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PV PanEL uSE
The use of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has soared in recent
years: insta lled PV worldwide has increased 75 percent, from 40
gigawatts in 2010 to nearly 70 gigawatts in 2011.
Many major Spanish renewable energy companies are involved
in developing fields of photovoltaic panels. Abengoa recently signed
a contract to build a 200-megawatt field in southern California;
Acciona has a contract to build a PV field in South Africa; and
Valencia-based Siliken will build a 100-megawatt power plant in
Durango, Mexico. Isofotón, with headquarters in Malaga, has
contracts for more than 300 megawatts of PV fields in the U.S.
over the next three years, and, as a result, the company recently
began manufacturing panels in Ohio.
Though the precipitous fall in the price of PV panels caused
some international companies to close, this drop bodes well over-
all, says Carlos Navarro, president of the PV module manufac-
turer Siliken, because it opens up entirely new markets. While PV
installations continue to grow in Europe
and North Africa, emerging economies
in South America, Africa, and Asia can
now look to PV panels to supply power
to urban centers, rather than relying on
them primarily as an electricity source
for rural villages for which connection to
a power grid was prohibitively expensive.
The cost of solar power has dropped
so significantly that, for some countries,
“PV is cheaper than generating by other
fossil fuels,” Ángel Luis Serrano, CEO
of Isofotón, explains. Spanish companies
foresee coming opportunities in Brazil,
Chile, India, and the Middle East.
China will also be a major market,
adds Serrano. China installed three
gigawatts of PV in 2011 and is expected
to double that figure in 2012. Isofotón
has established a joint venture with a
Chinese company and is already enter-
ing into agreements with utility com-
panies for ground-based solar systems.
While the largest new projects today
provide energy to urban centers, Isofotón
and Atersa began working in rural elec-
trification projects when both compa-
nies were founded more than 30 years
ago. Virgilio Navarro, CEO of Valencia-
based Atersa, says that although rural
electrification is only 10 percent of Ater-
sa’s business today—Atersa has projects
in Europe and North America as well as South America and the
Middle East—its expertise, built up over decades, provides invalu-
able knowledge when, for instance, supplying power for a solar-
powered water pump in Africa.
Spanish solar compa nies a re investing in the development of
increasingly efficient solar cells. Isofotón’s efforts have led to cells
with 18.7 percent efficiency, and the company hopes to reach 20
to 21 percent. The increase in efficiency can lead to significant
reduction in materials and overall cost. Isofotón’s researchers have
also focused on high-concentration PV, or HCPV, a technology
that tracks the movement of the sun and operates optimally in
direct sunlight at high temperatures, in locations such as northern
Chile and California’s Mojave Desert—even in some regions of
Spain and Italy. Last year, Isofotón decided to move its technology
out of the laboratory into mass production. The company now
has small HCPV installations in Spain, China, and Morocco, and
will soon insta ll systems in Abu Dhabi and build a larger HCPV
field in northern Chile.
Siliken recently opened a new pilot manufacturing center near
the company’s Valencia headquarters. This facility acts as a manu-
facturing R&D center, where researchers can evaluate the manu-
facturing processes for new technologies before scaling up.
Siliken’s first small-scale production line involves a limited
production of new back-contact solar cells. Only one other com-
pany in the world has developed such cells, which obviate the
need for metal grids—traditionally placed on the front of solar
panels—that interfere with their efficiency. In the lab, these new
panels reach an efficiency of 24.2 percent. Siliken’s engineers are
also evaluating techniques to reduce the thickness of wafers, to
reduce the use of silver (which contributes a significant percent-
age of the overall cost of a solar cell), and to eliminate lead from
the manufacturing process.
Isofotón’s Serrano predicts that the future of solar power will
see installations on rooftops and integrated into buildings. In
Japan, for instance, the recent Fukoshima tragedy has led to a
reconsideration of nuclear power; all 54 nuclear plants were taken
off line for evaluation, and only a few have been brought back on
line. Local and national Japanese governments are encouraging
renewable energy, and the PV market in Japan has skyrocketed.
Ony x Solar, based outside Madrid, has developed integrated PV
solutions for construction materials, such as canopies, floors, and
nearly transparent PV skylights. These materials, which also provide
thermal insulation and protection from damaging UV rays, are cus-
tom developed for each project according to the customer’s needs.
Just such an energy-generating skylight slants over the
bustling new San Antón market in Madrid’s Chueca neighbor-
hood. In addition to installations in Spain, Ony x has completed
projects in China, Italy, France, and the U.S., and currently has
more than 300 projects in the design phase. Most recently, Onyx
was selected by Turner Construction to develop the largest PV
skylight in the U.S., which will be integrated into the new Novar-
tis headquarters in New Jersey.
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