Saturday, August 30, 2014

You Can't Have Solar Without Silver

You Can't Have Solar Without Silver

With a history that dates back more than 5,000 years, silver has been an incredibly valuable metal through the ages. It was once used as a trading currency along the Asian spice routes and was even the standard for U.S. currency for a while.

However, the precious metal holds far more value than just as a currency. In fact, more than half of the world's silver is actually used for industrial purposes as it is used in X-rays, low-e windows, and even solar panels. As it turns out, even solar energy wouldn't work the same way if it wasn't for silver.

Making Solar Shine

Silver is a unique metal. It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of all metals, and it's the most reflective. These physical properties make it a highly valued industrial metal, especially when used in solar cells.

Silver is actually a primary ingredient in photovoltaic cells, and 90% of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, which are the most common solar cell, use a silver paste. What happens is that when sunlight hits the silicon cell it generates electrons. 

The silver used in the cell works as a conductor to collect these electrons in order to form a useful electric current. The silver then transports the electricity out of the cell so it can be used. Further, the conductive nature of silver enhances the reflection of the sunlight to improve the energy that's collected. Therefore, if it wasn't for silver solar wouldn't be as efficient in turning sunlight into energy.

Shining a Light on Silver in Solar

The average solar panel actually uses about two-thirds of an ounce of silver, which is about 20 grams. That might not sound like a lot, but at around $20 an ounce it contributes more to the cost of solar than it does to the other industrial products that use silver. For example, a laptop only contains 750 milligrams to 1.25 grams of silver while a cell phone contains just 200-300 milligrams of silver, so silver is a tiny fraction of the cost of those devices.

Overall, the solar industry uses about 5% of the world's annual silver supply, or an estimated 52.4 million ounces. However, as demand for solar increases, especially in China, the demand for silver used in solar could double. Because of this it is estimated that by next year the solar industry will use 100 million ounces of silver.

Because of the volatility in the price of solar, panel makers are working on using less of it on each panel. Still, the overall increase in demand for new solar panels is what's driving the demand silver used by the solar industry. 

This increased demand for silver could have a real impact on the solar marketplace in the years to come as solar could push up the price of silver. So, should silver prices surge it could have an impact on the production costs of solar panels, which would then impact the economics of the solar industry.

Final Thoughts

Silver is a precious metal to the solar industry. Because of this any future spike in the price of silver could hold back the growth of the industry. 

It's a trend to keep an eye on as surging silver prices could dim the prospects of the solar industry in the future because it's becoming such a large consumer of the precious metal.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A New Adaptive Material Could Halve the Cost of Solar Power

Solar power is one of the most reliable forms of renewable power-but it's still expensive. Now, a team has developed a smart, adaptive material that could slash the its cost in half.

Developed by start-up Glint Photonics, the new material has optical properties that can change to help it capture as much light as possible. Currently, large-scale solar plants have to use tracking technology to ensure that their cells maximize their exposure to sunlight; this new material changes its reflectivity in response to heat from concentrated light to capture light across a wide range of angles.

The new technology is a kind of coating for use in a solar cell which focuses light into a piece of glass. An array of thin lenses concentrate sunlight across a broad range of angles, before it's passed to a glass sheet, coated on both sides with reflective coating. The front coating, however, is made of the new material, and Technology Review explains how it works:
When a beam of concentrated light from the array of lenses hits the material, it heats up part of it, causing that part to stop being reflective, which in turn allows light to enter the glass sheet. The material remains reflective everywhere else, helping to trap that light inside the glass-and the light bounces around until it reaches the thin edge of the glass, where a small solar cell is mounted to generate electricity.

As the day wears on, the lenses throw the light-captured across a broad range of incident angles, remember-onto a different spot on the glass sheet, always allowing light in only where the beam of light falls. In turn, it reduces the need to keep the device pointed directly at the sun. Glint Photonics claims that the technology could produce solar power at a cost of four cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to eight cents per kilowatt-hour for normal solar panels.

The technology is still a proof of concept-its efficiencies still need to be upped, and the whole thing need to be scaled to work at commercial volumes-but it's a very promising development.

Solar Australia: Australia's 'Vast' Solar Resources Closer to Being Tapped In a Big Way

Australia’s largest solar plant moves one step closer to completion with the first of 1.35 million solar photovoltaic (PV) modules being installed on Wednesday at AGL’s Nyngan Solar plant in central NSW.

Located on a 250-hectare site about 550 km north-west of Sydney, the $290 million plant will have a capacity of 102 megawatts, or enough to power about 33,000 homes.

The plant is expected to be completed by next July and generate an estimated $137 million for the regional economy over its 30-year life span, said Scott Thomas, AGL’s general manager power development.

“AGL has already invested over $3 billion in renewable energy generation in Australia and with projects like the Nyngan Solar Plant, (it) is increasing the proportion of zero-carbon emission generation in the National Electricity Market,” Mr Thomas said.
The Baird government has lately stepped up public support for the renewable energy industry, placing it at odds with Coalition counterparts at the state and federal level.

Last week, Environment Minister Rob Stokes called for NSW to be “Australia’s answer to California” in promoting solar and wind energy, and also backed leaving the national renewable energy target – now being reviewed for a possible cut by an Abbott-government appointed panel – at current settings.

AGL’s Nyngan plant and a sister 53-megawatt solar project in Broken Hill will cost about $440 million to build, including $166.7 million in grants from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $64.9 million from NSW coffers.
For Nyngan alone, the cost will be $290 million, with ARENA’s funds totalling $116.1 million and $43.3 million from NSW.

“The NSW government’s support for this project has been vital and a very important role in the widespread development of utility scale solar across NSW and across Australia,” Leslie Williams, Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, said.

“NSW has vast solar resources and has long been a standout leader in photovoltaic research,” Ms Williams said. “We are now taking the next step and becoming a standout leader in renewable energy development.”
Laid out end to end, Nyngan’s PV panels would stretch about 1600 km, or roughly the distance from Sydney to Melbourne and back.

The twin solar plants may be among the last large-scale renewable plants to be developed for some time as on-going investor concern about the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has all but frozen new spending in the sector in Australia.
Just $40 million was invested in the first half of 2014 – the lowest since 2001 – and a fraction of the almost $2.7 billion poured into large-scale renewable energy in 2013, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported earlier this month.

Small-scale renewable energy has seen a less precipitous decline although cuts in feed-in tariffs and other support have seen PV installations slide from 60,114 systems in the first quarter of 2013 to 45,369 in the three months to June 2014, according to the Australian Solar Council.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fotowatio Plans to Build Australia’s Largest Solar-Power Project

Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, the solar-power plant developer backed by U.S. energy investor Denham Capital Management LP, won the right to build a 20-megawatt project near Australia’s capital.

Fotowatio will participate in the Australian Capital Territory’s feed-in tariff program, which rewards generators of solar power by paying above-market prices for the electricity, Simon Corbell, ACT minister for the environment and sustainable development, said today in a statement.

The Royalla solar farm, to be built about 25 kilometers (16 miles) south of Canberra, will become the largest in Australia by 2014, according to the statement. The venture will help in an effort to lower carbon emissions and shift away from fossil fuels, the ACT government said.

Fotowatio, which is based in the Netherlands, sought a new project in Australia after losing a competition earlier this year for federal government funds to build a large-scale solar plant in New South Wales state. Denham Capital in March reached an agreement with Fotowatio to invest $190 million in solar projects in markets including Australia.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Over Regulation Driving Mass Exodus in Australia's Resources Sector

The New Trend for Primary Sector resource Companies operating in Australia is to go offshore seeking reallocating their capital to projects with less overhead cost and greater certainty.

2012 Has seen the introduction of a Carbon Tax (Carbon Trading System) and a Mining Tax which combined with a heavily reduced Iron Ore price and weakening demand has seen any new or planned venture on paper, look far less economical.

There has been an incremental shift in Australian Companies increasing profiles overseas where the cost of business are seen as being significantly less such as Papua new guinea and South Africa.
The Australian Governments Justification for the Mining Tax (Resource Super Profits Tax) are basically two fold:

The Commodities Prices are rising so fast the taxation system is unable to stay in-line with the super normal profits mining companies are experiencing during this resources boom.

The Carbon Tax will also progressively increase the costs of production capabilities for miners and primary resource companies in an indirect way through increased costs such as electricity which is one key input to mining and yielding primary resources, some to a break even and shut down point where the cost of production is outstripped by costs and economics uncertainty. 

The outcome of these creeping legislation's are that incrementally Australian companies will and have been considering a more international approach as the disincentives to operate inside Australia grow to a level were companies will be forced into this position.

The eventuation is that the price put on commodities in Australia will ensure that they are plentiful for generations to come as the opportunity cost of mining in Alternate resource rich countries becomes too much. 

This Legislation is effectively creating commodities world where 3rd world countries seek out cheaper countries to do business in and in a way at least its almost like Australian Government was slow to catch on to Globalisation and outsourcing production to countries with cheaper labour and less Government Bureaucracy where businesses and economies thrive.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Strong on Solar: Australia Eyes CSP Leadership

Solar Dawn, as its name suggests, is a CSP project with aspirations as a catalyst. Based near Chinchilla — "Australia's melon capital" — in rural Queensland, at 250 MW, if completed its impact would be felt worldwide.

"Hugely significant for the industry" is how Dr. Keith Lovegrove of IT Power Australia describes the A$1.2 billion (US$1.2 billion) initiative. The scheme is backed by Australia's federal Solar Flagships Programme and the consortium behind Solar Dawn has dubbed it "the largest solar project in the Southern Hemisphere".

But, while Solar Dawn could bring up the sun for Australian CSP with a jolt, its chances of seeing daylight are fading. On 1 July 2012, the scheme missed an extended deadline for funding. The state of Queensland promptly withdrew its support, leaving a A$75 million (US$79 million) hole. "None of us knows what's happening," says Lovegrove.

But he would deny that Australian CSP's prospects are also dimming. Spectacular daybreak may look off the cards, but several glimmers of light are showing.

For a start, less ambitious CSP projects remain on track. Just down the road from the proposed site for Solar Dawn, the 44 MW Kogan Creek Solar Boost is now under construction. On completion, the hybrid plant will feed additional solar generated steam to the existing 750 MW coal-fired Kogan Creek Power Station.

In strategic terms, CSP's fit for Australia's meteorology, economy and climate objectives is also arguably as snug as a lifeguard's Speedos. In the recent report Realising the Potential of Solar Power in Australia, a team led by Lovegrove floats the idea of CSP providing up to 15 GW in "the near-to-mid-term".

Without a radical overhaul of its grid, Australia could have 2 GW in CSP by 2020 and 10 GW by 2030, according to the report's roadmap. In the longer term, the technology could meet half of the country's energy needs by 2050.

Letting the sunshine in

Blistering sunshine obviously figures in Australia's appeal for CSP. As a technology, concentrating solar thermal requires "excellent direct normal insolation from the sun, mostly met in the 15° to 35° latitude bands," in the words of the International Energy Agency.

But top solar locations are, almost by definition, a poor match with existing distribution and transmission infrastructure. Australian networks have developed to transmit electricity from large central generators near coal, gas or hydro resources. Electricity from CSP would need to flow over long distances in different directions.

To see precisely how well CSP could map onto solar resources and existing systems, Lovegrove's team examined the potential of various types of CSP, both off-grid and grid connected. The study concluded that 15 GW of CSP capacity could be achieved with "only modest grid extensions". Initial installations could cover hybrid systems at existing fossil-fuel plants and smaller off-grid plants for mines and towns. Further down the line, "nation-building" grid extensions could unlock more substantial solar resources.

Of this 15 GW potential, 8 GW would be high-capacity standalone plants with enough thermal storage to justify fairly modest grid extensions. Another 2 GW would be hybrid plants delivering steam to established coal-fired plants, while 3-4 GW would be standalone plants with capacities of 50-150 MW linked to existing grids. Medium-scale grid-connected and off-grid plants are also seen as likely to take off, although totalling less 1 GW of capacity.

Cleaning the energy mix

In any case, the hurdles to adding CSP capacity to Australia's grids could be overshadowed by the risks of sticking with fossil fuel. By coincidence, Solar Dawn's recent thunderclap broke amid a political storm over an attempted overhaul of the energy mix.

Also on 1 July, 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's flagship Carbon Price came into force. From now on, the country's 294 top polluters must pay A$23 (US$24) for each tonne of carbon emitted, although the price is expected to ease from 2015. A glance at Australia's current energy mix reveals why the law's proposers were willing to brave fierce public opposition. Australia's 50 GW of installed capacity is among the world's dirtiest, with coal providing three quarters of electricity. In per-capita carbon emissions, Australia is the developed world's number one.

The new law - labelled the Carbon Tax by its many opponents - is aimed at cutting carbon emissions from 2000 levels by 5 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050. While renewables take on a larger slice of energy mix, a closure program for heavily polluting coal fired plants should help speed Australia down the league of top polluters.

In any cleaner generation future, solar power offers two advantages over other renewables. An analysis of electricity prices within a recent report for ASI by ROAM Consulting, Solar Generation Australian Market Monitoring, found that solar should prosper because its hours of peak generation coincide with peak demand. But CSP holds another ace in its ability to meet peak and baseload demand through storage.

Storing up baseload capacity

For now, in fact, concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology is making similar headway to CSP in Australia. Construction is underway on Solar Systems' 2 MW Mildura Solar pilot plant, where a 100 MW facility will be built if the demonstration project prospers. Yet basic economics could still favour solar thermal technology. "CSP without storage is twice as expensive as large-scale PV," says Lovegrove. "Why bother? The real reason is storage."

CSP technologies can feature thermal storage units. As heat can be stored far more efficiently than electricity, these plants open up a rare opportunity for renewables to provide baseload and peaking power. The value of CSP's capacity to meet demand could also rise over time. A future energy mix with more intermittent renewables such as wind would put a high premium on energy storage.

What's more, the ability to effectively time shift solar generation would also protect CSP revenues once more solar power comes on line, with additional PV capacity creating a bulge in daytime generation that would be expected to curb prices, cutting its premium. "Anything fixed in time of dispatch can cause a fall in pricing," says Lovegrove. "Storage means you can adapt to the new peak."

The "strategic" case for CSP

In addition, the ASI sees a strategic case for investing in CSP. "It suits Australia because we're sunny and have experience in power stations," says Lovegrove.

Solar Dawn would provide a showcase for home-grown compact linear Fresnel collector (CLFC) technology already in place at the coal-fired Liddell Power station and being installed at the Kogan Solar Boost. Areva Solar, which is driving both the Solar Dawn and Solar Boost projects, was formed by the purchase of Ausra Solar, a firm that originated in Sydney in 2002.

A lull in global CSP activity could also let Australia make its mark. "Nothing that Australia can do will affect the photovoltaic industry - which is now taken up by China - but one of our conclusions is that CSP offers an opportunity in a technology area that suits Australia," says Lovegrove.

In fact, rather than a crowded field, Australian CSP could emerge into a void. After driving the industry for many years, Spain's commitment to CSP could waver amid its on-going financial crisis. In the US, federal backing for CSP now looks uncertain. Increasingly, the industry is looking to India, where the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission aims for 20 GW of CSP and PV by 2022, as well as Middle East and North African states.

The prospects for Australian CSP technology in new markets such as India are buoyed by Areva's recent contract to set up two 125 MW CSP plants in Rajasthan. Areva will provide construction management services for the project, scheduled for commercial operation by May 2013.

CSP still too pricey

But one drawback outweighs the host of benefits that CSP could bring. ASI's report pegs the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for utility-scale solar thermal at about A$250 (US$261)/MWh. Meanwhile, the maximum revenue in main grid-connected markets currently totals about A$120 (US$125)/MWh, including renewable certificates.

In fairness, the gap between CSP and fossil fuel is not as unbridgeable as these figures suggest. A complex study of potential revenue suggests CSP's ability to meet baseload and peak demand through being dispatchable doubles the value of its production. This "time value" means CST would have earned A$87 (US$91)/MWh over 2005-2010 while wholesale prices averaged only A$42 (US$44)/MWh.
But ASI Executive Director Mark Twidell identifies the gap between revenues on the market and the cost of technology as it moves from demonstration to commercialisation as "the critical issue facing CSP technologies".

"There is a range of market and policy drivers that will impact on the widespread, large-scale deployment of CSP but ultimately it is about bringing down cost and closing the cost-revenue gap, which is the responsibility of industry, government and the research sector," he says. An added challenge for CSP is the impact of Australia's commodity boom, which has pushed up the price of construction in the areas where new plants would go up.

Getting to the right price

The study projects that CSP will be competitive with Australia's grid at some point between 2018 and 2030. "There is a 90 per cent probability it will fall within that range," says Lovegrove. Rising demand and falling CSP capital costs would both drive this transformation. While real energy values are forecast to rise by between 1 per cent and 3 per cent per year, capital costs are predicted to drop by between 20 per cent and 50 per cent by 2020.

"CSP is right at the top of the cost curve," says Lovegrove. His optimism rests on the likely trajectory of global deployment as well as a SunShot Vision Study in the U.S., which found "heaps of opportunity to reduce the costs of various elements". In his view, the industry can reasonably expect costs to fall in line with those in the wind industry, giving a progress ratio (PR) of 0.8 or 0.9 with each doubling of installed capacity.

That said, the ASI hardly expects CSP to take off in Australia entirely on its own merits. The purpose of Realising the Potential of Solar Power in Australia is rather to alert authorities to the wider benefits of CSP so these can be rewarded.

A call for new policies

For now, wholesale electricity markets largely determine CSP plants' revenues, with renewable energy certificates adding about A$30-40 (US$31-41)/MWh. But Lovegrove argues plants' income should also reflect their specific advantages for networks.

As CSP plants are likely to be in rural or relatively remote locations, they could reduce high line losses. Installations could also earn additional revenues through reducing network costs by providing reliable generation at the end of near-capacity lines. Capacity value - the extent to which CSP can cut investment in other dispatchable systems - provides a further case for enhanced revenues. In addition, rising capacity of fluctuating renewables such as wind and solar PV could raise the value of ancillary services for balancing the grid, which CSP with storage is equipped to provide.
The ASI report advocates such technology-neutral incentives as one element in a four-pronged approach. Second, Lovegrove and his team suggest the sector aim to better communicate its value proposition to key organizations, retailers and financiers. They also call for "CSP-solar precincts" in areas of high solar resource, where connections for CSP would be provided to cut development costs. Finally, the report recommends a push in R&D to reduce costs and build confidence. Key areas where Australia could focus include deployments of less than 50 MW, fossil-fuelled hybridisation and advanced cooling technologies suited to water supply constraints.

Getting the message across

But will Australia's authorities heed the ASI's call? That may hinge on the next federal election, due by the end of 2013. The opposition led by the Liberal Party's Tony Abbott looks set to romp home. Which could be ominous for all renewables. Abbott has made a "pledge in blood" to repeal the Carbon Price. But Mark Twidell prefers to stress elements of consensus. "The independent Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which has bipartisan support and funding legislated through to 2020, will make investments to develop renewable energy technologies and to help lower their costs, including meritorious CSP projects."

In his view, there is even hope for Solar Dawn. "The Australian government remains committed to the deployment of large-scale solar," he says.

Lovegrove seems more willing to acknowledges headwinds. "It's such an uncertain environment. If you ask most the key stakeholders, what they'd really like is some certainty, so that they can start planning. It's incredibly tricky to see what will happen." While "very, very optimistic" about the sector's global outlook, he is less sanguine about its future in his homeland.

"Whether Australia manages to shoot itself in the foot or not remains to be seen,' he says. On the upside, he sees potential for Australia to 'relatively easily" take a leadership role to become "a major, major player". But he admits that CSP's advocates have a complex message to get across."Everybody loves renewables in a motherhood sort of way, but very few people have cottoned onto the importance of matching demand throughout the day," he says.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Carbon Shift to Ease Scrapping of Tax: Coalition

THE Coalition says the linking of Australia's carbon price to Europe's will make it easier for Tony Abbott to axe the scheme, by giving firms a market to resell unnecessary forward-dated permits. 
The opposition's acting climate change spokesman Simon Birmingham said Australian firms buying emissions permits in the European carbon market would not be left holding worthless paper when the Coalition abolished the Australian scheme.

“They will have a safe and clear way to offload those permits back into the European scheme,” Mr Birmingham said.

“We've always made it clear that it was possible to abolish the carbon tax and this further demonstrates there is absolutely no impediment to doing so.”

Labor yesterday moved assuage business fears about the impact of the carbon tax by dumping the scheme's controversial $15 a tonne floor price, a change that could slash hundreds of millions of dollars from annual company costs.

The scheme will be linked to the European carbon price from July 1, 2015, allowing Australian firms to buy and sell permits on the world's biggest carbon market.

But the move exposes the government to a potential multi-billion dollar budget hit, with emissions permits in Europe currently trading at about $8 a tonne - far below the $29 a tonne figure the government is relying on to reap a forecast $9.2 billion in revenue in 2015-16.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said linking the scheme to Europe was a good move.

But he said it was difficult to see the European carbon price getting up to $29.

“It's fanciful,” Mr Willox told Sky News, although he added: “This is a positive move in the long term.”

Mr Willox said there were a “whole lot of balls in the air” with the Coalition's policy.
“Business needs long term certainty ... the certainty of a regulatory framework,” he said.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the EU carbon price had been hit hard by the eurozone financial crisis, but it would recover.

“It is three years away,” Mr Combet said. “The treasury modelling is something we stand by.”

Greenhouse Gases - Counter