India has ambitious plans for solar power as the country looks to boost its solar output to 20 gigawatts by 2022 from close to zero, as Reuters reported in this story.Some companies are already looking to capture some of the demand they see growing in India.U.S.-based solar cell maker Suniva finished this week a project with Titan Energy Systems Ltd for a large scale project in West Bengal.BP Solar also sees a lot of promise in the Indian market, the company’s chief executive said in a recent interview with Reuters.That chimes with comments from solar thermal player BrightSource, which is looking for partners in India as well as China.With various companies eyeing the glimmer of future demand and new orders, we wanted to know who you think will be the winners from India’s solar program.(Photo: A labourer cleans solar cells placed on a window of a newly constructed solar housing complex in Kolkata. Photo Credit: Parth Sanyal / Reuters)
When California’s SunPower and China’s Suntech strode onstage at an industry conference last week, onlookers braced themselves for a bit of sabre-rattling, or at least an animated debate about two global superpowers’ role in solar energy.Some bet on an entertaining battle of words just a day after Robert F. Kennedy, Jr took to the stage at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, California and said that the United States was in an “arms race” with the Chinese to make solar panels.Instead, Tom Werner with California-based SunPower and Zhengrong Shi at Chinese panel maker Suntech were all smiles and even bordeline chummy — on the surface at least — preaching cooperation rather than competition. Asked about the potential for U.S. manufacturers to do business in China, SunPower’s chief executive Werner said the country would be a “huge opportunity.””Understanding the market and being proximate to the market is always an advantage … Partnering with a Chinese company would be a distinct advantage,” Werner said.”I look forward to seeing Dr. Shi some time in the next few months and you can help me meet the right people,” Werner added, as he extended his hand.”We will work together,” Shi said as the audience laughed and applauded their handshake.Earlier in the session, Shi said U.S.-based First Solar’s plans to build a massive solar plant in China shows that “the Chinese market is also open to all technologies, to all manufacturers. Anybody can participate in the market.”But Werner did slip in later that, while he believed there was indeed an “arms race” brewing, he said the only way to win wasn’t by dropping the price.”Do you really think the solar customer is completely satisfied and it’s all about price?” he told reporters after the panel.
The holy grail for solar power is to match the cost of power from coal-fired power plants or other traditional fuel.That goal is still on the horizon. But researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab say the industry is getting closer as the cost of going solar in the United States saw a pivotal year in 2008.In a new report, the researchers found that the cost of going solar fell by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. The installation costs — before taking into account any incentives — dropped from $10.80 per watt to $7.50 per watt during that period.Costs like labor, marketing and overhead drove much of that decline. But the fall in panel prices, which tumbled from 2007 to 2008, helped push the total cost down in recent years.Photo: Thousands of solar panels are shown that generate electricity used at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. Photo credit: REUTERS
While solar power has investors on Wall Street seeing green, countries in the developing world also see a bright future in solar technology.They believe solar power systems that convert sunlight into electricity can help power developing areas without going the route of dirty coal-fired power plants.Solar companies like China’s solar panel maker Suntech and California-based eSolar, have recently announced forays into the developing world.Suntech is teaming up with Pakistan’s alternative energy development board, which the company’s chairman and chief executive Zhengrong Shi called “a clear example of the promise of solar energy.”Solar thermal company eSolar said last week that it is expanding in Africa and earlier this year it partnered with an Indian company to build solar power plants in India over the next 10 years.And a $400 billion euro plan is gaining steam to power Europe with Sahara sunlight, despite critics.Today’s top solar market — and lots of profits — are found in Germany while the United States and China are fast-growing alternative energy sectors. Will countries like South Africa join their ranks one day? How will countries and governments make good on the promise of solar energy for the developing world?Photo: Workers build a thermo-solar power plant in Beni Mathar August 20, 2009. Photo credit:REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
Hundreds of companies and laboratories are racing to find an economical way to make “green crude” from algae. The biofuel industry is grappling with a series of hurdles, which players readily recognized at a summit this week in San Diego and we cover in this story.One question asked by one of the sector’s early leaders is will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture.Steve Mayfield, who directs a new center for algae biotechnology at the University of California, San Diego, believes it should be more like agriculture.”We’re not going to grow it in the lab … We are going to grow it on rice patties,” Mayfield said at the Algae Biomass Summit in San Diego.Mayfield also helped found Sapphire Energy, a privately held company that has pulled in $100 million from venture capitalists. The company is looking at gene-based techniques to create a strain of algae that can be grown and harvested on a massive scale.”What we need to do is domesticate algae. We are taking wild type strains and asking them to do what never was asked to do or evolved to do in the wild,” Mayfield said, pointing to how genetic changes have boosted crop yields.Photo credit: Reuters