Solar Market Insight

Quarter two of 2014 proved to be a success time for the solar market. Q2 2014 saw installation of PV systems increase 21% from the same quarter last year. As usually, utility sectors accounted for a majority of the quarter’s growth, with residential implementation of solar energy continuing to increase incrementally. The cost-effectiveness of solar energy is continually improving, which works to explain the increase in PV system installation in industrial and retail sectors. During quarter two, solar energy accounted 53% of all electricity generating capacity installed in the U.S., with natural gas accounting for 30%, wind accounting for 14%, and other resources accounting for 3%. What’s most significant about the electricity capacity installations results for quarter two is that coal accounts for 0%, a victory for the solar energy market, and a victory for renewable energy on the whole.

Although the residential use of solar power has only increased marginally, it’s presence in the solar market has been consistent. California continues to sit at the vanguard of the residential solar power consumer market, making up more than 50% of all residential PV system installations for the fourth quarter in a row. This number owes a lot of credit to the State of California for incentivizing solar energy use. However, PV system installation trends have increased in states without incentivizing programs as well. An important area of focus for the solar market continues to be the small commercial sector, which often lacks the initial resources to move to solar energy, despite the long-term benefit. Another few hurdles in reaching the small commercial sector are a lack of creditworthiness, site-specific requirements, and disproportionately high transaction costs. Because of this, much of the focus in the utility solar market has been on large corporations, who have access to greater resources and offer profitable and wide spread need. Though there’s always room for improvement, the solar market remains on the up and up, and pushes forward with optimism for the future of renewable solar energy.

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More Businesses Go Solar

As technology advances, harvesting solar energy is becoming a more practical and accessible option for businesses across a broad gamut of sizes, wealth, and locations. From major corporations to small, locally owned businesses, solar energy is becoming more prevalent year after year. Although this shift owes credit to wider awareness, proven effectiveness, and a higher consciousness of our own impact on the environment, a declining price on PV (photovoltaic) systems has spurred a lot of movement in the commercial adoption of solar energy. In fact, PV systems are 30% cheaper now than they were at the start of 2011, and commercial use of solar energy has increased over 40% in the last year.

It becomes clear that solar energy is a more cost effective option when Capitalist corporations like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Apple begin installing PV systems on their rooftops, and it’s refreshing to see an option that’s both cheaper and more eco friendly make it’s way into becoming the standard. Listed below are the top 25 companies in utilizing solar energy by solar capacity:

  1. Wal-Mart
  2. Costco
  3. Kohl’s
  4. Apple
  5. IKEA
  6. Macy’s
  7. Johnson & Johnson
  8. McGraw Hill
  9. Staples
  10. Campbell’s
  11. U.S. Foods
  12. Bed Bath & Beyond
  13. Kaiser Permanente
  14. Volkswagen
  15. Walgreens
  16. Target
  17. Safeway
  18. FedEx
  19. Intel
  20. L’Oreal
  21. General Motors
  22. Toys “R” US
  23. White Rose Foods
  24. Toyota
  25. Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Although California has a commanding lead in the implementation of solar energy, other states are picking up the on the trend quickly, with 117,000,000 people in 30 states living within 20 miles of a commercial solar installation. As it becomes more and more feasible to install the means for and save money by harvesting solar energy, we can expect to see more companies join the movement, and to see companies that already have begun using solar energy to do so more extensively.

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The Sun Shines in China, too

With over a billion inhabitants, China is the most populous country in the world, and as it’s industrial revolution is underway, it increasingly contributes to global climate change, exploitation of limited resources, and atmospheric pollution. It is for these reasons that it’s so important for China to implement the use of solar energy, which is a much cleaner alternative to energy production than coal. Coal is a poor energy resource because it burns into smog and emits carbon into our atmosphere, calls for dangerous mining practices that threaten the safety of workers and deface the Earth, and is a non-renewable resource. However, coal currently accounts for over 75% of China’s commercial energy consumption.

On Monday, October 13, China’s National Energy Administration published a notice targeting the need to bolster electric power production with PV power station construction and facilitation for wind and hydropower. Their notice points to tedious approval processes, augmented costs of projects, and speculators’ hands in the market as the blame for prolonged delay in the utilization of renewable energy resources in China. In order for China’s National Energy Administration to deploy the ambitions published in their notice, gatekeepers need to open up the market to make switching to renewable resource fueled power financially feasible. Their plans include innovative ways of raising finances for such endeavors. Liu Chang, founder of Chinese solar industry Solarzoom, sees the NEA publication as a significant step in solving major problems associated with the implementation of solar energy in China.

The National Energy Administration will lay out the plans for PV power station construction later this year, to which all the main provincial power stations must respond with plans for installation and investment details within a month. The NEA also plans to construct large PV power stations on underutilized land with prime conditions for generating mass amounts of energy. The NEA also plans to use hydroelectric power in conjunction with solar to optimize the use of renewable power resources in China. China’s never had a good reputation in eco friendly technology or business practices, but hopefully all of that will change in the near future. With solar technology always becoming more accessible, it seems like a more feasible option all the time.

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Survey Shows Popular Opinion on Solar

A recent article completed for the Solar Energy Industries Association website summarized the findings of a study conducted collaboratively between the SEIA and Hart Research Associates.  For the last five years, both organizations have worked together to complete the survey, which polls the opinion of the American republic in terms of solar energy. 

Several key findings were present in the study.  Just over nine out of ten Americans think that the United States should develop and use more power energy; specifically, ninety two percent of those polled agreed with this statement.  Furthermore, those who voted proved to prefer solar power to any alternative sources of energy; eighty five percent of voters, plus eighty seven percent of swing voters backed solar energy as the suggested primary source of energy.

The study also researched the opinions of political parties in regards to solar energy.  In general, seventy five percent of Republicans favor the use of solar energy.  Eighty five percent of Independents and ninety four percent of Democrats also support the practice.  In terms of the involvement of the federal government, nearly eight out of ten Americans polled felt that the government should incentivize solar development, in the hopes of leading to further installation of solar units; specifically, seventy eight percent of Americans polled believed that the government should find a way to reward those who use solar energy.  Furthermore, seven out of ten Americans truly believe that the federal government should be doing more to support and encourage the use of solar power.

The statistics support this belief, as over one hundred thousand Americans are currently employed through some means of solar power, through five thousand businesses nation-wide in all fifty states.  The economic benefit from creating more plants and more avenues or solar power is clear, due entirely to the well-rounded benefits of employing the energy source; solar provides business for companies, savings for homeowners, education for schools and jobs for communities.

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Quality Problems with Chinese Production of Solar Products

Occasionally, Potential Induced Degradation can occur on solar products produced by certain Chinese manufacturers.   This occurs when the module’s voltage potential and leakage current drive ion mobility within the module, specifically when this occurs between the semiconductor material and other elements of the module, such as the frame or the glass.  This action, typically brought on by high levels of humidity and high temperatures, causes the module’s power to degrade, often resulting in the loss of up to forty percent of the panel’s power.

To fix this issue, manufactures need to improve the insulation on the module, as to prevent the painful effects of excessive temperatures and humidity levels.  However, according to an article recently completed by Renesola’s website, which interviewed Dr. Hou Ruzhong, R&D director of Renesola, some Chinese manufacturers pay very little attention to this concern.  That is not the case for Renesola, Hou asserts, as the company has made researching the problem a priority.

There are other issues in the production as well.  A problem entitled Snail Trail, in which the solar cell grid discolors, allows moisture to transmit through the backsheet, EVA and solar cell.  Through this, the backsheet will turn yellow, if the front of the EVA lets UV rays transmit.  There is also an issue with resistance to wind and snow, with the frames and glass not being made to withstand harsh weather conditions, resulting in micro cracks along the structure.  According to Hou, thinning the thickness of the aluminum is often pursued as it cut costs in production.  However, costs should not be the priority, in Hou’s opinion, as long-term exposure to all of these elements results in degradation in the solar output of the product.

In the case of Renesola, the company is working very hard to not fall to these shortcomings.  In the PVEL test for 2014, in which more than ten companies participated and were tested in varying categories, Renesola scored very successfully, achieving top performance ranking in Dynamic Mechanical Load and Damp Heat, in which the company’s products won the top ranking.  Renesola came in second in the Potential Induced Degradation category and fifth in the Humidity Freeze category.

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