How many states make economic sense for commercial energy storage right now?

VistaSolar Container Consulting Service

According to a recent report from GTM Research, The Economics of Commercial Energy Storage, which analyzed rate structures across 51 utilities to determine the opportunity for demand charge management for commercial energy storage customers, the economics were only attractive in about seven U.S. states. But that number is expected to grow to 19 by 2021.

U.S. commercial energy storage deployments grew fourteenfold between 2013 and 2015, making it the fastest-expanding segment of the U.S. energy storage market. While that growth rate is very high, it’s important to note that the commercial storage market is expanding from a small base. Adoption today is limited to a handful of states with local incentives and high retail electricity rates. However, as storage costs continue to decline, more markets will emerge as offering attractive economics.

The report models the internal rate of return (IRR) for 1-hour and 2-hour storage systems for both the small/medium-sized and large commercial customer segments. It found that demand-charge rates of at least $15 per kilowatt per month are necessary to achieve favorable economics for energy storage today. By 2021, commercial storage economics will be favorable for certain utility tariffs with demand charges as low as $11 per kilowatt per month.

Large commercial customers in 17 U.S. states will have an internal rate of return of 5 percent or higher, which GTM Research identifies as “in the money.” For small/medium-sized systems, 14 states will be economically attractive. Taken together, there will be 19 unique states primed for commercial storage adoption in 2021. Under GTM Research’s aggressive cost reduction case, storage costs are forecasted to fall 15 percent annually over the next five years. In this scenario, there could be as many as 26 states where commercial storage is economically attractive.

Energy storage can provide multiple benefits across the grid. However, most of the commercial storage deployed today is used to provide demand-charge-related bill savings.

“In this report, we wanted to provide an outlook for demand-charge-based economics of commercial storage, treating storage as a one-trick pony,” said Ravi Manghani, GTM Research’s director of energy storage and lead author of the report. “In reality, policy and market structures are evolving to help storage owners capitalize on other value streams as well. Effectively, this analysis should be viewed as the floor for commercial storage potential. The results establishing attractive economics in over a third of the states by 2021 is a promising sign for the future of commercial storage in the U.S.”

Head here for the full report.

— Solar Builder magazine

PV manufacturers investing $5 billion in capacity, tech upgrades

An obstacle in the way of massive solar growth around the world is having the capacity to meet the demand. The solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing sector is ready to meet this challenge as it looks to increase capital expenditure (capex) on new factories and technologies in 2016 by more than 60 percent, compared to 2012, when manufacturing capex fell to a six-year low.

Manufacturing-related investments are forecast to reach a five-year high of $5.3 billion in 2016, according to the new PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report from the market research division of Solar Media Ltd.

The growth in solar PV manufacturing capex is being driven mainly by two factors: the requirement to upgrade the productivity of existing solar cell production lines to increase solar module power ratings; and the need for Chinese suppliers to locate solar cell and module capacity outside China to fully capitalize on overseas end-market demand growth.

RELATED: How new solar module technology lifts efficiency, limits price 

“Capex from leading solar cell manufacturers in 2016 has strong contributions from factory expansions and technology upgrades, with much of this occurring across Southeast Asia,” said Finlay Colville, head of market intelligence at Solar Media Ltd. “Manufacturing in Southeast Asia allows Chinese-based module suppliers to ship product to the U.S. market, exempt from import tariffs.”

Capex during 2016 is forecast to be dominated by spending at the solar cell stage of the production value chain, at $2.1 billion, or 40 percent of overall manufacturing capex for the year. As the key driver in solar panel efficiencies and power ratings, solar cell capex is seeing increased activity from new and advanced technologies within cell production lines.

PV module capacity

Source: Solar Media Ltd. PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report, March 2016.

“Technology-based equipment spending by solar manufacturers was severely impacted between 2012 and 2014, when many of the leading companies reacted to falling end-market module pricing by diverting resources to cutting costs and reducing utilization rates in factories,” noted Colville. “With manufacturing margins returning to the 10-20 percent level, this has released capital to re-invest in technology improvements, while at the same time expanding overseas capacity.”

Approximately 25 percent of solar PV capex in 2016 is forecast to come from a select group of Asian manufacturers, comprised of Canadian Solar, Hanwha Q CELLS, JA Solar, JinkoSolar, and Trina Solar. Capex from these companies is also driven by increased annual module shipment targets, with Canadian Solar, JinkoSolar and Trina Solar emerging as the three largest module suppliers this year, each expected to ship about 6 gigawatts (GW) in 2016.

Technology-driven capex contributions in 2016 will also see additions from SunPower, First Solar, LG Electronics and Chinese-based LONGi Silicon Materials, with more than $1 billion in total.

“The leading candidate for technology upgrades across the dominant silicon solar cell stage of the value chain in 2016 is a process known as passivated emitter rear contact cell, or PERC,” added Colville. “PERC upgrades have the potential to add 10-20 watts in panel power ratings, and are being implemented by many of the Asian producers this year, with Hanwha Q CELLS emerging as the leading proponent for this new technology type.”


— Solar Builder magazine

Researchers improve efficiency of organic PV cells to 15 percent

organic PV solar cell

A patented breakthrough by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology improves the efficiency of organic photovoltaic cells by 50 percent, and could someday provide a huge boost its viability to become a major source of solar energy. The researchers recently published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Organic photovoltaic cells convert solar energy into electric power through organic molecules. One of their advantages over “traditional” solar cells made of silicon is that they can be mounted on lightweight, flexible, and easy-to-replace sheets, which can be spread on roofs and buildings like wallpaper, converting solar energy into electrical current. In the future, they could also be used to provide a cost-efficient and reliable source of electricity in isolated regions.

Despite the advantages of organic cells, their conversion potential to this point has not been fully utilized, according to lead researcher Professor Nir Tessler, of the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Wolfson Microelectronic Center and of the Sarah and Moshe Zisapel Nanoelectronics Center at the Technion.

“In our study, we found that the organic photovoltaic cell’s efficiency and electricity production are limited by structural aspects,” he explains. “We have proved that the limitations are related not to the material, but to the device structure. We have developed an addition to the existing systems, improving the efficiency of converting solar energy into electric current inside the cell from 10% (a level considered to be “high efficiency”) to 15% (the level at which industry experts say organic solar cells will be cost-effective), and adding 0.2 volts to the cell’s voltage.”

RELATED: Science nerds: New way of seeing electrons cool off discovered, has implications for solar cells 

The development is based on increasing the energy gap between the electrodes by changing their fixed position in the system. By doing so, the researchers were able to increase the voltage, leading to an increase in system power.

“This improvement is significant for the relevant industry, and it was achieved by focusing on structural changes in the device, versus developing new materials, a common approach by researchers in this field,” he continued. “It seems as if we have stretched the laws of physics with the aid of engineering.”

Tessler estimates that he and his team will complete the development of a prototype system within a year.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.

— Solar Builder magazine

Science nerds: New way of seeing electrons cool off discovered, has implications for solar cells

You care about solar technology, so it is possible you are a science nerd. This is OK to admit, and as one, you will find this interesting: Two University of California, Riverside, assistant professors of physics are among a team of researchers that have developed a new way of seeing electrons cool off in an extremely short time period.

electron cooling

In less than 30 femtosecond (30 quadrillionths of a second), high energy hot electrons in graphene bounce off one another as they cool and spread apart. A recently developed technique allows researchers to access and control this cooling process. Image credit: Image: Ella Marushchenko (Ella Maru studio)

The development could have applications in numerous places where heat management is important, including visual displays, next-generation solar cells and photodetectors for optical communications.

In visual displays, such as those used in cell phones and computer monitors, and photodetectors, which have a wide variety of applications including solar energy harvesting and fiber optic telecommunications, much of the energy of the electrons is wasted by heating the material. Controlling the flow of heat in the electrons, rather than wasting this energy by heating the material, could potentially increase the efficiency of such devices by converting excess energy into useful power.

The research is outlined in a paper, “Tuning ultrafast electron thermalization pathways in a van der Waals heterostructure,” published online Monday (Jan. 18) in the journal Nature Physics. Nathan Gabor and Joshua C.H. Lui, assistant professors of physics at UC Riverside, are among the co-authors.

In electronic materials, such as those used in semiconductors, electrons can be rapidly heated by pulses of light. The time it takes for electrons to cool each other off is extremely short, typically less than 1 trillionth of a second.

To understand this behavior, researchers use highly specialized tools that utilize ultra-fast laser techniques. In the two-dimensional material graphene cooling excited electrons occurs even faster, taking only 30 quadrillionths of a second. Previous studies struggled to capture this remarkably fast behavior.
An illustration showing single layers of graphene with thin layers of insulating boron nitride that form a sandwich structure.

To solve that, the researchers used a completely different approach. They combined single layers of graphene with thin layers of insulating boron nitride to form a sandwich structure, known as a van der Waals heterostructure, which gives electrons two paths to choose from when cooling begins. Either the electrons stay in graphene and cool by bouncing off one another, or they get sucked out of graphene and move through the surrounding layer.

By tuning standard experimental knobs, such as voltage and optical pulse energy, the researchers found they can precisely control where the electrons travel and how long they take to cool off. The work provides new ways of seeing electrons cool off at extremely short time scales, and demonstrates novel devices for nanoscale optoelectronics.

This structure is one of the first in a new class of devices that are synthesized by mechanically stacking atomically thin membranes. By carefully choosing the materials that make up the device, the researchers developed a new type of optoelectronic photodetector that is only 10 nanometers thick. Such devices address the technological drive for ultra-dense, low-power, and ultra-efficient devices for integrated circuits.
The research follows advances made in 2011 Science article, in which the research team discovered the fundamental importance of hot electrons in the optoelectronic response of devices based on graphene.

Other co-authors of the Nature Physics paper are: Qiong Ma, Trond I. Andersen, Nityan L. Nair, Andrea F. Young, Wenjing Fang, Jing Kong, Nuh Gedik and Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, all of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Mathieu Massicotte and Frank H. L. Koppens, both of The Institute of Photonic Sciences in Spain; and Kenji Watanabe and Takashi Taniguchi, both of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan.

— Solar Builder magazine

GlobalData: Renewables to be fastest growing power source in U.S. next decade, barring changes in policy

GlobalData renewable report

Non-hydro renewable energy will be the fastest-growing power source in the U.S. over the next decade,  according to consulting firm GlobalData. The report is not surprising considering the current environment, with installed capacity predicted to increase from 121.9 GW in 2015 to 216 GW in 2025, representing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.9% between 2015 and 2025.

According to the company’s latest report, this strong rate of growth suggests that the current U.S. government, aware of the country’s status as one of the world’s leading carbon emitters, fully supports the growth of clean generation technologies.

However, Chiradeep Chatterjee, GlobalData’s Senior Analyst covering Power, warns that this positive forecast for nonhydro renewables could be subject to the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with a Republican victory likely to mean considerable changes to present policies due to the party’s lower support for green energy projects in general.

RELATED: Report: Top U.S. companies increase solar installs by 59 percent 

“There are several renewable power regulations that have been implemented or revised by the Obama administration in 2015 that will aid the production of renewable energy,” Chatterjee said. “For example, the Fannie May Green Initiative provides smart energy through financing solutions, while the Weatherization Assistance Program, instituted by the Department of Energy, offers grants to improve the energy efficiency of resident low-income families. Such initiatives are positive steps to achieving green targets established by US states.”

Targets take the form of Renewable Portfolio Standards programs, state policies that mandate a certain percentage of energy supplied to consumers by a utility within the state should come from renewable sources.

“Generally, the objectives are ambitious, ranging from 10% to 40%, with a variety of target dates,” Chatterjee said. “However, there is considerable variation between individual states, as Hawaii is aiming for renewables to constitute 100% of all energy use by 2045, while South Carolina is targeting just 2% by 2021. Attitudes toward the growth of green energy differ throughout the U.S., and it must be acknowledged that other sources of power will remain dominant throughout the forecast period.”

— Solar Builder magazine