Los Angeles -- Solar Power International has wound down and what was the big news?
No one was freaking out.
Think about it. Before 2007, demand was booming but the price of polysilicon had many fretting. When the collapse came in 2008, the entire future of the industry was at stake. Things had improved in 2009, but consolidation was imminent.
In 2010, the mood was pacific. The most oft-cited stat was that global demand had nearly doubled in the past year. Italy, France, the Czech Republic, California and the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. appear to be strong markets.
Polysilicon prices, meanwhile, have stabilized in the $40-to-$50-per-kilogram range under long-term contracts. Spot prices have escalated to $80 and even higher in some instances, but there is little agreement over whether that is a strong indicator of an impending spike. Overall, the outlook on component pricing looked stable.
Meanwhile, both First Solar and Yingli Green Energy announced capacity expansions. First Solar said that capacity will hit 2.7 gigawatts by the end of 2012. Yingli said it will add capacity in China to bring overall capacity to 1.7 gigawatts by the middle of 2011.
Other tidbits from the floor:
--The effort to eliminate paperwork continues. Doug Payne at SolarTech, the trade group devising standardized solar contracts, told us that 60 installers have adopted the group's streamlined documentation processes. Next up, SolarTech will come out with engineering agreements which cover insurance and indemnity, due diligence contracts, leaseback agreements, good faith estimation agreements and contracts for data standards.
Paperwork can account for 40 percent or more of the time it takes to get a solar agreement done, according to installers and Payne.
The group will hold a seminar on November 17 on its new contracts, he said.
--Why does Solar on the White House matter? Danny Kennedy, the founder of Sungevity and the guy behind the White House push, said that seed sales jumped 30 percent after Michelle Obama began to tout community gardens. Solar hopes for the same bump in sales.
Kennedy had just returned from the Maldives where President Mohamed Nasheed and Kennedy installed a system on the presidential residence. The panels were donated from LG, which formally announced its entry into solar.
--Speaking of LG, many executives said they respect both LG and Samsung, but no one seemed overtly scared by their presence in the industry at the moment. The South Korean giants have massive manufacturing capabilities, but both are new to solar. It remains to be seen whether their interest will be sustained over the long haul. A piece of glass cut into LCD TVs yields far more revenue than the same piece of glass chopped up into solar panels, noted Canadian Solar Shawn Qu, among others.
LG did have a booth at the show (see photo) and it was identical, but smaller, than the booths they erect at TV and consumer electronics show.
--What is driving the renewed interest in concentrators? SunPower revealed that the company plans on releasing a concentrator and Soliant showed off its latest version at the show.
The technology has improved, but the cost of III-V solar cells, the high efficiency devices that sit beneath high-powered concentrators, has declined by 25 percent to 35 percent in the last year, said Opel CEO Lee Pierhal. (Opel makes concentrators.)
Pierhal further added that a key factor in concentrators will be the accuracy of the tracker. If the tracker veers by more than a single degree, the concentrated sunlight essentially misses its target and power doesn’t get produced. Opel is within 0.1 degrees accurate, he added.
--Quaheed Motiwala, from Cleantech Circle, added a nightmare scenario to the concentrator discussions. First, let’s say someone like Masdar invests in concentrators. They are placed out in the desert, a hot, dry environment with howling winds and ambient sand. The machines begin to slightly malfunction. The half-trained crew screws them up further. The systems begin to generate almost no power.
Word-of-mouth begins to travel about the results. Training and trackers are going to be crucial.