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"We have an economy where we steal the future, sell it in the present and call it GDP (Gross Domestic Product)" Paul Hawken
The United States as of 2007, had approximately 1,087 Gigawatts of electricity generating capacity.
China had around 624 Gigawatts of Electricity Generation capacity.
Australia has approximately 48 Gigawatts of generating capacity.
India has 147 Gigawatts of electricity generation capacity.
Cheating a little here, but Stranded Wind describes three kinds of electricity Generation better than I could, they are:
Baseload is a word that is used to describe both the minimum level of power required to keep a system going and the type of generation that provides it. Coal and nuclear are the classic examples here – they're slow to warm up but once they're moving they're kept at a certain operating range for months on end. You may also hear 'spinning reserves' – this is a baseload type generating facility that is 'spun up' but unloaded, running in reserve for demand peaks. Hydroelectric can also be considered baseload generating capacity if it's got a steady flow of water behind it.
Dispatchable is a word used to describe generating sources that are quick to react to new requirements. Natural gas generating using 'peaker' plants is the classic example. These systems maybe only run for a week total out of ever year but electric rates are such that they're profitable when servicing demand spikes. Hydroelectric power is also counted as dispatchable – simply open the gate, the turbine spins up, and power begins to flow.
Intermittent sources produce irregularly (wind) or periodically (solar). Natural gas or hydroelectric dispatchable power coupled with these renewables can make for a smooth, trustworthy flow of power.
The need for electricity is not static as you would imagine. When there are more air conditioners turned on, more factories operating, power demand is higher, when people are sleeping, power demand drops right off.
Below is a representative snapshot of California's electricity demand which you can see from the thin red line, is around 21,000 Megawatts or 21 Gigawatts at 2am until 5 am, peaking at 31 GW around 6pm in the evening. That's a full 10 Gigawatts swing or around 1/3 of the installed generation supply being there to account for these changes in demand.
The loudest argument I hear against investment in Solar and Wind power is that they are not base load. Well as you can see from this graph above, baseload power is not always required and in fact 1/3 of the entire grid is made up of dispatchable if not intermittent forms of power generation.
Installed assets only required to respond to demand. And the structure of power generation is such that if you don't generate power, you make no money.
China is adding significant amounts of Generation. According to this article, they were at 713 Gigawatts by 2007, and 793GW by July of this year. That would be 90 GW added 2006-07, and 80GW 2007-2008.
1.6 GW is one of these
so 80 GW, what China is adding each year in new generation assets, is 50 of these.
Total manufactured Solar panels in 2009 (not just for China's market) was 6.37 Gigawatts.
In other words solar is a minor part of a giant energy market.
But can it increase and fast?
Located in the desert of Australia is a $3.1 Million solar demonstration project installed to allow real time and historical monitoring data for different Solar technologies and different mounting mechanisms.
Real time data is available here.
Technology installed per graphic above
2. Concentrating PV Dishes - Not installed
Two of the most important factors I can ascertain in relation to the suitability of solar generation as part of a grid supply, are efficiency and tracking. Efficiency being the amount of sunlight which hits an area being converted into real electricity.
The link here takes you to an interactive real time data chart recorder where you can turn on or off the different solar generation methods and track the output against a whole series of parameters including temperature, wind, rainfall, solar insolation or simply against each other. By clicking inside the chart you can raise these windows which show output in numbers, but also what is called the Solar insolation or Watts of Sunlight hitting an area of 1 square meter.
Insolation is a measure of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area in a given time. The name comes from a portmanteau of the words incident solar radiation. It is commonly expressed as average irradiance in watts per square meter (W/m2) or kilowatt-hours per square meter per day (kW·h/(m2·day)) (or hours/day). In the case of photovoltaics it is commonly measured as kWh/(kWp·y) (kilowatt hours per year per kilowatt peak rating).
As you can see in this case above, Solar insolation between 08:00 and 12:00 averaged 864.14 W/m2.
The second major factor determining output of a solar panel is whether or not the panel tracks the sun. A fixed panel is one which would be installed on a slanted roof and doesn't move. Which means that it will generate most power when the sun is pointing directly on it and less as the sun moves across the sky.
A panel which follows the sun across the sky can be one or two axis tracking.
Single axis tracking the Sun usually from East to West.
Dual axis on the other hand can track the Sun wherever it is in the sky.
Without tracking - Fixed Arrays
Below you will see at the top of the graph the amount of solar insolation striking the earth at any given time during the day. The first two charts at the bottom reflect the amount of electricity generated by different technologies.
As you can see fixed panels very closely follow the output of the sun during the day.
Dual Tracking panel
In the case of dual axis tracking panels, we see a different output which produces maximum panel output from almost the minute the sun breaks the horizon until it sets in the evening.
Now if you remember back to the start of this article, you will see that power required in that 1/3 swing in grid demand in California starts around 6am. If we have solar panels which can start operating as soon as the sun is up and people are awake needing power, and which stays at a relatively stable maximum solar output, this matches the demand on the grid more closely than those which peak only in the middle of the day.
Do you remember also what Stranded Wind said about dispatchable power:
Natural gas generating using 'peaker' plants is the classic example. These systems maybe only run for a week total out of ever year but electric rates are such that they're profitable when servicing demand spikes.
In other words there are installed assets which are relatively expensive to run which meet these swings from 21GW to 31GW. Reducing the need to operate by installing large scale solar panels which burn no fuel, and in the case of photovoltaics, little to no ongoing water demands, seems sensible if we can get the price to install down close to what other fixed generation assets cost in terms of capital.
Estimated capital cost to build a coal fired power station:
Construction costs, as of 2004, run to US$1,300 per kilowatt
In May 2005, the company told regulators it wanted to spend $2 billion to build twin 800-megawatt units. But 18 months later, in November 2006, Duke said that it would cost $3 billion. Then the state utility commission said to build only one of the plants.
And in May of this year, Duke said that would cost $1.83 billion, an increase of more than 80 percent from the original estimate....
He estimated that in the past 18 months, the price of a coal-fired power plant had risen 25 percent to 30 percent.
Estimate cost to build a nuclear power station:
commodity prices shot up in 2008, and so all types of plants will be more expensive than previously calculated. In June 2008 Moody's estimated that the cost of installing new nuclear capacity in the U.S. might possibly exceed $7,000/kWe in final cost.
Both these plants require major mining and fuel processing operations, consume large quantities of cooling water, often drinking quality water, create pollution during fuel processing and consumption, and leave a legacy of toxicity in the environment we have no way of economically dealing with. The consumption of additional resources to keep these plants operational also bears an ongoing cost.
Let's ignore the ongoing costs for the moment and focus only on the capital cost with the end result being approximately $1.50 - $2 per watt of capital cost for coal and although this capital cost for Nuclear is high, Wikipedia does site precedence of around $4-$7 Watt.
So what does solar power cost?
Remember I talked about solar panel conversion efficiency as a mechanism to ascertain cost per kWh produced?
If we look at the different types of panels above we see recent efficiency records as follows:
About a week ago Jamess had a diary on the reclist about a subject which has long been an area I am interested in. He discussed the efficiency increases achieved by Boeing in improving the amount of sunlight converted into electrical power.
Solar Cell 40% Efficiency Breakthough, becomes Product Ready
Well if the current Solar Cell break-through at Boeing-Spectrolab can be mass-produced, and improved upon, we just may have something that can finally compete with Fossil Fuels.
And the best part about it the "Fuel" from the Sun (ie. "non-concentrated" Fossil Fuels)
IT IS FREE !!!
Free for the taking.
Agree with these sentiments wholeheartedly. In fact, and this is showing a little national pride here, Australia has recently announced the record from this form of cell, Triple Junction or III-V cells was tested at 43%.
In other words, unlike the mature technologies of coal, gas and oil where major efficiency improvements are difficult to obtain, this solar technology continues to make great strides with more research. And of course with efficiency of the cell improving, this means more power for the same capital outlay, thus less cost per unit of power generated.
This link takes you to a theoretical set of projected costs I spent a few hours on a while back.
Similar to Moore's law but for solar power. It may seem relatively expensive now, but within a few years with investment in this technology, costs will come down well below existing fossil fuel generation.
My visit to a III-V cell manufacturer
Back in August I visited the United States and as part of that trip I visited a numnber of Solar companies. One of my stop overs was a trip to Alburquerque, New Mexico, where the Sandia National Labs are.
I wrote of a portion of my trip, visiting the Nuclear Museum, in this diary.
However, the specific reason for visiting this city was to try to arrange a meeting and possible walk through of a company who has designed and is manufacturing the heart of these new solar panels, an organization called Emcore.
What the technology both Spectrolab and Emcore have developed is taking the very best attributes of their satellite based III-V triple junction cells, and bringing them back to Earth.
Costs for these types of cells per sq cm is currently more than standard silicon, Cadmium Telluride or CIGS solar cells. However because Emcore and Spectrolab cells are able to tolerate high temperatures (remember they use these cells in space), they have designed their cells to be used where lots of sunlight is focussed on a small area.
This allows them to have built solar cells which look just like a circuit board. In other words much less active material than other solar cells need to produce similar output.
Because of this focussing of sunlight up to 1200 times normal levels onto the one chip, and because of the excellent conversion efficiencies of triple junction cells, this small cell is equivalent in electricity output to this many silicon cells.
My interest in visiting Emcore however was not to figure out how the technology worked as I have covered it in this diary quite comprehensively. No my intent was to see what direction Emcore was headed now with their technology and what it would cost to build a factory and start producing this form of solar technology in large amounts, as clearly it is well matched to the grid demand and able to provide stable power.
After getting caught up visiting the Nuclear Museum just down the road from Emcore, and dodging the rain as a monster sunshower came through about 2:30pm, I was met by Emcore's Chief Technology Officer, John Iannelli PhD around 3pm in the foyer of Emcore.
The cell you see above is the main component of Emcore's technology and is manufactured in what is called an MOCVD (Metalorganic Chemical Vapour Deposition) reactor.
Metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy (MOVPE) is a chemical vapour deposition method of epitaxial growth of materials, especially compound semiconductors from the surface reaction of organic compounds or metalorganics and metal hydrides containing the required chemical elements.
The way I understand this process, and I don't work in the field, is that under pressure elements turned into gases or vapours are passed through this machine where they contact with the cell and react/bond with whatever element is on the exposed cell, thus creating the desired layer of solar cell. These cells are very thin, but are made up of a complex number of different layers as shown by this example diagram below.
But what does it cost?
One of the major costs in building solar farms is building the factories which will produce the cells. In the case of the 10 GW gap in California, if one wanted to build factories to produce enough cells to do this in ten years, we would be looking at a cost of around US $1 Million per MW of manufacturing facility for Silicon or $2 for thin film. This is $1 to $2 Billion alone before any solar panels have been manufactured. Large up front costs.
According to Solar Buzz: A rule of thumb guide to the capital investment in building a solar cell plant is US$1M/MW for crystalline silicon and US$2M/MW or more for thin films.
July 23, 2009
First Solar to Build 100MW Factory and Sell to EDF
First Solar is set to build a €90 million factory in France...
The factory would have an initial capacity to produce at least 100 megawatts of thin-film solar panels per year.
However what Dr Iannelli told me was that each MOCVD reactor cost around $1 Million and was capable of outputting 100MW worth of cells per annum.
In other words the up front cost to build a factory to manufacture 1GW of solar cells comes down by a exponential factor if the machines to make the cells only cost around $10 Million.
After the MOCVD reactors you would need to add in a cell receiver line and a module manufacturing line. However because the cells are produced much like computer boards, contemplate for just a moment companies like Intel getting into this space, manufacturing the cells and shipping them to module manufacturers for installation. Much like a PC maker would do.
CPV is just at the beginning of its cost curve. Concentrix' Lerchenmüller sees CPV achieving costs of 30 cents per Watt in a few years. CPV with high-efficiency triple-junction solar cells behaves better than silicon in high temperatures. CPV doesn't require water like CSP and unlike CSP scales to smaller deployments. Notably, the price of capex for CPV is much less than that of other PV technologies: $0.10 to $0.15 per Watt compared to First Solar at about $1 per Watt and a-Si at about $3 per Watt.
So going on what the people who have actually built the manufacturing facilities for CPV modules, total cost for a 1GW factory, using the 0.10 per watt figure is around $100 Million. In other words if California wanted a 1 GW factory to produce this form of solar panel, and wanted to meet that 10GW load in 10 years, it would cost them $100 Million for CPV factories as opposed to $1 Billion for other technologies mentioned above. A difference of $900 Million to spend on the panels themselves.
Remember China adding 80-90GW per year. This technology is ideal for them this would cost them $8 Billion to build enough to provide 80 GW of new generation every year. Note at the low end 80GW would be costing them $160 Billion per annum in new coal fired power stations anyway.
Did you also take note of this comment?
Concentrix' Lerchenmüller sees CPV achieving costs of 30 cents per Watt in a few years.
Dr Iannelli told me that current cost of their module was at about $1.65 per watt but significant improvements were bringing this cost down. Efficiency improvements as I mentioned before were one. Improved optics as Emcore have now adopted a Silicon on Glass method for their lens. This is where a special silicon is spread on a layer of glass and pressed into a lens configuration. They have also simplified and refined their large scale module into a smaller, 2 person install module. This will result in significant installation and construction cost savings.
Transition of Emcore module development
Current module below - construction costs significantly reduced as heavy machinery such as cranes may no longer be necessary. These arrays are also better for spacing in this configuration getting more generation per acre than the previous large array.
What is most exciting about this technology, is the major players who have backed start up systems manufacturers include some of the world's biggest names.
This group manufacture a larger scale version of the module, similar to Emcores large scale array.
They are backed by a VC firm called NGEN partners whose members include the group below.
This company has settled on a design similar to Emcore with a fresnel lens and two axis tracking mechanism.
This group again have migrated to a similar design as Emcore and Energy Innovations. They have some investment VC backing from General Electric.
Soliant Energy aims to deploy its concentrator panels in 50KW to 1MW distributed-generation arrays on millions of square meters of commercial, industrial, government, and carport upper-deck real estate in the sunny, dry American Southwest and, eventually, similar climatic regions on the planet.
Sitting on the table in the foyer as I waited for a taxi to take me back to my hotel, was a magazine. I am fairly sure it was called 'Photonics'. There was an article in there about the amazing advances being made in optical technologies at the college of optical Science at the University of Arizona. I think of all the things most impressed on me, that I took away from those few hours at Emcore how great it would be to be a student at this college. Where what they are developing could lead to the next efficiency gain through improved optic lens, mirrors or coatings. That they are learning the skills and will be at the leading edge of science in years to come as we further develop technologies which make the best use of the Sun or light.
I kind of felt a bit jealous because I know these American students could be the ones who get to change the world all over again by reinventing and improving on the solar technologies I have discussed above.
When Siemens, GE, Schott, Unilever, Dupont, Boeing, Honda, Bayer, BASF all have a stake in the success of this relatively new form of terrestrial solar power generation it gives me hope. For the CEO stating he sees short term prospects of this technology being able to bring the capital cost of solar power down to 30 cents per watt, this gives me hope that we can afford this. Remembering that coal and nuclear capital costs are much greater and ongoing fuel and running costs also.
But it is when I see the low cost to entry into this field where I am most excited. If we can build Gigawatt manufacturing facilities for $100 Million per Gigawatt, the risk factor investing in this field starts to significantly reduce.
That is where some of our stimulus money should be going.
Build the factories. Create the Jobs. Insure our future against the ravages of climate change.
"The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the biosphere. The biosphere provides everything that makes life possible, assimilates our waste or converts it back into something we can use."
More links to CPV companies
Advanced Renewable Energy
Shanghai Solaryouth New Energy Technology
Changzhou Huayin Electronic Co., Ltd.
Advanced Renewable Energy
Concentracion Solar La Mancha - Dupont Lens
Concentracion Solar La Mancha