Twin Creek Introduces Thinner Cheaper Solar Cells

The world of solar energy is one of the most vibrant energy production technology on the horizon. The reason is simple, it’s a green technology, providing power without any of the current side effects of coal burning or other methods used today. As such, it’s not surprising that many companies are trying to get solar energy production to be more efficient, and putting a lot of thought into manufacturing models. It seems now that Twin Creek, a small company in California, found a way to reduce the code of producing solar cells by almost half, and create these cells to be flexible, which would allow them to be integrated into buildings without the need to find perfect angles.

The basic problem with solar cell production is that when a silicon wafer is created in order to create the solar cells, it’s hard to get it thin enough. The current limit is around 200 microns, under which the silicon sheet starts to brittle. But now, Twin Creek has developed a new manufacturing technology, and a new machine that can create these wafers to be around 20 microns. The process uses hydrogen protons which get sent against the sheet of pure silicon, and creates bubbles which helps peel off sheets off of the material, without causing problems. The method isn’t new, and has been observed before, but the production of solar cells presented unique challenges that hadn’t been overcome before. By using modern engineering and technologies developed in-house, the company managed to create a brand new type of solar cells, and the whole process saves money on the material cost, which means the resulting solar cell costs just 50 cents instead of 85 cents.

Hyperion, the name of the machine producing these new cells, is being evaluated now by several leading solar manufacturers, and CEO Siva Sivaram is confident that it will enter production next year. The company is filled with experienced engineered, and backed by a $93 million investment from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, DAG Ventures, and a Taiwanese funding group, along with $30 million from the state of Mississippi, where they built a demonstration plant. If the machine is adopted by manufacturers, it would make solar energy much cheaper to install, often times going lower than current power consumption, which could be a breakthrough for getting a lot of people and businesses to adopt a green technology. The initial investment to actually buy the machines still involves millions of dollars, and it’s unsure yet how many manufacturers will be ready to take the jump.

Whether this advancement is what’s needed to get governments and organizations to embrace solar power fully or not, there’s no question that scientists around the world believe that humankind needs to move to cleaner, more renewable energy models, instead of relying on things like gas, petrol and coal. Technology breakthroughs like this certainly help move the world in the right direction, and make solar energy a more attractive proposition for boards and caucuses around the world.

US – China Trade War Over Solar Panels

Trade wars initiated by trade sanctions are nothing new. In fact they happen in many industries, especially those that are highly competitive. But it may be a surprise to learn that a trade war over solar panels may be about to begin, over potential sanctions put on China imports. What is already happening in many other industries may bleed over into the renewable energy business, and this could have severe consequences on US customers who want to adopt a green energy system and install solar panels, and may affect a lot of jobs.

It all started when SolarWorld, a German based company operating in the US, filed a complaint with the trade commission on behalf of all the US based solar panel manufacturers. The complaint said that China manufacturers were getting major subsidies from their government and dumping these panels in the US at a much lower price, so that US companies couldn’t compete.

This isn’t a new story, and it’s something that happens all the time in all sorts of industries. Trade is governed by a series of treaties, and one stipulation says that while a manufacturer in one country can sell its goods in another country, if that company gets an unfair advantage, such as having large government grants, then it’s unfair to the companies in the second country who do not have that advantage. That’s when a complaint is made, and when trade tariffs are added. Any time an imported product, such as lumber wood, food, etc, has a special tax added onto it when it comes into the country, it’s usually because of these trade sanctions.

Here, solar panels have so far been clear of sanctions, until now. The government will need to review the complaint and make a decision. Either it’s not true, and everything will stay as it is, or Chinese companies are getting an unfair advantage, in which case the rules of the game may change. But what does it mean for US customers? Well, it means China based solar panels will suddenly raise in price, for a start. So higher prices are clearly on the horizon, which is obviously bad news. However, the reason for these trade sanctions is that without them, US companies couldn’t compete, which means they might go out of business, and a lot of people may lose their jobs. So with these higher prices, you may see companies stay in business. In fact, what often happens is that they now get room to grow, and local employment goes up. So it’s a double edged sword.

As you can imagine, the possibility of trade sanctions is a very hot topic, and a lot of people are upset with what SolarWorld did. There’s people and companies arguing on both sides of the fence, and ultimately it’s the government that will need to make a decision in this case. It could take a while however, a few years in fact, but there’s little doubt that this situation will not go away until a final decision is made.

Apple into Renewable Energy

According to reports, Apple is increasing their investment in renewable energy. Recently, Apple was issued the necessary permits to prepare a site for a large solar farm on a 171 acre plot of vacant land near their data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

The data center, which is used for Apple’s new iCloud service, has been criticized in the past for its reliance on cheap, coal and nuclear-generated power.

Eric Smalley from Wired stresses that recent criticism of Apple’s environmental impact “raises the possibility that the solar plant is part of a greenwashing campaign aimed at blunting criticism from the environmental movement.” However, if the entire site is developed, it “could generate 25 to 35 megawatts of power, depending on the solar technology used.”

Notwithstanding Apple’s motives, the North Carolina solar farm is not the firm’s first foray into renewable energy. According to Apple’s Facilities Report, however, the company’s facilities in Ireland, Cork, Elk Grove, California and Austin, Texas are all powered completely by renewable energy. Apple insists they avoided releasing 27.5 million kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2010 by utilizing renewable energy sources.

Apple has been increasingly mum about their solar plans. The permit which Apple filed is solely for permission to reshape the lot’s terrain and only discusses erosion control measures during construction and plans for gravel access roads. Yet more facts are foreseen for when Apple applies for a building permit.

AppleInsider has images of Apple’s permit and reports that land clearing has already begun and is “bothering the neighbors.”

Earlier this year, Apple was criticized in China for “turning a blind eye as its suppliers pollute the country.”

First Solar To Undergo Changes

Rob Gillette, the CEO of Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, America’s largest solar company has stepped down and as a result, the firm’s shares have plummeted some 24 percent. The timing of the exit happened while some of the most high-profile firms featured in the sector fall under a congressional microscope.

GOP critics are seeking to stop solar loan guarantees since a one-time industry favorite, Solyndra LLC, sought bankruptcy protection after having received a half-billion loan guarantee.

On Sept. 30, First Solar received no less than two loan guarantees, coming from the very same program, and just before it was set to expire.

Mike Ahearn who is Board Chairman and the company’s founder will take over as Chief Executive Officer, though, on an interim basis. He will oversee an executive team which has been witness to a veritable plethora of changes in recent months.

Last April, Bruce Sohn resigned as president of operations and in August utility systems chief Jens Meyerhoff announced that he was flying the coup.

Rob Gillette, a former chief executive at Honeywell Aerospace, was initially supposed to helm the company as the whole industry headed into a rough patch.

Rising competition from Chinese manufacturers and a smallish drop in panel prices cut profits throughout the industry and this is what probably led to Solyndra’s downfall. Solyndra was one of three manufacturers to file for bankruptcy in just the last two months. In its latest financial report, First Solar said it sold more panels than the same period last year, but weak pricing cut profits by 62 percent.

Gillette stays outwardly positive, telling investors that better times were ahead for the solar industry. Italy, Germany and other European countries which make up the biggest market for solar panels appeared to be “bouncing back” from the continent’s financial crisis, he said.

New: Solar Powered Keyboard

The K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard for Mac, a new offering from Logitech runs on the power of light. The solar-powered wireless keyboard is made only for Mac.

Inside the box the product is sandwiched between four pieces of thin brown paperboard. Underneath the keyboard is a cloth for cleaning its solar cells and a wireless USB receiver for plugging into your computer. Instructions for setup are printed in pictograms on the inside of the box instead of being on a separate piece of paper, to further reduce waste.

The keyboard is only 1/3 of an inch wide. But it is rather sturdy and has four grippy rubber feet which stick nicely to your lap, allowing you to lean back in your chair and revel in the freedom. The keys are comfortably spaced. Unlike other Mac keyboards, this one allocates a nice amount of real-estate so your hands can really spread out. Even the numeric keypad has large buttons that are clearly marked. This model comes in a few colors.

Two strips of photovoltaic cells are embedded at the top of the keyboard underneath shiny plastic windows.

This all makes the keyboard very durable.

Aside from the usual function keys the K750 is outfitted with a tiny button allowing you to check whether your ambient light levels are enough to alter the manganese lithium battery inside. If so, an LED light next to a printed smiley face glows green. If light levels are too weak to replenish the keyboard, then a red LED next to a frowny face will blink once.

You can also install a free, downloadable “Solar App” on your Mac which launches when you press the light check key. The Solar App shows just how much charge you have on your battery as well as the light levels your keyboard is getting in terms of lux.

ABI Research Thrusts U.S. Ahead in Photovoltaic Installations

The United States is ready to push aside Italy, Germany and Japan as being the home of the largest market for photovoltaic (PV) installations. ABI Research‘s Global Photovoltaic Cells and Module Markets study predicts that in year 2013, the United States will have more PV installation than any other country on the globe. Now, that is a lot of PV installations.

According to the recent study, an estimated 900 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity went online during 2010 in the United States’ PV market. This number is expected to nearly triple in 2011. The growth will only be expected to continue over the next few years. Experts predict that there will be an increase of 5 gigawatts installed during 2013 in the United States.

Increased incentives at both the federal and state level will drive much of the growth. Thirty separate U.S. states have already implemented renewable energy standards (RES) or renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – targets for major utilities to reach by either purchasing a percentage of their energy from renewable energy sources or generating. California has an RPS target of 33 percent by 2020 and will most likely be the first state to actually introduce feed-in tariffs for PV power generation.

Actually, renewable energy technologies are growing exponentially in the utility, industrial and commercial sectors. And government is playing a huge role as well, even the United States military is looking into PV solutions to power supplies for equipment and troops.

ABI Research is a market intelligence company that specializes in global connectivity and emerging technology. Their special blend of quantitative forecasting and trends analysis provides forward-looking insight for countless decision makers in the technology industry each year. ABI Research, the sole intelligence firm dedicated to emerging trends in technology and connectivity, has a deliberately designed focus on specific and complimentary practice areas which provide our clients with an unrivaled multidisciplinary integration as well as an in-depth perspective on today’s technology markets.

They conduct their research according to a rigorous 14-step process which leverages organizational teamwork, know-how, centralized planning, decentralized intelligence gathering and experienced research and general management which has evolved over 21 years and continues to adapt to the rapid.

Jinko Solar Jig

A solar panel maker which was targeted by violent protests over pollution from one of its factories in eastern China recently apologized and says that it will do what is necessary to clean it up. Jinko Solar Holding Co., which is the parent company of the factory in Haining city west of Shanghai, said that the first round of tests showed pollutants could have spilled into a nearby river.

The cops detained some twenty people after hundreds protested last week, some storming the factory compound and turning over cars. The fuzz said that the factory had failed to address other environmental complaints and that the protests followed mass fish deaths in late August.

Jinko Solar, whose shares are listed on the NYSE, says that the factory’s production was suspended though could likely resume within only a few days.

“The company will take all necessary steps to ensure that it is in compliance with all environmental rules and regulations. Any deficiencies in environmental protection uncovered will be immediately remedied…”

The Haining demonstration does well in reflecting the nasty side of clean energy. While the use of solar power may reduce the need for burning heavily polluting coal and other fossil fuels, the process of making photovoltaic cells utilizes various chemicals and materials that can also be toxic. The protests in Haining are the latest increasingly bold public reactions to environmental concerns after three decades of laxly regulated industrialization.

Protests in rural areas and smaller cities are often quashed or ignored. However, those in and near big cities like Shanghai appear to be having influence on leaders who have pledged to deliver an increasingly sustainable, healthy lifestyle along with job-creating growth.

Only last month, a protest by 12,000 residents in the northeastern port city of Dalian against a chemical plant drew a pledge by local officials to relocate the plant. Storm waves breached a dike who was guarding the plant, raising fright in the name of flood waters releasing toxic chemicals. Similar protests in 2007 in Xiamen was also successful. Then, down in Shanghai, the authorities suspended operations at one of the world’s biggest lead-acid battery plants, run by the United States-firm Johnson Controls Inc. after residents living in an industrial zone complained that the lead levels in dozens of children were many times above the legal limit. The firm says that it didn’t believe its factory was the cause of any unsafe lead emissions.

The city government reported on Tuesday that seven of seventeen lead-acid battery plants in the city of 23 million were ordered to stop production due to excessive lead emissions. Lead poisoning may hurt the nervous, muscular and reproductive systems. Children are especially at risk to irreversible damage, especially from low exposure levels. Officials even said that the city was expanding the tests to include even more children.

In the meantime, Shanghai’s Jinshan District, the site of a massive petrochemicals zone, says it had shut down 75 firms because of health risks from dangerous chemicals in a six-month safety campaign.

SPI Solar and Nugen

SPI Solar, a leading developer of photovoltaic solar energy facilities recently announced it has entered into an engineering, procurement and construction contract with EPC contractor for a 1.69MW DC photovoltaic solar project in the great state of New Jersey. The system is a roof-mounted distributed generation system for on-site power consumption. The project is to be operated by NuGen Capital Management, LLC, through a subsidiary owned by NUGEN.

The SEF being constructed by SPI will be connected to five independent meters serving tenants at the complex owned by North Jersey Development Group, Inc. SPI has recently worked with NuGen on the 5-megawatt White Rose Foods project that is under construction now in New Jersey.

NuGen works with large-scale energy users and real estate owners to own, develop and operate commercial-scale PV solar systems.

Solar Power, Inc. is a vertically integrated photovoltaic solar developer with its own kind of high-quality, low-cost distributed generation and utility-scale solar energy facility development services.

NuGen Capital Management was founded in 2009 investing in commercial scale solar systems. NuGen develops its own projects and partners with other developers in its pursuit to operate and own solar systems. Working with large scale energy users and real estate owners, NuGen serves the long term energy and economic needs of its clients.

New Discovery in the Journal of Applied Physics

Light Magnet Lab

Researchers at the University of Michigan have made a discovery that presents a breakthrough in solar power generation.

Light Magnet LabStephen Rand, is a professor at the University of Michigan and author of the report that discusses his team’s discovery in the “Journal of Applied Physics,” the researchers discovered a way to make an “optical battery” that harnesses the magnetic properties of light which, until now, scientists did not imagine amounted to anything.

The paper explains how light has both magnetic and electric components though, until now, scientists believed the magnetic field effects were so weak they could be ignored. Rand and his associates, though, found that at the right intensity, when light is traveling through a material not conducting electricity, the light field may generate magnetic effects up to 100 million times stronger than once imagined possible. Under such conditions, according to Rand, the magnetic fields become similar in strength to a stalwart electric effect.

A doctoral student in applied physics at the same university as Rand, William Fisher, says what makes this possible is:

“A previously undetected brand of optical rectification.”

In traditional optical rectification, light’s electric field sends negative and positive charges to be pulled apart in a material.

Before, this effect had only been observed in crystalline materials which possessed a kind of symmetry. This process works with materials like glass, though, presently requires light that surpasses the sun’s natural intensity.