Monday, November 20, 2017

Cypress Creek Invests Billions in South Carolina’s Solar Market. Now It’s Investing in People, Too

Gene Wilson first learned about solar energy while studying architecture at Clemson University in the late 1970s, around the same time President Jimmy Carter installed solar thermal panels on the White House. 

“I came through school when we were going through one of the energy crises. I can remember having to sit in a line to get gasoline,” said Wilson, who is now a solar instructor at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina. “I learned about solar and said, 'This is what we need to do.’”

Wilson's interest was piqued, but it would be a couple decades until he could fully immerse himself. After failing to convince the firms he worked for to incorporate solar in designs, and a poorly-designed 1987 solar class that left him disenchanted, Wilson picked up certifications in the early 2000s. That led him to Greenville Technical College in South Carolina, where he worked to get the solar training program started in 2008.  

Greenville Tech offers both continuing education and academically-focused classes in solar, including an 18-month Solar Technician Certificate program and individual classes that can lead to a North American Board of Energy Professionals accreditation. The PV classes are the most popular. 

Since the program started, enrollment has been sporadic. But a $25,000 partnership announced this month between solar company Cypress Creek Renewables and Greenville Tech will help support the program through scholarships and curriculum development. The partnership -- engineered by America's second-largest utility-scale solar developer -- is likely the first of its kind in the industry. 

The Cypress Creek deal supplements a $1.5 billion investment in 80 solar projects across the state totaling 2 gigawatts. “We’re looking to build a lot of solar in South Carolina and want to proactively invest in the state’s energy workforce to ensure good business outcomes for us and good economic outcomes for the state,” said Cameron Bard, Cypress Creek’s director of operations.

The training partnership -- as well as the gigawatts of solar projects -- could buoy a program that’s struggled to maintain enough students and make South Carolina a top PV market. According to the latest data from GTM Research, the Palmetto state moved from 36th to 20th in the country for solar PV installations from 2015 to 2016. In Q2 of 2017, the state ranked 13th.     

Climbing further up the rankings will be hard without more workers. “They’re recognizing they don’t have the workforce here that they need to build the units they’re planning to build," said Trish Jerman, manager of energy programs at the South Carolina Energy Office, about developers in the state.

The program at Greenville Tech is designed to change that, offering a direct pipeline from the program to Cypress Creek’s solar installs. “We’re trying to build a Big 10 industry that’s able to take on workers from other energy sectors that may be looking for new growth opportunities, and ultimately to position solar as part of the nation’s growth towards cleaner energy,” said Bard. 

Offering that demand may be key to revitalizing the program, which has yet to see a boom in enrollment. Training programs at other colleges throughout the state have also floundered, even as solar industry employment expanded by 24 percent since 2015. There are now double the number of solar workers as coal workers. 

“It’s not been easy to keep the training program going,” said Joy Finch, head of the Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety Department at Greenville Tech. “We’ve been getting enough people […] but it hadn’t been having the interest we expected.”

Ken Stewart, president and CEO of Easley Electric Incorporated, took a course in the spring. Although Stewart said solar is “probably one of the most profitable things” he’s done for his business, his class had under 15 students. His company now certifies solar installations and helps solar installers with electric permits, in addition to its other electrical work. 

There may be a disconnect between training and actual project development. When the program started, she said, “we were ahead of our time," said Jerman.

It may also relate to the culture of the state. The Greenville area has a low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent. The largest industries in the area are trade, transportation, and utilities. Many in the region touch the energy sector, but may be unwilling to invest in career retraining because of professional stability or lack of familiarity with renewables. 

“South Carolina is a little slow in adopting forward-thinking activities, and solar would be one of those things,” said Wilson. “South Carolina is not one to step out and be the first. Typically we’re three, four, five years behind North Carolina in advancements.” 

Solar did get a noticeable boost in recent years with the 2014 passage of Act 236, signed by then-Governor Nikki Haley. The law established net-metering rules through 2020.

Bruce Wood, founder and CEO at SunStore Solar in nearby Grear, started his company in 1976. Since the legislation passed, the state has “seen a tremendous increase” in solar activity, Wood said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research rank South Carolina 10th in projected solar growth over the next five years. 

Now that labor needs are growing, Greenville Tech is uniquely positioned to take advantage. It’s the only technical college in the state still teaching specialized solar installation classes that originally received stimulus funding. “We’re starting to see a boom in the industry that we kind of thought was coming several years ago,” said Joy Finch. 

South Carolina has hurdles ahead. The Section 201 trade case, of course, presents serious uncertainties for developers. While it's unclear how President Trump could rule on tariffs, the solar industry is warning that thousands of jobs could be lost, as demand spirals downward. (Cypress Creek says it expects to create 10,000 construction jobs in coming years with its current portfolio of projects.)

The state is also nearing a cap on net metering, which could present challenges to growth.

“We may become a victim of our success,” said Wood, referencing the state’s 2 percent net metering cap. Wood said negotiating a higher generation limit will be the vital for expanding solar.

However, after the failure of the V.C. Summer Plant, Wood believes more utilities will turn to solar. Last week, South Carolina Electric & Gas announced that large-scale solar will replace some of the generation that would have come from the nuclear facility. 

“Utilities here have seen they can deploy capacity pretty quick where they need it in a very reasonable time and at a known cost,” Wood said. “I think that’s where Cypress Creek sees their opportunity."

from GTM Solar

Friday, November 17, 2017

High-Efficiency Monocrystalline Solar Surges in 2017. Here’s Why Bifacial Is Next

The photovoltaic (PV) industry is experiencing rapid change, with high-efficiency modules seizing market share and setting the stage for even higher efficiencies to come.

Passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC) technology, and particularly the monocrystalline silicon version of PERC, is the hot adoption trend in 2017.

Just two years ago, PERC cell capacity accounted for about 5 gigawatts of the market. But the drive for higher efficiencies in the world’s largest solar market, China, has turned the tables. PERC cell capacity is expected to reach about 35 gigawatts in 2017, or roughly one-third of all PV module production, according to GTM Research.

PERC technology increases cell conversion efficiency by adding a dielectric passivation layer at the rear side of the cell that reduces surface recombination. Manufacturers can cost-effectively increase efficiency beyond standard multi c-Si, building higher-wattage modules, and generating more power per square foot in a solar installation.

Even better, LONGi solar and another Chinese enterprise broke the world record for p-type monocrystal PERC cell efficiency three times in 10 days during October, which undoubtedly shows the strength of this advanced technology.

While PERC cells are gaining quickly, there is also a significant shift occurring in the marketplace itself, where mono c-Si cells are rapidly replacing multi c-Si cells. Mono will account for 70 percent of PERC module production in 2017, according to GTM Research. Mono isn’t just gaining ground in PERC cells. In conventional module production, mono will account for 38 percent of production in 2017, up from 25 percent in 2015.

These market shifts are not only playing out in China -- driven by the promotion of high-efficiency solutions in the National Energy Administration’s Top Runner program -- but also globally. Multi c-Si modules have traditionally provided a cost advantage, but mono has tightened that gap while providing more wattage output per module. Superior low light performance and better temperature coefficients improve energy yield, making mono and mono PERC particularly attractive to solar installers across the globe.

A dedicated mono c-Si driver emerges as a top player

One of the drivers of high-efficiency mono c-Si is LONGi Solar, the cell and module manufacturing subsidiary of LONGi Green Energy Technology Company.

Since its inception, LONGi Green Energy Technology Company has had a laser focus on mono c-Si, emerging as the world’s largest mono wafer producer, according to GTM Research. After an extensive study of the market and the technology that began in 2006, LONGi committed to mono, determining that it had the greatest potential to realize the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), said Hongbin Fang, LONGi Solar’s director of technical marketing.

“We are working to achieve high efficiency at a reasonable cost,” said Fang. Mono PERC delivers better energy yield than multi, and the company is continuously improving the cost of mono technology. “Before 2014, the price difference between mono and multi wafer was $0.30 to $0.40 USD per piece. Since late 2015, that gap has narrowed to $0.10 to $0.15 USD per piece,” Fang said.

With a shrinking price gap between mono and multi wafers, and higher efficiency or power density from mono cells, mono modules are now able to offer a value proposition comparable or superior to multi modules. Using mono modules with higher power density can also drive down balance of system (BOS) costs. Combined with higher energy yield with higher energy yield, mono PERC can deliver a better LCOE, Fang said.

The fact that LONGi, a pure mono producer, could emerge as the top solar wafer producer overall is a strong indicator of mono’s emergence as a dominant technology. It is a fundamental shift in the technology landscape, where multi was king, and suppliers were previously relying on small efficiency improvements in multi, rather than looking toward the next generation of the technology.

LONGi commits 5 to 7 percent of annual revenue to R&D on high-efficiency mono c-Si ingot, wafer, cell and module technology. After expanding into the solar cell and module business at the end of 2014, LONGi has become the performance leader in mono PERC technology.

Currently, high volume manufacturing cell efficiency is at 21.5 percent. Further, LONGi’s R&D pilot line efficiency has been verified at 23.26 percent by Solar PV Product Quality. LONGi’s mono module production capacity has increased to 6 gigawatts in 2017. Its manufacturing road map project will grow 10 gigawatts in 2019, according to Fang.

Bifacial could be next

Having played a major role in the emergence of mono PERC, LONGi is setting its sights on bifacial technology. It’s bifacial platform has the potential to increase energy output by 8 to 25 percent, by enabling an energy harvest from the module’s rear side, according to Fang.

Adapting a PERC cell for bifacial is straightforward, which means both manufacturers such as LONGi and their customers can easily make the transition. “Process-wise, it is a small change,” Fang said.

Bifacial PERC inherits all of the advantage of mono PERC, including high power and higher energy yield. In addition, it can harvest energy from the rear side of module, making system economics even better. “Right now, we are in the product introduction phase, and have already seen strong interest from customers," said Fang.

If bifacial PERC module can consistently demonstrate 10 to 15 percent gain from rear side, the market will react quickly and favorably. Adoption could be strong in both utility and C&I application, he said.

He expects utilities to run side-by-side comparisons to document energy yield, and will learn optimum system designs that will enhance confidence in the reliability and bankability of backside gains. Backside shading must be minimized, and system designs must be adapted to maximize rear side energy harvesting, he said.

GTM Research expects it will take a couple of years for bifacial to take off, even though many producers have started producing bifacial modules. In the short term, China is the most promising market given the government policies targeting adoption of higher efficiency.

In the meantime, LONGi is poised for growth beyond its home market, and sees opportunities in nearly every large solar market across the globe.

Even though none of those markets have preferential incentive programs for high efficiency products like Top Runner in China, Fang said more developers and EPC companies are coming to understand the cost savings and LCOE benefit of mono PERC. This will naturally extend to Bifacial PERC technology.

With an increasing focus on lifetime LCOE, LONGi thinks bifacial isn’t far behind. “That makes the cost picture look even better,” Fang said. “Mono PERC, especially bifacial PERC, will capture a very significant portion of the overall PV market in the near future, and continue to grow from there.”

from GTM Solar

China Faces an Uphill Renewable Energy Curtailment Challenge

China, with the world’s largest power system, faces an uphill struggle in trying to contain double-digit rates of renewable curtailment.

Even though power shedding dropped 1.4 percent in the third quarter, compared to the first half of this year, “whether the curtailment rate will go back up again after new projects start commissioning remains a concern,” said Xiaoyang Li, market analyst at MAKE Consulting.

Oversupply, system inflexibility and transmission bottlenecks mean power generated in China’s northern provinces regularly fails to make it to the load centers near the coast.

According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), the renewable energy abandonment rate in the third quarter of this year was 33 percent in Gansu and 29.3 percent in Xinjiang, both in the northwest of the country.

Jilin, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia, all on China’s northern border, also had double-digit abandonment rates, NEA figures show. Nationwide, the average rate of curtailment was 12.2 percent in the last quarter, compared to 13.6 percent in the first half of the year.

The level is also down on 2016, when the country threw away 56.2 terawatt-hours of renewable generation and national average curtailment rates were as high as 17 percent for wind and 10 percent for solar.

Nevertheless, the continuing high levels of curtailment are causing problems for China’s independent power producers (IPPs), according to Li.

“IPPs that have projects approved or under construction in provinces with red warnings may face significant financial strain due to the substantial upfront investment already made,” she said.

Limited average wind utilization rates were harming the internal rates of return for many projects, she noted. “Wind power developers are therefore shifting their investment from the northern region to the southern region,” she said. 

Despite this, China “will face serious challenges in the next few years,” according to a report published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the ClimateWorks Foundation last month.  

More than two-thirds of China’s record 1,614 gigawatts of generation capacity was built in the last decade, it said, with power capacity growing by an average of 11.5 percent a year between 2005 and 2015. Much of this growth was far from load centers, though.

Upward of 70 percent of China’s utility-scale wind and solar farms have been built in the country’s sparsely populated northern provinces.

At the same time, power demand growth has slowed down over the last half decade, so that by the end of last year China had 35 percent more capacity than it needed. Only Beijing, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Guangdong, all on the coast, had electricity deficits. 

Beijing is taking steps to fix the problem. This month, Reuters reported that the NEA is aiming to stop renewable energy curtailment by 2020, and raise the portion of its renewable and non-fossil-fuel power consumption to 15 percent of total energy mix by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030.

The measures being introduced to combat curtailment include barring further projects in provinces where power-shedding is rife, and an increase in transmission line capacity linking the north and south of the country.

China is also reworking its electricity market, which currently does not take marginal costs into account when prioritizing dispatch, meaning renewable plants are not rewarded over coal.

By 2020, China is planning to build 16 new ultra-high-voltage DC lines, on top of eight already in operation, connecting these provinces to coastal load centers, according to BNEF analysts.

However, “less than half of these lines are designated to transmit renewable electricity,” the report states.

Furthermore, said Li: “The progress of transmission projects is slow and there is no mature regulatory framework to specify the amount and type of power to be transmitted on the line.”

Other measures are “also immature,” she said. “Actual impact will be limited under the immature power market system.”

It could be worse, though. While BNEF estimated there are at least five provinces facing a high wind investment risk for new-build quotas up to 2020, and four for PV, coal project investments could be seriously threatened in no fewer than 14 provinces. 

from GTM Solar

The House Passed a Tax Bill. Will Wind and Solar Take a Hit in the Final Package?

The House passed its tax reform bill yesterday that includes cuts to renewable energy tax credits. The package is already having a chilling effect as developers stall projects because of a potential change to the tax code.

What will happen when the Senate and House try to reconcile their two bills? We'll try to anticipate the political chess match before the pieces move.

Then, we'll take a look at Tesla's newest shiny object: the electric semi-truck. Is this a convenient distraction for Musk as Tesla's financial health worsens? Or yet another master plan step that most of us will never understand until much later?

(Note: we recorded these segments on Thursday afternoon. For more on the House tax bill, read this overview; for a rundown of the new semi-truck, read Julia Pyper's reporting.)

We end the show why talking about IEA's latest worries about nuclear shut-downs in Europe. While global emissions rise, renewables may have a hard time filling in the gap.

This podcast is sponsored by Mission Solar Energy, a solar module manufacturer based in San Antonio, Texas. You can find out more about Mission’s American-made, high-power modules at

Are you coming to GTM's Storage Summit on December 12-13? Podcast listeners get 20 percent off their registration with the promo code PODCASTS.

Recommended reading:

  • GTM: Why Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck Is the Toughest Thing Musk Has Attempted Yet
  • Washington Post: The House Just Passed Its Big Tax Bill. Here’s What Is in It.
  • Recharge: Wind and PV Build-Out Too Slow to Replace Aging Nuclear, Says IEA

Subscribe to The Energy Gang podcast via Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher or wherever you find your audio content.

from GTM Solar

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Renewables Are on a Collision Course With Power Markets

We've spent a lot more time lately looking at the structure of U.S. power markets. Why? Because they're about to get shaken up.

It's already begun. In this episode, we'll look at how renewables are upending wholesale power markets today -- and what we can do about it.

We'll examine the issue from a few different angles.

Wood Mackenzie's Prajit Gosh describes why low-price events are becoming more common in wholesale markets than high-price events. He'll also look at the impact on other generation sources.

MAKE Consulting's Dan Shreve talks about what's driving cost reductions in wind. 

And GTM's Shayle Kann will look at the "vicious cycle" of low prices, and how to manage the wholesale market transition in the U.S.

This podcast is sponsored by Schneider Electric. Now, you can reap the benefits of a microgrid with no upfront capital through the new microgrid-as-a-service business model from Schneider Electric. Find out how it works.

Recommended reading:

GTM: The Rise of Renewables Creates Uncertainty in US Power Markets

GTM: Next-Generation Energy Technologies Are Constrained by Outdated Markets. Here’s How to Fix Them

Subscribe to The Interchange podcast via Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher or wherever you find your audio content.

from GTM Solar

Unlocking An Energy Revolution in Ethiopia With Lessons From the Black Market

“Ninety thousand solar lanterns sold last quarter,” said Mr. Li. He was sharing sales numbers for his solar appliance business in Ethiopia and I couldn’t believe it.

To put that number in perspective, the Global Off-grid Lighting Association pegs the average number of all solar lighting products sold in Ethiopia in a single quarter at around 250,000 units. Close to 80 perent of Ethiopians live in rural areas with little to no access to electricity. Assuming two lanterns for every household with an average five people in each, Mr. Li might have provided energy access to close to a quarter million people within months.

As far-fetched as that sounds, it is actually quite possible. The catch, however, is that Mr. Li’s sales are illegal. He sells his products on the informal market, outside of the government net, avoiding taxes and the country’s formal quality regime. As a result, his sales, though meaningful, are at risk of coming to a halt.

A rapidly growing market for solar lanterns and home kits is driving an energy revolution in Ethiopia. Like many low-income countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Ethiopia is a point of focus for international development and finance institutions as well as donors. Such organizations are channelizing tens of millions of dollars into Ethiopia for energy access. In order to maximize the impact of their investments, they need to have an understanding of local requirements in order to provide tailored financial flows.

To that end, I visited Ethiopia earlier this year as part of a study for the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) program. In collaboration with partners, we at TFE Consulting helped SE4All understand the quantity and type of financing needed for energy access in five developing countries across Africa and Asia. Ethiopia was a focus country, along with Nigeria, Kenya, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

What I learned in Ethiopia was encouraging. On the face of it, the market has a high focus on quality: the World Bank’s “Lighting Africa” quality certification is mandatory for products and most key suppliers have this. Additionally, distribution networks are well established and run deep. Financing support is also available through micro-finance institutions offering consumer financing and banks that provide corporate credit to suppliers. Overall, the growth rate of energy access businesses is between 10-20 percent and there is tremendous optimism about the size and future of the market

Despite these promising facts, sales volumes across the formal sector are actually quite low. One reason is that foreign exchange is scarce, which makes imports difficult. Also, debt comes with crippling conditions like interest rates of 12-15 percent and high collateral requirements. As a result of these barriers, most businesses operating in the formal sector sell between 2,000-5,000 lanterns a year. The volume of solar kits is a third of that. Even the largest formal supplier we met sold fewer than 20,000 lanterns a year. These numbers are an order of magnitude lower than those in the informal sector, where some suppliers, like Mr. Li, sell more than 100,000 lanterns a year.

Mr. Li is a true entrepreneur. He runs a cottage-industry-style assembly line for solar lanterns on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. To avoid customs that confiscate products lacking certification, he imports individual components and assembles them locally. Once assembled, he sells wholesale to agents. His price is 20 percent below any formal market product. He is greatly optimistic about his business and plans to convert his makeshift assembly line into a proper factory by the end of the year.

Mr. Li is not alone. From our interviews and data, we estimate that as much as 65 percent of Ethiopia’s solar lantern market transacts in the informal sector. In the vast, highly congested bazaar at the edge of Addis known as Merkato, thousands of vendors sell a wide range of consumer products at cutthroat prices entirely outside the tax and regulatory net. Deals here are large, conducted on trust, not paper, and executed quickly. This is where business gets done.

The Merkato, and other markets like it, are the beating heart of the energy access market in Ethiopia. They are deeply connected to informal networks that have low transaction costs, high flexibility, wide geographic reach and access to the most remote areas of the country. These features make such networks the backbone of many developing markets like Ethiopia and the channel of choice for energy access suppliers looking for large transaction volumes, low costs and speed-to-market.

A focus on volume is understandable in a market that offers razor thin margins. Customers have very low purchasing power and are therefore highly price sensitive. A slight increase in prices can put products out of reach for a large segment of customers. Selling through the informal sector then is not only financially attractive for enterprises due to scale and lower transaction costs, but also a key lever in reaching the largest number of consumers.

The Merkato is notorious. It is a black market, and the authorities continuously try to crack down on it. Formal businesses complain about unfair price competition due to avoided taxes. Many buyers with access to formal markets often avoid it for fear of being cheated. Moreover, access to financing of the kind our project was trying to solve altogether overlooks this market segment.

If international financiers, government, donors, and consultants like us are serious about improving energy access for the poor, there is a trade-off to address. We have to recognize the advantages of the informal sector and develop an approach that incorporates and leverages its many strengths. For a start, we need to recognize the scale and reach of informal markets and find ways to include them when planning financing for energy access. By failing to do so, we are failing to turn lights on.


Mohit is an expert on energy in emerging markets. At TFE Consulting, he leads projects to help international companies navigate the energy transformation underway globally.

The views in this article are his own and do not reflect the views or findings of any studies or organizations mentioned.

from GTM Solar

When Solar Installers Get Serious About Storage [GTM Squared]

from GTM Solar