Week in review: Looking at the solar market in 2013

Installing a solar tracker systemWith 2013 still in diapers solar companies are starting to line up their plans for the year. As such companies are making new partnerships, like Ford, SunPower, Envision and Sungevity, despite the new partnerships, venture capital investments are starting to dry up for the industry. Meanwhile new entrepreneurs are getting a chance at a financial boost to help them move towards commercializing new solar technologies and services, courtesy of the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Incubator program. And it might not be the most obvious way to help reduce the cost of solar, but newly proposed federal regulations could reduce the cost of solar arrays. Those are just some parts of the larger solar stories that were clogging the tubes last week.

In an effort to make the home more future ready—and to promote their modules for homes, SunPower has expanded its partnership with Ford. For instance, the recent Consumer Electronics Show Ford launched its MyEnergi Lifestyle, which includes SunPower, Eaton and Whirlpool. The partnership is intended to help the companies co-market energy efficient products and electric vehicles.

Sungevity’s partnerships are of an entirely different nature. The residential solar leasing company announced last week that it closed its largest round of funding, ever. The $125 million round of financing drew in more investors than before and will support its growth in current territories. While the company mainly expanded in existing states last year, it also expanded into Australia, its ssecodn international market. It may also expand in 2013, though the company hasn’t named any particular markets.

Envision, which specializes in canopy-type structures for solar, also announced a new partnership last week. The company partnered with Horizon Energy Group last week, which develops microgrids. At the same time, it saw interest in its Solar Trees grow in the Middle East through is partnership with Aconfort.

To help the pipeline of new solar companies create the next generation of photovoltaics, the Department of Energy has periodically offered grants through the SunShot Initiative’s incubator program. Last week it opened another $12 million in such funding up for solar technology startups as well as for companies working to reduce the soft costs of solar. Such funding can be a big help as companies struggle to make it from the lab to the commercial market.

In what may be one of the biggest developments for photovoltaics that hasn’t been discussed too much was new research from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Imperial College London and MicroLink Devices, Inc. Together the organizations recently proposed a new type of triple-junction PV cell, which they said had the potential to surpass the 50 percent efficient mark for photovoltaics. That would blow past the 44 percent efficiency level of 44 percent, reached by Solar Junction and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Meanwhile the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed a new interconnection rule to make it easier to install solar. The proposed rules, which have not been approved yet, were proposed by SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association. If approved they would fast track the interconnection process for certain solar installations, speeding the process hooking solar into the larger grid. By speeding and standardizing the interconnection process it can help make solar cheaper to install in the U.S.

A new report from the Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), last week found that advanced energy across the world continues to grow and overtake other industries. Advanced energy, which includes solar, wind, electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other technologies, showed significant growth in 2011, when it became a $1.16 trillion global market in 2011. It eclipsed even the juggernaut that is the worldwide pharmaceutical industry. 

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