Utility SCE wants A123 Systems to build largest grid storage battery

Southern California Edison (SCE) is seeking a US grant to store wind power in the largest-ever grid storage battery to be built by A123 Systems, Reuters reported on 26 Aug 2009.

Utility SCE is requesting $65 million in grants from the US DOE for the pilot storage project ($25 million for this project) and for another project involving integration of home energy management systems into the electric grid. SCE is seeking the money from the DOE’s $615 million fund for smart grid-related pilot projects. Smart grid technology measures and modifies power usage in homes and businesses, improving grid reliability.

Wind and solar are intermittent energy sources and storing the power at economically viable rate is seen as crucial to making alternative energy truly mainstream. Hence, SCE wants privately-held A123 Systems to assemble a 32-MW-hour utility-scale battery that would be made up of smaller batteries in an 8,000-square-foot building at an existing substation in the Tehachapi region in California.

The project is expected to have about 4,500MW of wind power by 2015 and needs to find a way to store the power. The battery would stabilize the flow of wind power from the mountains to the utility’s load centers to the west and south and that could free up about 300MW of wind power that might otherwise be undeliverable if the utility had transmission line problems in the region.

For the second pilot project on smart grid integration, SCE is seeking $40 million from the DOE and will be working with GE, SunPower Corp and Boeing Co. IBM and Cisco may also play a part in the project.

Separately, another California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co, is seeking $25 million from the DOE’s smart grid fund for a compressed air energy storage project, which aims to pump compressed air into an underground reservoir, using mainly wind energy produced during non-peak hours. The air would be released to generate electricity during periods of peak demand.

Batteries, whether the more expensive lithium ion or cheaper sodium sulfur and flow batteries, are still far more expensive than compressed air energy storage (CAES). According to the Electric Power Reserach Institute, it’s among the cheapest, besides pumping water uphill and letting it flow to spin a turbine – another technology limited by the availability of water and reservoirs to hold it. PG&E’s Helms Pumped Storage Facility is one such “pumped hydro” storage project.

Still, backers of grid batteries – as well as systems like flywheels and fuel cells – say they could lower prices as more systems get deployed.

Utility wants to deploy largest grid battery ever
SoCal Edison Wants A123’s Biggest Grid Battery Ever
PG&E Wants DOE Dollars for Underground Air Energy Storage


UMC establishes new firm for solar investments

Just 2 weeks ago, I wrote that TSMC is allocating $50 million for solar investments. Now, Reuters reported on 24 Aug 2009 that UMC, the world’s no. 2 contract chip maker is following sector leader and rival TSMC to diversify into solar-related markets.

UMC’s board approved a plan to establish a wholly owned investment company, UMC New Business Investment Corp, which would be capitalized at T$1.5 billion ($46 million) and invest in solar and LED markets. UMC will also set up a new business development center and Chen Wen-yang, a senior UMC vice president will be in charge of its operation.

The firm says that Chen will leverage his experience in the semiconductor industry to conduct evaluations on various investments. He will also be responsible for the integration, management and utilization of human resources, technology and capital. The new center aims to focus on industry sectors with high growth and profit potential. UMC New Business Investment Corp will then target timely strategic investment on the basis of the center’s evaluations.

Comment: TSMC and UMC which has combined 60% market share (TSMC – 45%, UMC – 15%) in the semiconductor chip industry is entering the solar industry which is currently in the state of massive oversupply. Is it too late to enter the industry where China is leading the solar production? Possibly they will use the same model of making chips mostly for those who do not own factories (we call them fabless companies) to the solar industry where the companies currently have their own factories/fabs. Only some companies like BP Solar and SunPower have recently outsource their solar panel production to contract manufacturers. Taiwanese companies which are well-known for contract manufacturing for items such as chips, computers, mobile phones and other electrical items will definitely eye for a piece of pie in the solar industry. Motech and Gintech Energy are currently the only Taiwanese companies in the top 10 PV companies in the world.

UMC to set up new firm for solar investments
UMC, Another Chip Company With a Solar Fund
UMC establishes subsidiary targeting LED and solar investments

Solar cell production to grow 56% in 2009

Reuters reported on 11 Aug 2009 that solar cell manufacturing capacity will grow 59% in 2009 despite weakened demand for renewable energy projects in the face of tight credit markets and a global economic recession in a report issued by research group DisplaySearch. DisplaySearch joined the solar market research bandwagon when it released its first Quarterly PV Cell Capacity Database & Trends Report on 11 Aug 2009.

Summary of the report:
1. Cell manufacturing capacity will reach 17 GW this year and will surpass 42 GW by 2013, growing at a rate of 49% per year.
2. While demand for PV panels is shrinking 17% this year and enormous oversupply eroded prices, the solar industry will begin working through the excess capacity as demand recovers next year and takes off in 2011 and beyond.
3. From Jan 2008 to July 2009, about 11.4 GW of new solar cell capacity was installed worldwide.
4. The report named First Solar as the largest solar cell manufacturer with more than 1 GW of capacity. Q-Cells and Suntech Power come in second.
5. By 2013, these companies and JA Solar Holdings, Motech Industries, Renewable Energy Corp (REC), SunPower, Yingli Green Energy Holding, Showa Shell Sekiyu KK and Sharp Corp may be among the top 10 makers, with more than 16 GW or 38% of total capacity in 2013.
6. Through 2006, Japan had the largest solar cell production capacity in the world. However, Chinese companies started to ramp up a host of new facilities in 2005 and by 2007 had more solar cell capacity on line than any other country. China has continued to invest heavily in production facilities, about a third of the worldwide cell capacity in 2009 and is forecast to be the main region for cell production well into the future.
7. In 2005, 95% of solar cell manufacturing capacity was for crystalline silicon solar cells and 5% for thin film solar cells. In 2009, thin film will account for more than 20% of capacity. By 2013, thin film technologies are forecast to account for as much as 30% of solar cell capacity.

Top PV Companies in the world

The following table is the top 10 photovoltaic device suppliers in 2008:

IC Insights 2008 Solar Ranking Table

Another research firm, iSuppli, ranked the top 20 global solar companies in Q1-2008 by production in 2007 and by announced production capacity 2010:

Top 20 PV_iSuppli
Top 10 Suppliers of PV Manufacturing Supplier in 2008 by VLSI Research:

VLSI PV Mfg Equipment Top 10 Suppliers

The following is summarized from IC Insights Research Bulletin 2009 report Solar Energy: Growth Oppor­tu­ni­ties for the Semi­con­duc­tor Industry:

1. Japan’s sup­pli­ers of solar PV cells and pan­els, which dom­i­nated the indus­try for many years, slipped in the sup­plier rank­ings in 2008.

2. Sharp was the No. 1 PV device sup­plier in 2006 and for sev­eral years before that but was overtaken by Q-Cells and Sun­tech Power Hold­ings in 2007. First Solar blew past both Sharp and Sun­tech, push­ing Sharp down to No. 4 in 2008 rankings, which are based on peak-megawatt value of the PV devices pro­duced and sold by each supplier.

3. Sharp was not the only Japan­ese sup­plier whose posi­tion declined in the 2008 rank­ing. Kyocera Corp. slipped from the No. 5 spot in 2007 to No. 6 in 2008. Sanyo, which was No. 7 in 2007, did not make top 10 in 2008. Mit­subishi also dropped in the ranking.

4. Future rank­ings are expected to show sig­nif­i­cant changes due to small incre­ments that sep­a­rate the top play­ers. The top 4 sup­pli­ers all achieved mar­ket­ share (based on MW sales) between 8.0% and 9.5%. A sec­ond tier of sup­pli­ers, formed by those ranked No. 5 to No. 10, have between 4% and 5% mar­ket­ share.

5. Other than First Solar, the ris­ers in the top 10 list were exclu­sively sup­pli­ers based in China or Tai­wan. Although Sun­tech slipped from No. 2 to No. 3, JA Solar Hold­ings rose from No. 10 to No. 7 in based on 109% growth in MW sales in 2008. Yingli Green Energy Hold­ing advanced from No. 9 to No. 8 on the strength of 93% growth.

6. In Tai­wan, Motech Indus­tries mov­ed from No. 6 to No. 5 thanks to a 67% increase in MW sales. But per­haps more impres­sive was the per­for­mance of Gin­tech Energy, which equaled First Solar’s growth of 144% in MW sales in 2008, pulling itself up from No. 12 to No. 8.

7. Gin­tech, like JA Solar, makes solar cells only; these 2 com­pa­nies fol­low the busi­ness model of top-ranked Q-Cells, which has only recently started to diver­sify beyond pure-play PV cell man­u­fac­tur­ing. Other sup­pli­ers are involved in panel man­u­fac­tur­ing, sys­tem instal­la­tions, and other aspects of the solar value chain.

8. No. 10 Solar World AG, a Ger­man com­pany that holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the biggest man­u­fac­turer of PV cells in the U.S., thanks to the recent expan­sion of its plant in Hills­boro, Ore­gon.

9. A U.S.-headquartered cell man­u­fac­turer, Sun­Power, almost made it into the top 10 in 2008, but Sun­Power man­u­fac­tures its cells in plants in the Philippines.

Comment: Chinese and Taiwanese rise up in the ranking as they are able to compete on cost, unlike Germany and Japan. I post here a map of PV manufacturer locations in China. Not sure how dated is the map but if you’re looking for JA Solar, you should look for “Jing Ao Solar” in the map:

Locations of Major PV Manufacturers China

GE Energy Financial Services

About: GE Energy Financial Services’ (GE EFS) experts invest globally with a long-term view, backed by the best of GE’s technical know-how, financial strength and rigorous risk management, across the capital spectrum, in one of the world’s most capital-intensive industries, energy. GE EFS helps its customers and GE grow through new investments, strong partnerships and optimization of its more than US$22 billion in assets. In renewable energy, GE EFS is growing its portfolio of more than US$4 billion in assets in wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal power. GE EFS is based in Stamford, Connecticut.


Key Personnel:
Alex Urquhart, President & CEO
Kevin Walsh, Managing Director, Power & Renewables

Their investment focus is in Power, Oil & Gas, Water, Venture Capital, Renewable Energy, Pipelines & Storage and Global Growth.
Venture Capital
– Current Communications, Ocean Power Delivery, Sub-One Technology, A123Systems, Think Global, Advanced Electron Beams, Soliant Energy, Danotek Motion Technologies, TPI Composites, Southwest Windpower (GE EFS provides mainly equity to them, except equity & debt to Ocean Power Delivery).
Renewable Energy – Alsleben Wind Farm, Babcock & Brown, Comverge, EnxCo, Forest Creek, Krusemark Wind Farm, Kumeyaay Wind, Noble Environmental Power, REpower Systems, Denker & Wulf,Serpa Solar Plant, Tawhiri Power, Theolia, Airtricity, Plutonic Power, SunPower, Scholl Canyon Landfill Gas, Invenergy Wind, Stanton Wind, Enel SpA, Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Horizon Wind Energy, Fotowatio, ACCIONA Energy (GE EFS provides mainly project equity to them, with minority of debt, debt & private equity, assets-for-equity swap, debt & project equity).

News: In June 2009, GE EFS announced it has signed an agreement with EarthFirst Canada Inc. to consider purchasing up to 300-megawatt Dokie Ridge Wind Project, the largest wind farm project under construction in British Columbia. Subject to satisfaction of conditions, including due diligence and internal approvals, GE EFS has agreed to form a partnership with Plutonic Power Corporation which, provided the acquisition is completed, will own and operate the project, located 1,100 km northeast of Vancouver, near Chetwynd. The project would represent GE EFS and Plutonic’s first wind energy investment in Canada and an expansion of their relationship from hydroelectric power development into wind energy.

In April 2009, Noble Environmental Power received long-term capital from GE and other for 3 NY windparks. GE EFS invested more than $200 million in the portfolio, which includes the Noble Altona, Chateaugay and Wethersfield Windparks. A syndicate of banks and financial institutions provided long-term debt, including letters of credit, totaling approximately $440 million. This long-term capital structure replaces construction financing used to build the Noble windparks. Noble was mentioned earlier in this post and it is majority owned by funds affiliated with JPMorgan Partners which are managed by CCMP Capital Advisors.

Kevin Walsh speaks about GE invests in electric vehicles and battery technology in this video or on vodpod. He also has a presentation “Policy Options Shaping Private Investments in Clean Tech” dated 1 May 2009 here.

ge efs