Two team up to solve heat problem in PV panels

Two of the oldest solar technology manufacturers, SolarWorld and FAFCO, have teamed up to deal with a significant weakness in solar PV panels: heat degradation.

The problems excessive heat causes the panels is significant. On a hot day, a panel can lose up 10-25 percent of its rated output and over time, consistent heat above 90 degrees Fahrenheit heat can actually cause permanent degradation of up to 30 percent in a couple of years. That information isn’t widely disseminated and few people, even those who sell the technology, knows the problem exists. That’s why when we were talking to PV vendors at the Intersolar Conference in San Francisco, the only people who could acknowledge the problem was at the FAFCO/SunWorld booth.

FAFCO has been providing passive solar water heating products and SunWorld PV panels since the 1970s. They have created several cogeneration systems over the years, but this is the first that marries the two technologies.

FAFCO has invented a heat exchange system known as CoolPV™ that is attached to a back of a typical 3x5 panel. Acting and looking very much like a radiator on a car, cold water is run through the system, drawing  heat off of the panel. Currently, the most common use for the water is heating spas and swimming pools, according to FAFCO president Bob Leckinger.

Leckinger preferred not to give the cost of the system, but claimed it could be recouped within three years. How you might buy the technology is another question.

Leckinger said they are selling product now, but looking on either the SunWorld or FAFCO websites finds no information available on the new systems. And since the companies are focused on recreational uses it’s not likely it will be available for the general public any time soon. That is unfortunate because there are a lot of solar panel farms literally burning up in the American Southwest.

See full interview here:

Can Solar survive Solyndra aftermath?

By Lou CoveyEditorial Director, Footwasher Media

The recent collapse of a few high-profile solar energy companies, like Solyndra and Beacon Power, has caused even the most ardent fans of alternative energy to ask, "Can this industry survive?"  The answer is a resounding, yes and no.  It all depends on what government on all levels does.

Current public impressions of the health of any industry are colored by recent history.  The financial failings of companies and industries considered "to big to fail" are what most people think of when hearing news about solar.  But unlike the auto industry, with a population of three major players, the solar industry is filled with hundreds of start-ups struggling to establish themselves.  Even if one, two or two dozen go down, it is still well populated.

"Although panel manufacturing is in trouble, the solar industry is doing relatively okay." said Chirag Rathi, a senior consultant on the energy industry for Frost and Sullivan. "This is largely due to the advent of solar leasing companies in the U.S. One such company, SolarCity, was even give a contract to install solar power on up to 160,000 military homes. The program was supposed to be supported by the Department of Energy (DoE), which had extended a conditional commitment for a partial guarantee of a $344 million loan to support the project."

Government subsidy and purchase are the key to whether the industry thrives. The DoE recently announced a new initiative to fund solar collection technology development and the Department of Defense (DoD) is under congressional mandate to reduce fossil-fuel consumption by 50 percent.

The reality is that all forms of energy production are heavily subsidized by government throughout the world.  China has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in their solar panel industry.  Spain's financial difficulties are directly tied to the 100 percent subsidy it gave to the industry there, that it can no longer support.  Even Germany, relatively healthy in the world economy, is struggling to maintain its levels of support to the industry.  In the US, most of the government support – Federal, state and local – is actually tied to the installation industry.

"The purpose of government subsidies for renewables is to reduce costs and make them economically viable alternatives to fossil fueled electricity generation." said Jay Holman, research manager for solar energy strategies at IDC. "As the cost of electricity from renewables drops, it is natural that the subsidies drop as well: this is an indication of progress. The trick with subsidies is to encourage industry growth without placing too heavy a burden on electricity ratepayers or taxpayers. A flat, constant subsidy won't do the trick: it needs to drop in line with falling costs."

Holman said Germany and Italy automatically reduce subsidies based on the amount of solar installed in the previous year, which provides transparency and predictability for the market.

"In the US, however, we send the issue back to congress every few years and let them duke it out. That is an incredibly inefficient approach that makes the subsidy situation extremely difficult to predict."

Holman concluded that what the US industry needs is a long term subsidy plan that makes automatic subsidy adjustments based on the rate of installations and/or the cost of electricity from renewables.

Solyndra collapses.  Why are the generals smiling?