Week in review: The end of 2012

A brownfield solar arrayThe end of 2012 is here. It’s been a record-breaking year for solar in the U.S. and around the world. And the year is ending with a bang. Solar is growing in new regions, like Napoleon, Ohio, and in new ways with new technologies. More solar installations broke the 100 megawatt mark and more are on the way in 2013. At the same time some traditionally strong solar markets may be shrinking in importance.

In the solar world people don’t talk about Napoleon, Ohio all that much, but the town of 10,000 was named the American Solar Champion for 2012 by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The industry organization awarded the town for its two large PV installations and the Isofoton North America manufacturing plant which opened there this past September.

On the other hand, some traditionally strong markets for solar may be slowing down. For instance, New Jersey outpaced California in terms of solar installations in 2012. But the state, which uses a solar renewable energy credit (SREC) system to incentivize solar installations, now has more solar than anticipated. As such the SRECs are worth less than they used to be, which means less people may consider solar in New Jersey in 2013.

Also announced recently was the expansion of Tesla Motors’ Supercharger stations to the mid-atlantic. The company is building out a network of solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations for its Model-S vehicle. The charging stations are thus far exclusive the Model-S and offer owners of the higher-battery capacity vehicles free charging for life. The charger can provide a half charge in just a half hour and are installed along highway rest stops so people could travel from Washington, D.C. to New York City and back within a day.

The innovations in solar just keep coming. Both Stanford University and MIT published new research about potential next generation photovoltaics. Researchers at Stanford developed flexible peel-and-stick, silicon-based photovoltaics. And researchers at MIT are using graphene coated in nanowires to develop next-generation PV technologies. The method could result in low-cost, transparent and flexible solar cells.

Though solar manufacturing is suffering because of oversupply, solar companies are raising eyebrows among tech sector watchers. Case in point, Chinese PV manufacturer Silevo Solar made Lux Research’s top 10 ten list of the most innovative technology companies to watch in 2013. The research firm said the company’s high-efficiency PV cells and efficiency roadmap were the leading factors for making the list.

As important to solar as innovation is, another thing that need to be done is real world testing. Since solar installations need to last more than 20 years they need to be reliable and appropriate for different climates. To make sure it is and to offer financiers more insight to how a technology will work where, Sandia National Laboratory is building five regional test centers across the U.S. By providing the testing centers and information related to module efficiency Sandia’s facilities can help reduce the cost of financing the technologies.

That can have a major impact on projects like the 377 megawatt Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating Station (SEGS) being built by BrightSource for NRG Energy. Even a fraction of a percentage less on loan or other financing can lead to millions in savings on such projects. But then again getting them up and running will also show how well they work. And the Ivanpah project is well on its way to completion with its first tower expected to come online in mid-2013 and other two towers to come online in late 2013. 

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