Solyndra's solar module might cost more than average, but the company has racked up an interesting collection of customer wins.
Today, the Fremont, Calif.-based maker of copper, indium, gallium, selenide (CIGS) solar panels announced that a 704-kilowatt array of its cylindrical solar panels have been installed up at LPS Industries of New Jersey, a maker of fine flexible packing materials. The array consists of 3,800 tubular solar panels from Solyndra and was combined with a white roof. The white roof deflects heat, thus curbing the power consumed by the air conditioners, and it reflects light back up to the CIGS panels, boosting performance and thereby achieving a Rosenfeld double-whammy efficiency effect.
"Our goal with this project was to demonstrate LPS Industries' commitment to conducting business in an environmentally responsible manner, but it had to make economic sense," said Madeleine Robinson, CEO of LPS Industries in a prepared statement. "Our customers have been thrilled to hear of our decision. The system is up and running and we expect a strong return on our investment."
Anheuser-Busch put up a 3,000-tube Solyndra array in May. Coca-Cola has one, too. These installations will no doubt become the fodder for debate in the solar industry. Solyndra's modules cost a lot. In the company's amended S-1 statement filed in April with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Solyndra says that the cost of its cylindrical solar panels is $3.24 per watt, including the mounting fixtures. Back in April, the average crystalline panel cost $1.95 per watt. Now it's closer to $1.75 and could wallow around $1.50 or lower by the end of the year, according to GTM Research.
Solyndra has also experienced ongoing losses, and its auditors have posted a "going concern" memo about the company's financial turmoil.
Solyndra, however, argues that its alleged lower cost of installation, the specific type of installations it seeks (white, flat roofs where real estate is at a premium), the ability to withstand high winds, the lighter weight and other factors argue in its favor. Mounting hardware and installation adds another $2 per watt to crystalline. Thus, the difference in price may not be as drastic as the panel prices indicate. Plus, building owners get a tax break for installing white roofs.
These are big customers, too. Still, critics counter that these factors won't outweigh the negatives. Large customers often become early adopters for a variety of motivations. Coke, for instance, has fashioned itself as a model green customer. It has also been an early adopter of Hara's software and Bloom Energy's fuel cells.
The data from these installations will ultimately serve to answer these questions. In the meantime, post your comments below.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, GCE Clean Energy unveiled a vertical wind turbine shaped like a satellite (see picture). Vertical turbines have been around for a number of years but the continuing momentum in the wind industry is giving them a lift, so to speak. Wind Harvest International, for instance, wants to place vertical turbines between the multi-megawatt behemoths in wind farms to harvest un-exploited wind in those locations. VCs have also begun to put money into wind firms specializing in novel turbines or components.
GCE will make 2,000 of the turbines in the first year of production and scale up to 20,000 annually the following year. Sizes will range from two to ten kilowatts. There seem to be a lot of external parts on this thing, which could result in maintenance issues, so who knows. Still, it is an interesting design.
Finally, biofuel maker Virent has landed a third round of funding to the tune of $46 million. Investors include Shell and Cargill, the agribusiness giant. Virent says it can make a synthetic form of gasoline by thermochemically converting biomass and cellulosic materials into liquid hydrocarbons that can substitute for regular kerosene, jet fuel, gas or diesel. Using a hydrocarbon, Virent can theoretically produce a more valuable, more energy-rich liquid fuel than ethanol. The company has a 10,000-gallon-a-year pilot plant. But, like most biofuel startups, Virent has yet to demonstrate that its technology is viable on a grand scale.