Nov 5, 2015

First Solar: Setting the industry benchmark

Eric Harding
6 min
The global energy industry is witnessing a fundamental change, driven by economic growth, desire for affordable, reliable energy, global demand, the...

The global energy industry is witnessing a fundamental change, driven by economic growth, desire for affordable, reliable energy, global demand, the need for non-volatile energy sources and the need for a diversified energy portfolio. First Solar heavily invests in and capitalizes on advanced technology, innovation and R&D. Starting with industry benchmark solar modules and extending to an advanced Balance of System (BoS) and O&M solutions, First Solar is benefiting from an R&D investment that exceeds that of any of its competitors.

“We want our customers to believe in the quality and reliability of each of our technologies, as well as the enhanced benefit of integrating technologies throughout the power plant, to drive superior results,” said First Solar Asia Pacific regional manager Jack Curtis.

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“Most of our competitors focus on one or a couple of the many components of the PV value chain such as manufacturing or construction,” added Curtis. “But almost none of them have the ability to manage the integration & components of the entire value chain like we do at First Solar.”

Investing in Technology

Building on the lessons learnt from developing, building and operating utility-scale solar power plants, First Solar recognizes the importance in investing in its core Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) PV module technology. The technology has historically been hampered by lower efficiencies than traditional c-Si modules but has surprised industry observers by its unprecedented efficiency improvements in 2015. First Solar claims it is now executing against the industry’s most aggressive module technology cost and efficiency roadmap.

“We are the only manufacturer of solar panels taking advantage of the semiconductor materials that we use,” said Curtis.  

"First Solar's CdTe thin film is now rightly categorized as a high performance product," said Raffi Garabedian, First Solar's CTO. "At one time, we might have been characterized as a low cost, low efficiency technology, but consistent with our technology projections, we are now proving that CdTe thin film delivers both industry-leading performance and sustainable thin-film cost structures."

Garabedian noted that efficiency combined with other real-world performance attributes result in First Solar technology delivering higher energy yield and density than traditional multi-crystalline Silicon (m-Si) solar panels. Given the same installed nameplate module capacity (Watts) with equivalent ground coverage ratio, he said, First Solar's CdTe product will provide up to 8 percent more useable energy from the same land area than m-Si, which gives First Solar a competitive advantage over other PV technologies. This advantage becomes increasingly pronounced in hot and humid locations, which explains why First Solar’s modules are installed in the majority of utility-scale projects in Australia.  

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In addition to the continued trend of efficiency records, First Solar's modules are amongst the highest quality, most reliable modules in the world, having passed the industry's most rigorous multi-stress testing protocols such including Atlas 25+, IEC Long Term Sequential and Thresher Tests.

“The cost of a power plant is very important, but the commercial and financial viability of both the project and the company that stands behind it is equally important,” said Curtis. “Predictable lifetime energy is critical to confidently project the expected value of the sellable energy from a PV plant designed for long-term operation.”

Current projects

First Solar’s two primary ongoing installations in New South Wales include its Nyngan and Broken Hill projects.

The 102-megawatt Nyngan installation will be the largest solar project in the Southern Hemisphere and is being constructed for AGL Energy.

In addition, First Solar developed, owns, and operates a diesel-hybrid project in Queensland. Electricity from the project will be sold to Rio Tinto Alcan under a long term PPA. Combing solar power with existing diesel generation offsets the cost of the fuel optimizes the efficiency of gensets and provides a more economical solution.

“That is an application that we think exhibits a lot of potential,” said Curtis. “We think combining diesel with solar represents a very significant market, so it’s a project we’re also pretty excited about.”

Thriving in a Skeptical Market

Curtis said he has noticed a large shift in Australia’s perception of solar energy, as it has gone from just being a niche market to one that is now a common solution.

“Australia historically has been a bit behind the curve when it comes to utility solar adoption,” said Curtis. “However, I think the large power companies in Australia are seeing what’s starting to happen globally and that they view utility-scale solar as an inevitability.”

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Curtis believes that the industry has nearly come to a point where government policy will no longer be the primary reason for the adoption of solar power.

“Even though the policy backdrop driven by the current government isn’t as encouraging as it once used to be, I think we’re seeing a commitment to the sector that will detach from what is happening at the policy level, driven by the increasing commercial attractiveness of solar power. I think that is very encouraging.”

Moving forward

“We believe there are a few things that drive the market: one is the focus on policy, and the other is the energy gap, where emerging countries require to power up quickly to meet growth and infrastructure demands. The demand creators are fuel limitations, energy security exposure or fuel price volatility. As a company, our focus is to understand where the gaps and opportunities in various markets are, and how we can help leverage our experience in those markets,” said Curtis.

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“Our primary focus is always to find a more cost-effective way to deliver solar electricity out of a utility-scale power plant, and to accelerate the rate at which solar continues to be adopted into the mainstream,” he said.

Curtis also believes that the increased use of energy storage is the future. He compared the current state of energy storage to where solar was five to six years ago, as it appears to be a logical step but wasn’t available at the right cost.

International Expansion

With over 10 gigawatts (GW) installed across the world, First Solar believes clean affordable solar power is an important part of the worldwide energy mix.

Through integrating technologies, services and expertise across the solar value chain, First Solar delivers bankable PV energy solutions that help create a world powered by reliable and affordable solar energy.

According to Curtis, First Solar has aggressively pursued expansion opportunities over the past few years, including in Latin America, Asia and Japan, Africa, and the Middle East. 

“We really want to make sure we’re localizing the right capabilities in the right markets on the back of what’s been a pretty aggressive expansion strategy for the company,” said Curtis.

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Jun 25, 2021

UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC

climatechange
Energy
Netzero
UK
Dominic Ellis
5 min
The UK must put an end to a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices warns the Climate Change Committee

The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.

While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.

"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."

The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.

  • Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
     
  • Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
     
  • Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
     
  • Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
     
  • Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.

In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies. 

Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”

Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society. 

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."

Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).

Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.

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