From GlassBuild America: Solar seminar tackles important issues

Sahely Mukerji
October 1, 2009
COMMERCIAL, FABRICATION : MEETINGS AND EVENTS

The panel discussion, Solar Panel Industry: Where We Go From Here, saw a full house with 132 attendees, Oct. 1, during GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo, Atlanta, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Russ Ebeid, Glass Group president, Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn Hills. Mich., moderated the panel that included Steve Coonen, solar design consultant, Applied Solar, San Diego; Gerald Fine, president and CEO, Schott North America, Elmsford, N.Y.; Daniel Lau, managing director, XYG Glass, Richmond, BC, a division of Xinyi Glass Holdings Ltd., China; and Scott Thomsen, chief technology officer and group vice president, Guardian Industries Corp.

"Sorting through the hype and the hooey of the solar industry and differentiating the gray from the green is what we hope to do at this discussion," Ebeid said. "There’s a solar conference every other day in some part of the world. There’s a lot of hype in the media about solar. Finding the solar bullet isn’t exactly a new story in our industry. I’ve recently spoken about it in Tampere, [Finland], Dusseldorf [Germany] and recently in Las Vegas."

What exactly is the opportunity for the glass industry in this market? Ebeid asked. "Do we face a dot-com moment with all the hype about solar? There’s a lot of technologies vying for funding out there. Let’s be careful to distinguish between the leading edge and the bleeding edge. We need to find the winning trend."

Regulations set the pace of the solar industry, Ebeid said. "The role of the government is even more complex today," he said. "Solar industry’s struggling to get through the recession.

"We’ve lagged behind Germany and Spain in solar," Ebeid said. "Yet, word has it that we’ll pass Spain next year and Germany in 2013."

"I come as an ambassador of the solar industry," Coonen said. "This is a huge growth opportunity. The glass industry hasn’t taken on this photovoltaic challenge yet. Why be afraid? Why not take it up as a serious opportunity to make money?"

The glass industry advantages to PV include: dramatic cost savings in offset values, Coonen said. "Glass + labor = 20 percent savings," he said. "Photovoltaic glass should be distributed through the glass industry and installed by glazing sub-contractors." First Solar [Tempe, Ariz.] is a big boy in the solar industry now. "They came out of the glass industry," Coonen said. "They’ve made the product inexpensive and followed the glass world in production methodology."

Fine provided "the manufacturer's perspective on what needs to happen to get this going," he said. " We, as an industry, need to reduce costs to create grid parity and sustainable growth to be a competitor to conventional electricity." To reduce costs, the industry must improve module efficiency; leverage experience curves; provide project financing vehicles; and ease installation." Solar industry is on an 80 percent experience curve, he said. Meaning every time the volume doubles, cost goes down 20 percent. "That stinks. It has to be 40 percent," he said.

"We also need government help," Fine said. "National policy on energy hasn’t changed since the Carter administration. A strong national policy would have four key elements: incentives on solar installation; net metering; interconnection; and utility rates and revenue policies. "The federal stimulus program is a good first step," he said. "Spain and Germany have embraced these policies successfully. Germany has the same amount of ambient sunlight as Alaska, but it is the leading country in the solar industry."

Thomsen discussed concentrating solar power, or CSP. "There are four CSP product options," he said. "Central receiver, dish engine, Fresnel collector and parabolic trough." CSP is limited to high solar irradiation, he said. "CSP is cost-effective for peak power in high electricity cost areas with a tax grant or credit," he said. "CSP electricity output is expected to grow to 25 gigawatt in 2020, and the U.S. will account for 50 percent to 60 percent of global CSP. Economics will drive demand, not hype."

Lau presented a global view of the PV market with China as an example of an emerging market. In 2007, there was 100 megawatt of PV installation in China even though the capacity was 5,000 mw, he said. "In 2010, it is estimated that that number will go up to 300 mw and in 2013, to 1.8 gw." In 2008, China had the crystalline PV module production capacity of 5,630 mw, while the U.S. had 514 mw, Lau said.

China's long-term target for renewable energy is 10 percent of the total energy consumption by 2010 and 15 percent by 2012. The Chinese government has signed an MOU with First Solar to open a 2 gw solar power plant in Inner Mongolia, he added.

"There's a definite move toward wider applications of solar energy in China." Lau concluded. "There's a huge business growth potential in the emerging markets."