Last week saw some positive traction for the solar industry, from reports showing growth and growth potential for solar throughout the U.S. and world, to expanded programs in states. Also, the U.S.’s largest thin-film manufacturer returned to profitability.
The potential for solar in the U.S. is huge, that’s reflected in a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The study found that the current potential for solar power of all types, photovoltaic and concentrated, is as large as 193 terawatts of solar. The study looked at land resources and insolation. It also looked at all renewable technologies—finding that solar offered the largest opportunity for power and that overall, the U.S. cold install up to 212 terawatts of renewable energy.
Despite the potential, it often seems like the U.S. is falling behind counterparts across the world in terms of installed solar, but that may not be the case. At least not in terms of concentrated solar power (CSP). A different recent study by Britain-based GBI determined that the U.S. and Spain are leading the world in terms of installed CSP. Currently Spain is the leader with more than 1 gigawatt of installed CSP, accounting for about 65 percent of all installed CSP in the world. But as gigantic CSP projects underway in the U.S. southwest come online, the U.S. will likely overtake Spain as the country with the most installed CSP.
In another good sign for the industry, First Solar returned to profitability delivering second quarter 2012 results that handily beat its and wall street’s estimates. The company cited projects under construction that began to generate revenue as the prime reason for the positive results. The company reported earnings per share of $1.27 for the quarter. That’s compared to a net loss of $5.20 per share in the first quarter of 2012 and net income of $0.70 per share in the second quarter of 2011.
A number of retailers—well, box stores, really—are making big buys into solar. And one of the biggest is Walmart. The company completed its 100 solar rooftop—in California alone—last week. The company plans to source 100 percent of its energy from renewable resources. Among those plans are aggressive moves to put solar on appropriate sites. For instance, in California, it plans on putting solar on 75 percent of its stores. And it plans to have solar on about 25 percent of its stores by 2020.
Meanwhile as states change their renewable energy laws and requirements utilities are changing their incentive programs. Most recently New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas parent PSEG unveiled a new, $883 million solar plan designed to meet New Jersey’s requirements under the recently passed solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market expansion. The investments will support 300 megawatts of solar and create about about 300 jobs a year.
And at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) and the University of California Berkeley researchers are creating a way to make photovoltaics out of different and cheaper materials. The researchers are using screens of semiconducting material rather doping silicon or other materials, as such it allow them to harvest photons in a more effective way. The method is called screening-engineered field-effect photovoltaics (SFPV) relies on the electric field effect. By applying a screen rather than doping a material it helps avoid certain issues that occur when doping certain materials. Such issues include a lack of stability and damage to a resulting crystal.