Solyndra Discusses "Solar Shakeout"
As the US solar manufacturing industry faces its second major shakeout in the last half-decade due to rapidly falling system prices, former Vice President of Channel Sales at Solyndra, Inc. Scott Starr comments on the current environment in a webcast hosted by GLG Research today.
Why did the solar industry get hit so hard?
Solyndra's bankruptcy, after receiving a federal loan of half a billion dollars, has dominated media headlines across the industry for the last four months. But “with all the sensationalism, it's hard to tell fact from fiction,” says Starr. “There's a lot of publicity, but no electricity.”
With a glut of PV modules in the market and ramped up Chinese manufacturing, prices have dropped so rapidly that many solar panel makers are struggling to avoid a similar fate. Though Solyndra took the biggest public hit, the problem is bigger than just one firm. Evergreen, SpectraWatt, BP Solar, Beacon Power and Solon are some other major players to go bankrupt with notable divestitures coming from SPWR, RayTracker, Alteris, SolarCity, groSolar, MEMC wafer biz and others.
But despite all the hype, Starr says these are all expected trends for a rapidly maturing market. He explains that the industry was well aware that prices would be going down, but they “clearly went down faster than we had forecasted.” It's been a tremendously difficult market to predict and its complexities make picking “winners” very difficult. While the market experienced a significant drop in prices in 2010, it more recently experienced a drop of as great as 40 percent, Starr adds. And while every doubling of capacity of modules on the market is expected to bring down prices, those are usually somewhere around 15 percent. The plummet from around $1.80 per watt to about $1.05 per watt today was much more dramatic.
Achieving grid parity
Pulling through the next few years, some companies will gain the upper hand, some will lower the quality of modules, while developers get caught somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, demand will remain the strongest driver. Despite a few more bumps in the road, however, Starr sees a very positive future for the industry beginning around 2015 as solar moves closer to grid parity. After solar hits retail parity around that time, solar will be well on its way to competing at the wholesale level.
As electricity rates of utilities across the US increase, “I have little doubt that, with the evidence of cost-out in the industry, that solar will get to a place of parity,” Starr says.
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What are the top risks that could hinder the solar market moving forward?
The two major risks Starr alludes to in his presentation are mainly the fate of the 1603 cash grant, which has been extremely successful in reducing companies' dependences on tax equity, and monitoring potential tariffs place on Chinese panels. Subsidies and regulations will still remain a crucial component of keeping the industry afloat and pushing it forward. Tariffs on Chinese companies selling modules into the US market will also be critical, which could result in as much as a 30 percent cost structure difference. Watching what happens with that trade case in the March hearings under the Department of Commerce will help determine the future of the domestic solar market.
Less worried about a continued drop in the price of solar as more panels come onto the market, Starr says it will mostly come down to monitoring the regulatory policies and accessing capital over the next few years that will act as the biggest drivers for the survival of most companies. Expect to see a few more setbacks, but be prepared for an exciting revival of the industry as 2015 rolls around.
Sakuu Corporation creates 3D printer for EV batteries
Sakuu Corporation has announced a new industrial-grade 3D printer for e-mobility batteries which it claims will unlock the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.
Offering an industrial scale ‘local’ battery production capability, Sakuu believes the technology will provide increased manufacturer and consumer confidence. Sakuu’s Alpha Platform for its initial hardware offering will be available in Q4.
Backed by Japanese automotive parts supplier to major OEMs, Musashi Seimitsu, Sakuu is set to enable fast and high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries (SSBs) that, compared with lithium-ion batteries, have the same capacity yet are half the size and almost a third lighter.
The company’s KeraCel-branded SSBs will also use around 30%-50% fewer materials – which can be sourced locally – to achieve the same energy levels as lithium-ion options, significantly reducing production costs. Sakuu anticipates the 3D printer’s attributes being easily transferable to a host of different applications in other industry sectors.
"For the e-mobility markets specifically, we believe this to be a landmark achievement, and one that could transform consumer adoption of electric vehicles,” said Robert Bagheri, Founder, CEO and chairman, Sakuu Corporation. “SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points."
The ability to provide on-demand, localised production will create more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains, he added.
Sakuu will initially focus on the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market for whom the company’s SSB proposition delivers an obvious and desirable combination of small form factor, low weight and improved capacity benefits. The agility of Sakuu’s AM process also means that customers can easily switch production to different battery types and sizes, as necessary, for example to achieve double the energy in the same space or the same energy in half the space.
Beyond energy storage, Sakuu’s development of print capability opens complex end device markets previously closed off to current 3D printing platforms. These include active components like sensors and electric motors for aerospace and automotive; power banks and heatsinks for consumer electronics; PH, temperature and pressure sensors within IoT; and pathogen detectors and microfluidic devices for medical, to name a few.
"As a cheaper, faster, local, customisable and more sustainable method of producing SSBs – which as a product deliver much higher performance attributes than currently available alternatives – the potential of our new platform offers tremendous opportunities to users within energy, as well as a multitude of other markets," said Bagheri.
Ongoing research and new funding collaborations
Omega Seiki, a part of Anglian Omega Group of companies, has partnered with New York-based company C4V to introduce SSBs for EVs and the renewable sector in India. As part of an MoU, the two companies are also looking at the manufacturing of SSBs in the country, according to reports.
Solid Power, which produces solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, recently announced a $130 million Series B investment round led by the BMW Group, Ford Motor Company and Volta Energy Technologies. Ford and the BMW Group have also expanded existing joint development agreements with Solid Power to secure all solid-state batteries for future EVs. Solid Power plans to begin producing automotive-scale batteries on the company's pilot production line in early 2022.
"Solid-state battery technology is important to the future of electric vehicles, and that's why we're investing directly," said Ted Miller, Ford's manager of Electrification Subsystems and Power Supply Research. "By simplifying the design of solid-state versus lithium-ion batteries, we'll be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and cargo volume, deliver lower costs and better value for customers and more efficiently integrate this kind of solid-state battery cell technology into existing lithium-ion cell production processes."
A subsidiary of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, Vinfast has signed an MoU with SSB manufacturer ProLogium - which picked up a bronze award at the recent Edison Awards - to accelerate commercialisation of batteries for EVs (click here).
Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is designing an SSB for ultra-high performance EV applications. The ultimate goal is to design a battery "that outperforms internal combustion engines so electrical vehicles accelerate the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable energy," according to The Harvard Gazette.
The dramatic increase in EV numbers means that the potential battery market is huge. McKinsey projects that by 2040 battery demand from EVs produced in Europe will reach a total of 1,200GWh per year, which is enough for 80 gigafactories with an average capacity of 15GWh per year.