Silicon cells utilize a p-n (positive-negative) junction
to drive the flow of electrons. Conventional solar cells only use one p-n
junction and have an efficiency limit known as the Shockley-Queisser limit. For
a single p-n junction in silicon this limit is 32%, which is impossible to
reach due to practical reasons such as reflection and light blockage from the
thin wires required to run across the cell surface. The limit comes from a
variety of factors including recombination of electron-hole pairs, spectrum
losses, and impedance matching. Silicon has a band gap of 1.1 eV, which is the
energy required to excite an electron into a free state so that it can move
through the material and contribute to electrical current. This means that any
photons from the sun with less energy than the band gap will not create a free
electron, including radio waves, microwaves, and most infrared photons. Any
photons with more energy than the band gap will create a free electron with
high energy but most of the energy will be lost through heat as the electron
moves through the cell. These spectrum losses account for a staggering 52%
reduction in the amount of sun energy that can be converted into electricity.
So, what can be done about the
confusingly inefficient, yet most widely used material for solar PV energy
production? There is hope, stemming from some of the most cutting-edge research
with semiconductors. There are various thin film solar cells such as cadmium
telluride (CdTe) or gallium arsenide (GaAs) that have proven their worth with
high efficiencies. CdTe gives silicon a run for its money on a cost/watt basis,
but cadmium is toxic, and telluride is not very abundant. There are also multijunction
cells that aim to tap into the portion of the spectrum that single junction
cells cannot by using layers of materials with varying band gaps. Quantum dot
solar cells have been getting a lot of attention as you can tune their band
gaps to certain levels to capture the desired spectrum. However, they still
lack in efficiency and need much more research to get where they need to be for
Perhaps one of the most promising
emerging solar PV materials is the perovskite solar cell. Perovskites are a
crystal comprised of an organic molecule, a metal, and a halogen. These are
found in nature, but a synthetic perovskite has been created with inorganic
atoms and an organic polymer. Contrary to silicon fabrication techniques, this
technology can be made at low temperatures and does not require a glass cover.
A pure perovskite cell now has an efficiency of 24% and a silicon-perovskite
cell has an efficiency of 28% compared with the 25% of a solely silicon cell.
While this is exciting news, there is a lot of work that needs done to make
these advanced solar cells commercially viable. As solar power generation
becomes more prevalent in our society, we need to continue to seek out better
ways of implementing it. With value deflation occurring in areas with an
abundance of solar, another install may not always be the solution. Value
deflation is not happening everywhere, but a few million dollars in advanced PV
research could eventually result in an enormous payback in our fight against
fossil fuel reliance.
Over the last five years, commercial Solar PV prices have dropped by 58%, making the renewable source of solar energy more accessible to the average consumer. And with recent news from China, we know solar module prices are about to plummet once again. Earlier this year, you might have heard about the recent tariff on solar modules and thought to yourself that now may not be a good time to invest in solar for your business, but that is simply not the case now. The Chinese government recently announced an abrupt withdrawal of support for their solar PV market, which will lead to installed capacity decreasing by 30-40% this year. China has halted approvals of new subsidized utility-scale solar plants and will limit the amount of smaller-scale distributed generation installed by shrinking subsidies it provides to solar generators.
The reduction in installed capacity is expected to be around 20 gigawatts. To put this into perspective the U.S. only installed 10.6 gigawatts of solar in 2017! This decision by the Chinese government is going to cause a huge global oversupply of modules. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has predicted this surplus in available modules will result in a 34% decline in multicrystalline solar module prices. This will likely completely counteract the 30% tariff implemented earlier this year and we are expecting to see the results of this in Q4 of 2018 and Q1 of 2019.
The Chinese government’s abrupt withdrawal of support for China’s solar PV industry is going to flood the global market with lower priced solar PV modules. If you want to take advantage of these ultra-low prices while there is more supply than demand, you will need to start your planning now. To receive trusted and certified assistance, contact us today for a free quote and financial analysis.
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