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Solyndra Seeds Doubts About Photovoltaic Manufacturability

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TJ McDermott
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Point Solutions
TJ McDermott   11/4/2011 9:24:54 AM
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A colleague and I were talking about power companies and their sources, and about point solutions.  I was arguing strongly that we needed a LOT more nuclear plants in this country; he said power companies needed diverse sources.

I don't think either of us is wrong.

I would not want to be one of a power company's diverse alternative sources; wind farms in Washington State were shafted this summer when they were asked to shut down because there was too much hydro power available.  The investment to plant a wind farm is too great for this type of "request".  The power company should have been selling the excess to other states.

 

 

Loring Wirbel
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Re: Point Solutions
Loring Wirbel   11/4/2011 10:53:43 AM
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TJ, I'm personally not a huge fan of large centralized nuke or coal plants, but I think you have identified the source of the problem for decentralized point sources, and it's one T. Boone Pickens referred to when giving up on his wind farms.  The power grid in this country is antiquated, and the DOE's funding of smart grid software only solves half the problem.  The physical transmission lines and their support facilities need to be restructured and prepared for an underlying smart grid, and where wiill the capital investment come from for that?  Intriguing questions, all.

cvandewater
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Gold
Re: Point Solutions
cvandewater   11/7/2011 9:29:04 AM
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I think the article (and its title) are exemplary of a focus on USA & the west alone. When I look how the Solar manufacturing industry here in India and in China are exploding (without much subsidy, but with encouragements like SEZ and low laber cost) then I think you can understand why I read the title as:

"Solyndra seeds doubts about Photovoltaic manufacturability... in USA."

I have no doubt of the strong flow of PV panels from India and China where there is a decent ROI for the systems installed with these (low cost) panels, so there is no doubt about viability, even *without* local subsidies. Just allow feed-in tarif at the mid day price level and you will see how the ROI period shrinks to make the PV industry a success, just that manufacturing will be done elsewhere, so we know where we need to focus to be successful!

j-allen
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Gold
Solar masnufacturing
j-allen   11/7/2011 9:34:42 AM
Most new technologies have had a history of many companies entering the market with many of them failing or being absorbed or merged.  Consider automobiles and aircraft in the early 20th century, also radio and TV manufacturers.

 

In the case of solar, there is a good reason for public subsidy , given the externalities of fossil fuel combustion.  These cost the public in many direct and indirect ways. 

 

As foir First Solar, their product has a special problem resulting from the cadmium telluride active material.   Years from now when the panels are discarded, they will very likely end up busted in a dump.   We conducted a series of experiments where we put broken samples of CdTe PV panels in aqueous solutions with pH values of 7 (distilled water), 6, 5, 4, and 3. for about 4 months.  

In all but the distilled water, the cadmium leached out into solution and for pH values of 5 and below virtually ALL the cadmium went into solution.   Given the toxicity of Cd and the tons of panels that will end up in dumps, that is a serious threat to groundwater. 

 

The manufacturers have promised to collect the dead panels in 25 or 30 years and reclaim the cadmium, but the funding for this is far from sufficient and who knows what will happen between now and then?

 

Customers and regulatory agencies are getting wise to the CdTe problem and turning to other less poisonous kinds of panels. 

 

 

Loring Wirbel
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Re: Point Solutions
Loring Wirbel   11/7/2011 10:38:18 AM
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cvandewater, that was precisely why I made the point about China virtually owning the PV panel market.  There are only rare instances where a company outside Asia can show manufacturing advantages.  But that does not give Chinese companies a guaranteed market either, as SunTech's recent stumbles show.  The alternative-energy market is demonstrating growing pains worldwide.

 

Loring Wirbel
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Blogger
Re: Solar masnufacturing
Loring Wirbel   11/7/2011 10:38:54 AM
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J-allen, very good points about cadmium telluride.  I notice that many people in the thin-film industry outside solar panels have been touting the use of lead-free perovskites and similar RoHS-compliant materials.  It would be good if green energy companies emphasize the green nature of the entire manufacturing process - which includes addressing the waste concerns of an old panel, just as assuredly as nuclear must include the waste.

Harpo-54
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Silver
Solyndra Proving USA Solar not workable
Harpo-54   11/7/2011 11:03:31 AM
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The analysis should have been simple for Solyndra, the DOE and everybody here forward... How can you blow a half a billion dollars when given:

Standard Solar PV Panels = $2500 per kilowatt

Solyndra Solar PV Panels = $6000 per kilowatt

The long term analysis of "payback", that point at which the cost of a standard  solar kW unit of panels supplying all that  "free" power" long  enough  that your cost of energy = about 12 cents per killowat hour, paying for the initial investment  is  about 10 to 18 years with standard solar.

So a Solyndra panel would "payback in 24 to 34 years"..  Nobody knows if they would even last that long...  The material studies are theoretical at least and based on accelerated environmental testing at best.   Talk to battery companies about their predictive powers when it comes to end of life...

The moment the cost per Solyndra Solar Kw got a penny higher than the standard tech Kw,  alarms should have been going of in everybody's head and big RED LETTERS should have been showing up on spreadsheets.

Bottom line...  Electric Utility Power is a commodity item not a vanity item..  Except in special cases  (like a PV powered Oil Well)  the actual rate of return on PV energy does yet not pay for itself at 13 to 18% efficiency.  Maybe it will at 45%...

 

Loring Wirbel
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Blogger
Re: Solyndra Proving USA Solar not workable
Loring Wirbel   11/7/2011 11:09:26 AM
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Amen to all, Harpo - seems as though the auditors in the federal government got overruled for obvious reasons - and the venture community needs better reality-check auditors, too!

Jeff_A
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Silver
It worked on the fill in the blank
Jeff_A   11/7/2011 11:56:21 AM
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Some of solar manufacturing challenges may be that executives and engineers were successful in other "similar" industries and want to apply the designs and process they know from their last industries to the new design.  On the surface it makes sense, the design or process worked  before, should work now, it will give us a big head start. I've seen this approach fail in multiple industries because differences between the old industry and the new industry that are not recognized.  When those differences are addressed, they may lead to a different solution.

As engineers, we must always be objective about defining design requirements and being open minded about possible solutions once we have a  complete set of requirements.  Hang on tight to your problem solving abilities fellow engineers, remember your failures and how you worked through them to success. Be willing to put your greatest past success aside and objectively move forward to address the new challenges.  The new challenges won’t be any easier than the set of challenges associated with your greatest success were.  Why should any of us think we can get away without new serious critical thinking to address the new issues and challenges at hand, and not just spending a bunch of money trying to prove that because it worked on x it will work on y.

Loring Wirbel
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Blogger
Re: It worked on the fill in the blank
Loring Wirbel   11/7/2011 12:07:23 PM
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Jeff_A - Wow, those words ought to be set in stone.  Strategies are not always transferrable.  It reminds me of an article The Economist ran last week, studying the EU-ECB plan for bailing out Greece and Italy in detail.  The government of China and various sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East expressed reticence at putting the money into the new European bonds, because the bonds were structured just like Collateralized Debt Obligations from the U.S. mortgage crisis in 2008 - i.e., Greek toxic debt was sliced up, tranched, and hidden in larger Euro-debt.  Gee whiz, the new investors didn't like that idea, and CDOs worked so well the first time!  As you said, every new market and new design  opportunity should be greeted with a completely fresh perspective.

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