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11478A Look Back at Solar Energy in 2012

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  • Violeta Archer
    Dec 28, 2012
      Job outlook, while encouraging within the United States, was not so rosy in China in 2012. In November, it was reported that Suntech Power Holdings (which is the world’s biggest maker of solar panels) would be shedding some 1,500 jobs in China to reduce operating costs and ratchet down on solar cell capacity.
      Saudi Arabia: The Dark Horse
      When discussing landmark events in solar, it’s impossible to ignore what took place in Saudi Arabia earlier in 2012. In May, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (also known as K.A.CARE) established the goal to develop 54,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
      Why is an oil-rich nation like Saudi Arabia concerned with adopting renewable energy? Quite simply, to limit the local consumption of oil so that exports can be increased. With low cost access to oil and unchecked usage, it’s believed that Saudi Arabia could find itself entirely out of the oil exportation business by 2030.
      Under K.A.CARE’s proposed plan, 41,000 MW of the total 54,000 MW capacity will come whole from solar: 16,000 MW from photovoltaic (PV) projects and 25,000 from solar thermal projects. As a first phase, 700 MW of utility-scale projects are set to be undertaken by the end of 2013.
      Norman calls the K.A.CARE program “a massive game changer for the global renewable energy industry, and particularly solar” and says that it could also have a beneficial impact on the local job market in Saudi. Unemployment is estimated at around 10 percent in the Kingdom. “The government sees this as an opportunity to create a global center of excellence for renewables, in addition to job creation.”
      Norman explains that Saudi Arabia will require a certain percentage of local content on all renewables projects; this is seen as a means to stimulate the local job market. 
      2012’s Impact on CSP
      With the low cost of solar PV panels, some may wonder what impact 2012 had on the solar thermal market, of which concentrated solar power (CSP) is a big part. Did CSP suffer due to the comparatively low cost of solar PV? It depends on who you ask, really.
      The answer to that question, according to Norman, is obvious. “As a result of the reduction in PV prices, CSP has taken a hit in the last few years,” Norman said. “But they also have an advantage that can’t be overlooked, and that’s storage. Some developers have devised CSP plants that can store energy. That’s something that PV technology can’t measure up to at present.”
      Not everyone sees 2012 as having been a good year for CSP. Jigar Shah, partner at Inerjys Ventures, predicted the death of CSP as far back as 2007 and calls it a technology that’s officially punched the big ticket. “I think in 2012, CSP basically died,” Shah said. “Siemens shut down their CSP plant. Areva is building one unit in Morocco,  but they shut down CSP plants in Australia and a few other places. BrightSource wasn’t able to go public, so they’ve got an existing utility contract they’re honoring with an existing DOE loan guarantee — and I don’t think anyone believes that they’re going to get a second contract. CSP is dead.”
      While the aforementioned U.S. Solar Market Insight Report mentioned several large scale CSP projects underway in the United States, it was reported that the third quarter of 2012 saw no new capacity installed in that segment.
      Additional Solar Highlights from Around the World in 2012
      • In June, Chile brought its largest PV plant online. Although modest in comparison with the scope of other global projects, the 1 MW Calama Solar 3 was an important step that has since resulted in increased interest among developers and investors. There were other notable Latin American solar developments in 2012, including two Peruvian solar farms (the already operational Tacna solar farm and the still in production Panamericana solar farm) whose combined generating capacity will reach 40 MW.
      • In Germany, a 145 MW solar park in Neuhardenberg, Brandenberg, was constructed in a record-breaking five weeks. The solar park was finished just under the wire to beat the expiration of subsidies for PV installations greater than 10 MW in size. The construction of Neuhardenberg solar park, which is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of 2012, helped push Germany’s total installed solar capacity for the year to over 7,000 MW.
      • 8minuteenergy Renewables, a solar PV developer located in southern California, received the financial stamp of approval in November to proceed with construction on a project that, once in operation, will be the largest PV farm in the world. The Mount Signal solar farm, which is being constructed in Imperial Valley, will generate 800 MW (DC) of utility-scale energy.
      • The Charanka Solar Park in Gujarat, India, is home to numerous independent solar power stations, occupying approximately 2000-hectares of land. While many the park’s solar stations remain in production, 2012 saw its combined total output capacity reach nearly 700 MW.
      • In an effort to shore up their enormous oversupply of solar panels, China decided in 2012 to underwrite a $1.6B loan — through the China Development Bank (CDB), which is seen as the engine behind the country’s economic development — to essentially create downstream demand within its borders. The loan was given to Shanghai-headquartered Sky Solar, which earlier in 2012 broke ground on two PV projects in China: one 800-MW project in the Xinjiang Province, and another 50 MW plant in the Qinghai Province.