GE has confirmed long-standing speculation that it plans to make thin-film solar panels that use a cadmium- and tellurium-based semiconductor to capture light and convert it into electricity. The GE move could put pressure on the only major cadmium-telluride solar-panel maker, Tempe, AZ-based First Solar, which could drive down prices for solar panels. Last year, GE seemed to be getting out of the solar industry as it sold off crystalline-silicon solar-panel factories it had acquired in 2004. The company found that the market for such solar panels–which account for most of the solar panels sold worldwide–was too competitive for a relative newcomer, says Danielle Merfeld, GE’s solar technology platform leader. She says cadmium-telluride solar is attractive to GE in part because, compared to silicon, there’s still a lot to learn about the physics of cadmium telluride, which suggests it could be made more efficient, which in turn can lower the cost per watt … [Read more...] about GE to Make Thin-Film Solar Panels
Solar panel makers
A start-up called Stion will receive $1 million from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop a new type of low-cost, high-efficiency solar panel. The company will use the new funding to make solar panels that combine two types of solar cells, which will allow the panels to efficiently convert a wide range of the solar spectrum into electricity. Stion already makes thin-film solar panels, a type of solar panel that is generally less efficient than conventional, crystalline silicon solar panels, but that can cost much less to manufacture—in some cases half as much. The new panels are meant to be just as efficient as conventional silicon ones, but still significantly cheaper to manufacture. The funding is part of the Obama administration’s recently announced Sun Shot initiative, which has the goal of reducing the cost of installed solar panels by 75 percent, to make solar power competitive with fossil fuels.Stion’s existing panels convert 12 percent … [Read more...] about A Twin-Cell Solar Panel
For years solar companies have wanted to make lightweight, flexible panels that are cheap to ship and easy to install (by unrolling them over large areas). But they’ve been held up by a lack of good and affordable glass substitutes. Now 3M thinks it’s found a solution. This week the company unveiled a plastic film that it says can rival glass in its ability to protect the active materials in solar cells from the elements and save money for manufacturers and their customers. The protective film is a multilayer, fluoropolymer-based sheet that can replace glass as the protective front cover of solar panels, says Derek DeScioli, business development manager for 3M’s renewable energy division. Manufacturers laminate the sheets onto the solar panels to seal them tight and shield them from moisture and other weather elements that can be deadly to the solar cells inside. The film is 3M’s answer to demand by solar-panel makers–particularly manufacturers of … [Read more...] about Clearing the Way for Cheap, Flexible Solar Panels
The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed new tariffs on solar panels imported from China today, in response to claims that the Chinese government is unfairly subsidizing its solar panel makers’ exports. The claims alleges that China is engaged in unfair trade practices, such as granting subsidies in the form of low-interest loans in a way that affects exports. To make up for these subsidies, the companies requested tariffs that would more than double the price of solar panels imported from China. The tariffs announced today were small in comparison: between 2.9 percent and 4.73 percent. But stiffer tariffs may be levied in May, when the Department of Commerce announces a decision on a second part of the trade case.A flood of low-price Chinese solar panels, which helped drive down overall prices for solar panels by 50 percent over the last year, has hurt U.S. solar panel manufacturers, some of which went bankrupt last year because they couldn’t compete. This has drawn … [Read more...] about Could Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels Do More Harm than Good?
One of the world’s fastest-growing solar-panel manufacturers, Tokyo-based Solar Frontier, may soon increase production still more with help from its oil-company-funded parent company, Showa Shell Sekiyu. In 2007, Solar Frontier built its first factory, which had the capacity to make 20 megawatts of solar panels a year. It’s since built a plant every two years, culminating in a 900-megawatt plant in Kunitomi, Japan, that started production last year. Now it’s evaluating building a fourth plant in Japan after it was selected by the Japanese government to receive funding to build a factory. It also plans to build a new plant in the Middle East in connection with Saudi Aramco and Royal Dutch Shell. Saudi Aramco owns 15 percent of Showa Shell, and Shell owns 35 percent. Solar Frontier has seen significant demand for its solar panels: for example, earlier this year, the company announced that it would supply solar panels for a large (up to 150-megawatt) solar-power plant … [Read more...] about Solar-Panel Giant Poised to Get Even Bigger