2012 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2012 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Bettina Weiss, SEMI

As the end of the year approaches, it’s a good time to take stock, look back at the busy year we’ve had and appreciate the positive developments amidst a persistent solar winter. Rather than dwelling on well-known woes such as overcapacity, financing hurdles and a deeply depressed PV equipment market, I would like focus on what our industry has collectively achieved this year.

  • PVTake jobs, for example. The Solar Foundation just reported that an additional 13,000 solar jobs were added in the U.S. this year, an uptick of 13.2 percent, bringing the total number of people working in solar in the U.S. to more than 119,000. 92 percent of U.S. voters support solar energy. And President Obama, who has set favorable goals for renewable energy, was just re-elected for a second term.
  • Worldwide installations are up by 25 percent, expected to reach 16 GW by year-end. There is hope that this will ease the stubborn overcapacity situation over the course of next year. The amount of PV connected to China’s grid reached 2.71 GW in September. Pete Danko said in his Earthtechling post that actual PV power flowing to the grid grew at an even faster rate – 537 percent in the same period to 2,480 gigawatt-hours.
  • In Germany, according to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, 6.1 percent of electricity demand in the first nine months of the year was met by solar energy. And while international thin film suppliers selling into India’s solar market fear an expansion of domestic content requirements to close the loophole for thin film in the National Solar Mission, some Indian manufacturers are adapting to the current “adapt-or-perish” market scenario by fully or partially leasing their facilities to international module suppliers.
  • In September, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced the finalized 12th Five-Year Plan for solar development that sets a target of 21GW installed solar capacity by 2015, including 20GW PV installations and 1GW CSP installations. The plan also sets a total budget of 250 billion yuan, or about $40 billion, and expects half million people employed in the solar industry by 2015. Additionally, the plan sets a target of 50GW installed capacity by 2020.  It is uncertain how much of this plan is achievable but the ambition and vision for solar energy deployment in China is real.
  • Also in September, the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced the results of the first two months of the FIT program—1.3 GW of renewable energy projects are registered to the new FIT program since it began in July 2012. METI estimates 2.5 GW of renewable energy capacity will be added in this fiscal year (April 2012 to March 2013).  According to METI, solar photovoltaic energy is expected to account for 80% of the total additional renewable energy capacity in FY2012.

This means there’s still a lot of good among the bad and the ugly. We have seen the first few cautiously crafted reports about a global PV market uptick in late 2013, but the industry needs to see a sliver of sunshine on the horizon…

  • Part of the “ugly,” is the urgency of modernizing our grid infrastructure and developing viable storage solutions.  No example is as poignant as what happened during Hurricane Sandy in late October.  While residential solar panels held up well, even during hurricane force winds, once the power grid shut down, the solar panels were of no use to homeowners.  (This happens for safety reasons and is not an issue with the actual solar system.)  Storage is the other missing piece of the puzzle and the industry is furiously working to tackle that obstacle.
  • The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article in August of this year about instability in the German power grid. Adding a reality check to its aggressive renewable energy goals (35 percent of total power consumption from renewables by 2020, 80 percent by 2050, phasing out nuclear power by 2022), Germany’s power grid has experienced sudden fluctuations, resulting in damage sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of euros for German industrial companies (for automated lines running 24/7).
  • India now holds the record for the world’s largest blackout, cutting power to 620 million people in July 2012. That’s twice the population of the entire United States. Twenty out of 28 states were affected. India’s federal power minister blamed the states, saying they overdrew their quota from the grid. India’s industry leaders however, point to more systemic infrastructural and procedural shortcomings of an antiquated grid system. Many say that India has simply outgrown its own energy infrastructure.

I am encouraged about the concerted global effort for smarter grids-from groups such as International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN) and the Global Smart Grid Federation. SEMI encourages public-private partnerships and industry collaboration in manufacturing and deployment of solar energy and much like some of our member companies who have become more vertically-integrated to meet the needs of the end market and conserve resources, SEMI is also reaching downstream to collaborate with entities, governments and consortia in order to learn from one another, develop standards and best practices, and exchange ideas.

November 2012