Archives for the month of: November, 2012

The events of the previous month have raised some serious concerns for renewable energy in Ontario and threaten the survival of the province’s flagship clean energy policies: the green energy and economy act and the feed-in tariff (FIT). First, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is set to rule against the domestic content requirements contained in the FIT. Second, the sudden resignation of Premier Dalton McGuinty over the mismanagement of the energy file has sent tremors throughout the province’s energy landscape. Additionally, delays in implementing the new FIT 2.0 framework, continued media assaults on PV and wind, as well as the growing backlash over rising electricity rates are propelling Ontario’s renewable energy strategy into dangerous waters.

On Monday, October 15th the WTO ruling backing the EU and Japanese challenge against Ontario’s domestic content requirement was leaked [i]. This ruling will have implications for the longevity of the policy framework surrounding PV in Ontario as well as the regional PV industry. If the domestic content rule is struck down (pending a likely appeal), local module and balance-of-system producers will no longer be sheltered from foreign competition originating from low-cost manufacturers in Asia. In essence, this will expose domestic firms to the same market forces that have transformed the global PV industrial landscape over the last year or so. In turn, plant closures, consolidation and job loss are likely on the horizon. With the regional industrial development impetus for policy support removed, how long will the government continue to pay premium FIT rates for foreign-sourced renewable energy developments?

Adding fire to the flame, Premier Dalton McGuinty – a champion of the current green energy strategy – resigned on the same day as the WTO leak in the face of political fallout stemming from the costly cancellation of new natural gas units during the last election[ii]. His resignation reflects the dangers of tampering with the electricity system for political reasons and highlights the lack of a genuine long-term energy plan for the province. McGuinty’s resignation also poses challenges for the future of renewable energy support. With an election likely on the horizon, will the new Premier seek to distance his or herself from increasingly unpopular support for wind and solar? After all, the last election saw rural voters reject Liberal candidates in part due to wind opposition[iii].

Other issues have also plagued renewable energy policy in the province. Delays in implementing changes to the FIT scheme following the scheduled program review have created difficulties for the domestic industry and investors[iv]. A prominent PV firm has even entered into litigation with the province over the revisions[v]. Moreover, the last several months has seen a ratepayer backlash brewing over electricity rate increases and overgenerous incentives for wind and PV[vi]. Despite the fact that nuclear refurbishments and the rollout of natural gas are primarily to blame for rate increases[vii], the media continues to hammer renewables while giving nuclear and natural gas a relatively free ride.

In many ways, this situation was avoidable. An appropriate renewable energy policy framework with reasonable and justifiable incentives for emerging energy technologies would be far more resilient. The market-based policies in California point to the success of reasonable incentive levels. Although more moderate support may lead to fewer near-term job creation opportunities, it creates a more sustainable market, allowing for a greater degree of certainty for industrial actors and investors. Another key lesson that arises from this unfortunate situation is the need for a less politically interventionist approach to energy planning. An approach that is determined through market mechanisms or an expert bureaucracy with proper authority and regulatory oversight would be far more robust. Legitimacy needs to return to renewable energy support and energy planning in the province.

Daniel Rosenbloom
Research Associate in Sustainable Energy Policy
Graduate from the MA program in Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University

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Two years ago, the global market for solar energy saw an exponential growth. This was mainly due to national supportive policies and the increased instability of fossil fuel prices. We are approaching the end of 2012 and the price of silicon modules has dropped rapidly, leaving little to no profit margins for upstream solar companies and driving many to bankruptcy. Simultaneously, governments are reducing subsidies due to the latest financial crisis while natural gas prices are dropping1. It seems that the solar industry is in a difficult period. Nonetheless, according to a recent report from consultants McKinsey & Co 2 “…these are natural growing pains, not death throes. The industry is entering a period of maturation that is likely to set the conditions for more stable and expansive growth after 2015”. Despite the market vibrations, PV prices are expected to continue dropping (Figure 1) while sales would rise, increasing significantly the PV capacity installed (Figure 2), which is estimated to outpace the installation rates of gas, wind, hydro and possibly nuclear.

Figure 1: The global PV module price learning curve for crystalline silicon (c-Si) modules, 1979 to 2015

Figure 2: Various scenaria on global cumulative installed PV capacity

By 2020, 53% to 66% of the global PV installations are predicted to be on residential and commercial buildings, while PV farms will have only 15% to 23% of the share (Figure 3). In addition, across the PV value chain at the OECD countries, it is estimated that the downstream players will have more opportunities to succeed by delivering high quality products and services tailored at the needs of the customers. This creates the conditions for Building Integrated Photovoltaic technologies to emerge in the marketplace, after 25 years of R&D.

Figure 3: IEA scenario on cumulative installed PV capacity by end-use sector

Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) refers to photovoltaic cells or modules which are integrated into the building envelope, replacing conventional and/or premium building materials – such as roof shingles, wall cladding (e.g. polished stone), windows, overhangs – rather than being installed afterwards. BIPV is a multifunctional technology 3. Besides the generation of solar electricity, BIPV might serve the additional purposes of weather and noise barrier, heat generation (BIPV/Thermal) and daylight utilization (Semi-Transparent PV), converting up to 80% of the incident solar radiation to useful energy (electricity, heat and space illumination).

Beyond the building-scale, BIPV demonstrates advantages in the community-scale as well. BIPV is located on buildings, thereby eliminating the need for specifically devoted land. In addition, BIPV provides distributed electricity generation that could contribute to grid “peak demand shaving”, resulting in reduced need for peak-capacity power plants. Finally, on commercial buildings BIPV applications, on-site electricity generation can partly meet daily electricity consumption building profile, while eliminating grid transmission losses.

Manufacturing techniques that are common in mature industries (e.g. curtain wall industry) will result in BIPV modularity, preassembly and standardization. Module prices are expected to drop, transforming BIPV to an economically attractive technology, in addition to its aesthetic superiority, energy efficiency and added value as an energy generating element, with no moving parts and inherently a permanent part of the building envelope. However, the path to success will require the solar and building industries to partner in order to reduce product and installation cost without giving up novelty; there will still be a need for government incentive measures. As the solar industry is approaching a tipping point, the timing of viability for BIPV products is now, ensuring a bright though challenging future.

References

1 Birol, F., Besson, C., & Gould, T. (2012). Golden rules for a golden age of gas. International Energy Agency, Paris.

2 Aanesen, K., Heck, S., & Pinner, D. (2012). Solar power: Darkest before dawn. McKinsley& Co., New York.

3 Montoro, D. F., Vanbuggenhout, P., & Ciesielska, J. (2011). Building integrated photovoltaics: An overview of the existing products and their fields of application. European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

4 Frankl, P. (2010). Technology Roadmap: Solar photovoltaic energy. International Energy Agency, Paris.

Costa3-Costa Kapsis (PhD Student in BIPV, Year 4 at Concordia University)

Cost Kapsis is a doctoral student at Concordia University and an HQP at the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network (PVIN) and the NSERC Smart Net-Zero Energy Buildings Network (SNEBRN). Recipient of the ASHRAE Grant-In-Aid award, Costa’s research topic is on Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) technologies, while he involved on the passive solar design of various commercial and institutional buildings in Canada and abroad.

The NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network provided me with funding to present my research at the AVS 59th International Symposium from October 29 through November 2, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. AVS is a multidisciplinary society that connects researchers and industry focusing on vacuum science and applications. The conference facilitated sessions ranging from advanced surface science to applications of nanostructures in photovoltaic devices to new microscopy techniques. I found the conference to be extremely beneficial to my development as a researcher, and I would like to thank the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network for providing me with a great opportunity.

My research involves the use of glancing angle deposition (GLAD) to improve the morphological control and crystal structure of branched nanowires, or nanotrees, grown through a vapour liquid solid (VLS) mechanism. I gave my first oral presentation at this conference, entitled, “Engineered Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) Nanowhiskers via Vapour Liquid Solid Glancing Angle Deposition (VLS-GLAD).” I presented in the GLAD section, which allowed me to present my research to experts in very closely related fields. The talk detailed the recent development of VLS-GLAD as a new technique to grow nanotrees. In addition, I presented results regarding the performance of electrodes composed of three-dimensional ITO nanotree architectures for application in organic photovoltaic devices (OPVs). ITO is a transparent conductive oxide commonly used as an electrode in OPVs. Nanostructured ITO electrodes have the potential to improve performance in OPVs by reducing charge extraction distances and increasing light absorption. The work I presented is a significant step towards controllable fabrication of such three-dimensional electrodes.

The above figure is a schematic of the VLS-GLAD mechanism.
During VLS-GLAD, the vapour flux is incident at oblique angles of deposition (alpha), which causes flux shadowing. Enhanced control over the number density and height dependent morphology of the structures is enabled using this technique.

The above figure shows indium tin oxide nanotree structures grown at various deposition rates using VLS-GLAD. The deposition rate was found to significantly effect the diameter and branching of the structures

I attended a wide variety of talks that were relevant to my research, as well as the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network. Sections focussing on conductivity in nanowires and nanostructures were highly valuable in improving my understanding over complex transport in low dimensional structures. Talks focussing on the passivation of nanowire surfaces and new electrical characterization techniques will be extremely valuable in optimizing the conductivity of nanotree electrodes in my research. In addition, Harry Atwater gave an excellent talk entitled, “Photonic Materials for Solar Energy Conversion at the Thermodynamic Limit” which detailed the road forward for solar innovation. He spoke of the importance of the development of new solar technologies such as: light trapping, photon recycling, emission angle restriction and improved carrier thermalization. He stated that high efficiency versus low cost is a false dichotomy in current solar research and that the real goal is high efficiency AND low cost for widespread adoption of solar technology. Improved photon management to reduce entropic losses was laid out as an important step toward reaching optimal efficiency. Materials and device design have been studied thoroughly. However, Dr. Atwater suggests that more focus on photon management in devices through light trapping and spectrum splitting may lead to energy conversion at the thermodynamic limit.

The AVS 59th Symposium was beneficial to me as a new researcher, and my attendance was made possible by the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network.

-Allan Beaudry (2nd year PhD student in Electrical & Computer Engineering, University of Alberta)

 

Allan was the winner of the second place and public choice awards for best research poster at the Next Generation Solar – Photovoltaics Canada – National Scientific Conference held May 14 and 15 in Montreal, Quebec.  His poster was on “Vapour Liquid Solid Glancing Angle Deposition of Indium tin Oxide Nanowhiskers”.  The awards take the form of funding for registration and travel to present a talk or poster at a prominent American or international scientific conference of the HQP’s choice.  Allan elected to present at the AVS 59th International Symposium.

Figures from:

Beaudry, A. L.; Tucker, R. T.; LaForge, J. M.; Taschuk, M. T.; Brett, M. J. Nanotechnology 2012, 23, 105608.

I recently returned from the 27th European Photovoltaics Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC) held in Frankfurt, Germany.  While my days were packed with fascinating presentations and discussions with colleagues on PV related topics such as cell design, novel materials, fabrication methods, and economic considerations, the topic which had perhaps the most lasting impression on me was Building-integrated Photovoltaics (BiPV).   Now, I should clarify that BiPV is not simply just slapping on a solar panel on the roof of your house, it is integrating the PV panel as a functional component of the building envelope such as a roofing material or a semitransparent window.  The case for BiPV is easy to make.  We can reduce the balance of system (BOS) cost of the PV system by having the photovoltaic panels also function as a building material.  For example the PV could function as both a photovoltaic power source and a roofing shingle (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1: DOW POWERHOUSETM solar shingle[1]

I have been interested in BiPV since… well… since I’ve be interested in PV but I knew very little about the topic until the EU PVSEC.  During the PVSEC, I saw many presentations and had numerous discussions with researchers, industry personnel, and fellow PVIN HQP about BiPV.  It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives that researchers from different backgrounds had on BiPV.  I heard some researchers speak about the ecological impact of BiPV, while others spoke about the architectural potential of BiPV, however, as with most discussions involving PV, the factors of cost and conversion efficiency became the overwhelming focus.  Currently, BiPV represents only a small fraction of the entire PV market and this is mainly attributed to the fact that BiPV products tend to have a higher $/Wp than standard PV panels.  Now, there are several factors that contribute to this higher $/Wp including the lower production scale of BiPV products, the higher operating temperature of BiPV installations, and due to conforming to the building envelope, BiPV also tend to be installed in non-ideal orientation (i.e. not directly south facing).   While the naysayers claim that this higher $/Wp of BiPV will keep it as a fringe market in the PV industry, others point out that with greater competition and production scale, the cost of BiPV will fall dramatically.  Furthermore, proponents of BiPV will also point out that some PV technologies such as thin film silicon, silicon heterojunction, and CdTe have better performance at high temperatures than conventional PV and thus will improve the performance of BiPV products.

Putting the controversy of cost aside, there is certainly a strong case to be made for BiPV.  During the PVSEC, I saw a presentation regarding the issues of agricultural displacement caused by large scale ground-mounted PV farms (see Fig 2).  In addition there was a discussion on the ecological impact of displacing natural environment and wildlife with large-scale ground-mounted PV installations.  In both cases, the solution that was researched was to attempt to install the ground-mounted panels in such as way that they can co-exist with agriculture or the natural environment.  While I think this is important research to be done, I question whether a better solution to this issue would be to move towards BiPV installations.

Figure 2: Solar Farm Installation [2]

Another fascinating presentation on BiPV was given by TNC Consulting Advanced Energy Concepts.  In this presentation, it was discussed that bi-facial BiPV panels installed in the east-west orientation in a building façade can help mitigate current PV grid issues such as the need for storage and peak shaving.  This is because bi-facial panels installed in the east-west orientation will produce peaks in the morning and late-afternoon which combined with a conventional south facing PV installation will produce a nearly rectangular energy production profile over the course of the day.   Developing solutions for the grid to accommodate the sharp mid-day production peak of conventionally installed PV panels is a major challenge that we are faced with today and thus being able to flatten out this peak to a near-rectangular profile using BiPV could be a compelling solution to this issue.

While opinions on BiPV are varied, I believe the inherent advantages of lower ecological footprint, rectangular production profiles, and perhaps lower cost will lead this technology to become a major growth sector in the PV industry.

Pratish Mahtani

Ph.D. Candidate – 4th Year

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

University of Toronto

1.            Murph, D. Dow’s POWERHOUSE solar shingles get along with non-solar siblings, your HOA.  2009; Available from: http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/08/dows-powerhouse-solar-shingles-get-along-with-non-solar-sibling/.

2.            Apollo Solar. Projects Agriculture 2012; Available from: http://www.apollosolar.ca/images/projects_agriculture.jpg.