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.

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