The solar industry is seeing plenty of movement, with new projects, more financing and a new company announced Thursday.
The Spanish energy company plans to build one solar-thermal plant and two photovoltaic plants in Seville. Abengoa will spend €210 million of the money on the solar-thermal project, called Solnova 4, which will make up 50 megawatts of capacity in a 300-megawatt complex.
On the same day, a new company launched to help electronics companies enter the solar industry.
The startup, the Quantum Solar Group, hopes to help bridge the gap between the two industries by identifying new fabrication and assembly opportunities in solar, including new processes, chemicals and materials.
The founders come from electronics-industry consulting firm Gene H. Weiner & Associates. They include Gene Weiner, president the firm, and associates Marc Chason, a former Motorola Laboratories director, and James J. Hickman, a consultant who spent years as a senior manager at DuPont.
New materials are a theme of the day.
Two U.K. agencies announced Thursday they would jointly invest £10 million in research and development into new energy-related materials technologies.
The Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said they will spend the money on 16 research and development projects – with a total value of more than £20 million – to help the country meet its energy challenges.
The projects include research into new battery technologies, new catalysts for fuel cells, solar glass for windows, energy-efficient insulation, a ceramic composite for gas turbines, and new materials for tidal turbines, among other areas.
Meanwhile, Chung-Wen Lan, the director general of the Industrial Technology Reseach Institute’s Photovoltaics Technology Center, told DigiTimes that a solar bubble is “inevitable,” although the market is promising in the long-term.
A shortage of solar-grade silicon has drawn about 100 new polysilicon makers into the market, he said, adding that about half of these are based in China. While he estimated that only 20 of these are likely to reach high-volume production, he predicted the increased capacity would end the shortage and bring down prices, making it difficult for the other manufacturers to make a profit, according to DigiTimes.
Other analysts have also predicted that a oversupply of silicon could be coming, while some believe the industry demand will increase, taking up the slack (see Incentives, Tech Spark Debate at Intersolar: Pricing, New Research Predicts End to Silicon Shortage, Solar Sector Heading for a Shakeout and Solar Margins About to Shrink?).
Phoenix Solar apparently isn’t suffering too much from the shortage.
The German solar integrator on Thursday posted a record second-quarter margin, before interest and taxes, of 10.2 percent. That compares to a margin of 2.2 percent in the year-ago quarter.
The company reported earnings, excluding interest and taxes, of €11.2 million, up more than twelvefold from €900,000 in the second quarter of last year. Revenues also more than doubled to €110.2 million from €43.8 million last year.
Phoenix Solar said it “does not preclude” the possibility of exceeding its full-year guidance. Shares of the company, traded under the ticker symbol “PS4” on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, grew 2.8 percent to €51.45 per share.
LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK) and Timminco, which trades under “TIM” on the Toronto Stock Exchange, are scheduled to post second-quarter earnings Monday. JA Solar (NSDQ: JASO) plans to report Tuesday and Canadian Solar (NSDQ: CISQ) plans to report Wednesday.
In a research note Thursday, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Sanjay Shrestha said he expects “generally in-line to positive earnings” from LDK Solar, JA Solar and Canadian Solar, the Asian solar companies reporting next week.
“With relatively tight poly in the near term, strong poly coverage, silicon recycling and ability to utilize [upgraded metallurgical silicon] will be a competitive advantage,” he wrote. “Scale, higher efficiency, low processing cost and quality will be key to long-term success.”
In particular, the research note cited the rampup of LDK’s polysilicon production and Canadian Solar’s progress with upgraded metallurgical silicon as key issues.
Canadian Solar in June signed a deal to buy silicon that has been purified from less-pure metallurgical-grade silicon from Timminco (see Timminco Shares Down Despite Deal With Canadian Solar).
Another company, Burnaby, Canada-based Day4 Energy, also is working to increase the use of upgraded metallurgical silicon. On Thursday, the company announced a technology that it claims increases the lifetime of solar panels based on the material.
The technology, a proprietary method for connecting the cells and the panels, gives each cell its own surge protector, keeping panels from short circuiting – “essentially frying the individual cells” – when panels are partially shaded, the company said.