Sharp Solar Profit Is Positive Again (Solar Cell Sales Increase 69%)

Top Solar Module Companies

Sharp has managed to fight its way back to profitability this year — posting an 18% boost in sales over last year, up to JPY 2.93 trillion (US$28.6 billion), and a net profit of JPY 11.56 billion ($113 million). The return to profitability is notable because of the large loss posted by the company the previous year.

The recent gains were partly thanks to the recent boom in Japan’s residential solar market, as well as the fact that 2013 was a good year for the company’s other sectors.

Solar cell sales rose by a very substantial 68.9% to JPY 439 billion ($4.3 billion) — this was partly down to the residential market, but also partly down the utilization of its panels in large-scale solar projects.

According to reps from the company, this current fiscal year will see a pick-up in the Japanese economy, and, subsequently, a pick-up in sales.

“The overseas business environment is expected to show mild recovery. However, we anticipate the situation will remain unpredictable, with some risk factors, including the pullback of US quantitative easing and a slowdown in the growth in China and emerging countries, and a geopolitical risk in Ukraine.”

Something to note with regard to increased domestic demand — the company has largely refocused on the domestic market at the expense of the international as a result of weak sales in the European market. With an increased focus on the Japanese market, sales should remain quite healthy there.

In related news, the “largest solar PV power plant in Japan” recently went online in Oita City, located on the southern portion of the island.

The 82 MW Oita Solar Project represents a significant boost to the country’s, and to the region’s, renewable energy capacity. Power from the new plant is currently being sold to Kyushu Electric Power Company under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Sharp Solar Profit Is Positive Again (Solar Cell Sales Increase 69%) was originally published on Solar Love!.

Top Solar Module Manufacturers of 2013

Top Solar Module Companies

The top 15 solar PV module manufacturers of 2013 have been revealed thanks to a new report from the market research firm IHS.

As many would no doubt guess, the list is dominated — yet again — by firms based in China. But, interestingly, the Japanese firms Sharp and Kyocera saw a bit of a resurgence — up a fair bit from previous years. Japan’s strong feed-in tariffs for solar and Japanese preference for Japan-made products was clearly part of this upswing.

Some other things to note — Yingli Green Energy (aka Yingli Solar) once again took the top spot; 7 out of the top 10 companies were based in China; and the total Chinese share of the market fell 1% to 58% — down from a 59% market share in 2012.

“The year 2013 marked the turnaround of global PV markets and the recovery of leading players in the photovoltaic industry,” stated Jessica Jin, an analyst for solar supply chains at IHS. “Chinese and Japanese PV module suppliers benefited from the surge in demand in their domestic markets, with China in particular accounting for more than a quarter of global installations in 2013 and becoming the leading region in the process.”

IHS provides more:

The Chinese as a group continued to be the star players of the global PV market, but there were also signs pointing to slower growth. While they continue to lead by far, 2013 also marks the second time their overall market share has not risen significantly. Chinese suppliers held a 57% share in 2011, 59% in 2012 and 58% last year.

European companies also maintained stable share in 2013 at 13% — nearly unchanged from 2011 and 2012. In contrast, the Japanese module industry enjoyed an increase to 15%, up from 12% in 2011. Meanwhile, US suppliers fell behind as their portion dropped to 9%, down from 13% in 2011.

While Sharp and Kyocera saw the most substantial rises, a third Japanese firm managed to rank in the top 15 as well, CIS thin-film producer Solar Frontier. Solar Frontier saw shipment growth of more than 60% in 2013.

The IHS report also noted that total global solar PV shipments hit 38.7 GW in 2013 — roughly a 24% increase over the previous year. Interestingly, much of the growth appeared to be from the top players — showing clearly the consolidation of the industry. The top 15 manufacturers held a 59% market share in 2013, up from 51% in 2012.

With regard to the continued consolidation of the solar PV manufacturing industry, that’s something that’s likely going to continue for some time — with the dropping of state-support, in many cases, being one of the main drivers.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now in China, with a recent order by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology doing a lot to “clean up” the industry — likely finishing off over 75% of the country’s solar panel and related component manufacturers.

Expect to see more of that in the near-future. And just note, this isn’t bad — it’s a natural part of a maturing industry.

Top Solar Module Manufacturers of 2013 was originally published on Solar Love!.

Are Solar Leasing & PPAs Going To Suffer From Maturing Solar Market?

A representative of Soligent recently passed along an interesting note regarding a US movement away from solar PPAs and leases. Basically, as solar costs have dropped and banks have warmed up to solar, it has become more and more attractive for homeowners to go solar with cash or a bank loan. That trend is expected to continue. In the following Soligent graph of a home in California, you can see how different options turn out for customers over the course of several years.

solar leasing chart

I’ve previously looked at solar leasing/PPAs vs financing a solar system via a loan vs buying outright with cash and have found a split between leasing/PPAs and getting a loan (buying outright is always better in the long term, but that’s without considering opportunity cost). However, that was just a look at 10 houses in 10 different cities. Furthermore, it was a snapshot, rather than a look at prevailing trends.

Along the same lines as Soligent’s point above, analyst Travis Hoium on Motley Fool recently noted that SolarCity seems to be seeing a bigger % of its business coming from sales despite preferring to do leases.

Travis writes:

I think cash or loan sales will become ever more common in the future, particularly as costs fall. If a consumer buys a system, he can keep the tax benefits as well as all of the cost savings from going solar. As solar loans become more prevalent, we’ll see rates fall to somewhere near SolarCity’s securitization deal, meaning homeowners will be able to take advantage of solar financing without giving ownership out to someone else.

I also think we’ll see installers compete on cost of installation as the number of installers grow, which will cut margins. It’s far easier to compare two cash offers from installers than a 20-year lease to a fixed cost to install a system, which may be the case today. Since SolarCity has better infrastructure in financing, it can offer better rates on leases, expanding margins, but won’t have the same advantage competing for cash sales.

No disagreement here, which is one reason why I’ve bought stock in SunPower but not SolarCity. Specifically regarding that topic, Travis writes:

That’s why I see SunPower, which makes the industry’s most efficient panels and sells through partners, and RGS Energy, which offers a suite of sale options, as better values in the current marketplace. With a $6 billion valuation, SolarCity is priced as if it will generate $2 in value from installations for years to come, but I think that number will fall, particularly as cash sales increase. 

If the shift away from leases does happen, SunPower and RGS Energy will be better able to compete and offer more upside for investors with $4 billion and $200 million market caps, respectively.

SunPower is already profitable, RGS Energy expects to be EBITDA positive in Q4, and SolarCity is still losing money quarter after quarter and can’t generate positive margins on cash sales today. You’d have to assume leases continue to grow and margins remain high to think SolarCity is a value today and that’s not the way I think the market is headed.

To back up this one analysts thoughts and words on a potential shift away from solar leasing & PPAs, here’s a recent graph from GTM Research on the flattening out of these options as a percentage of all residential solar installations over the past few years:

solar leasing flattening out

Interesting stuff. But third-party solar is still clearly dominant. We’ll be keeping an eye on these things in the months and years to come.

Are Solar Leasing & PPAs Going To Suffer From Maturing Solar Market? was originally published on Solar Love!.

First Solar Reports 89% Surge In First-Quarter Net Profit

First Solar is continuing to do quite well, based on the most recent numbers released by the Arizona-based thin-film module manufacturer. An 89% boost (to $112 million dollars) in net profit as compared to the previous year, and a 26% year-on-year increase in net sales (up to $950.2 million dollars) ain’t too shabby.

The company has also reported 404 MW worth of new bookings during just the first three months of 2014. One of these bookings is the 53 MW Shams Ma’an project in Jordan.

first solar financials

Total revenue also rose significantly, up $182 million from the fourth quarter of 2013. The company has attributed much of the increase in revenue to the Campo Verde project.

The 139 MW Campo Verde Solar Project in California was sold last year to Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power and Turner Renewable Energy. Roughly 65% of the company’s revenue stems from the construction and sale of utility-scale solar farms.

Bloomberg provides more:

The company has identified 12.2 GW of potential new contracts over the next few years, with 59% coming from projects outside the US and “widespread utility scale interest in the US,” Hughes said yesterday during a conference call.

Net income in the first quarter rose to $112 million, or $1.10 a share, from $59.1 million, or 66 cents a share, a year earlier, the company said in a statement yesterday. That was more than double the 50-cent average of nine estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

First Solar CEO Jim Hughes stated: “We delivered strong earnings in the first quarter and are increasing our financial guidance for the year based on these results. We have also made significant progress in new bookings and continue to execute on our technology roadmap.”

In related news, First Solar just recently reported that it had set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency, something which should further help the well-regarded solar company continue to be a market leader. The new record stands at 17% conversion efficiency — a pretty big boost from the previous record of 16.1%.

First Solar Reports 89% Surge In First-Quarter Net Profit was originally published on Solar Love!.

New Bosch Energy Management System Will Maximize Solar Self-Consumption

The noted multinational engineering and electronics company Bosch will soon be releasing a new energy management system for the optimization of electrical and thermal energy consumption from personal solar power systems, according to a recent announcement from the company. The new system is expected to launch at this year’s Intersolar exhibition and conference. Referred to […]

New Bosch Energy Management System Will Maximize Solar Self-Consumption was originally published on Solar Love!.

OneRoof Energy Offers 18 Months of Free Solar!

If you’re currently considering whether or not to go solar, and you live in an area serviced by OneRoof Energy, well, now may be the time!

The solar services provider is now (during the months of April and May) offering qualified homeowners who switch to solar with OneRoof Energy’s zero-down SolarSelect® lease program 12 months of free solar payments. Those that sign up before April 30th get an even better deal — 18 months free.

OneRoof Energy


If you’re in the position to, and are still considering whether or not to go solar, this might be a good time. I’d say it’s worth checking out. :)

“Solar lease and Power purchase agreement (PPA) programs remain the preferred method of adoption in the United States,” stated Nick Hofer, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at OneRoof Energy. “Last year more than 70% of California solar installations and 50% of installations nationwide were the result of a solar lease or PPA programs. We believe that this promotion will make it undeniable to even the most questioning of observers that affordable solar is a reality today.”

For a bit of background, OneRoof Energy is a “complete solar services provider” that offers homeowners everything that they need to go solar — handling everything from the financing, to the design, to the installation, to the project management, to the maintenance. The company allows homeowners to go solar with nothing down, and offers protection against utility rate hikes for up to 25 years. OneRoof currently serves homeowners throughout Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

To find out more about the promotional offer and/or OneRoof Energy in general, be sure to check out their website — which you can find here.

For a good piece on solar leasing vs solar loans (vs cash purchases), check out: Is Solar Leasing Your Worst Option For Going Solar?

OneRoof Energy Offers 18 Months of Free Solar! was originally published on Solar Love!.

Solar EV Charging Station Installed At Shintec Hozumi Headquarters

Kyocera Corporation recently announced that it has installed a “Solar Cycle Station, for EVs” at the headquarters of Shintec Hozumi Co, in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The system — which is based on a development plan drawn up by Shintec Hozumi — has been constructed as a sort of backup energy source during times of disaster. […]

Solar EV Charging Station Installed At Shintec Hozumi Headquarters was originally published on Solar Love!.

From Selenium to Silicon and Beyond: Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the First Solar Cell Capable of Converting Enough Sunlight Directly into Electricity for Practical Power

By John Perlin, author of Let It Shine*

The solar cell had its birth in 1873, as bars of selenium. When two British scientists, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day, in 1876 exposed the bars to candlelight they discovered something totally new: that light, not heat, could directly generate electricity in certain materials such as selenium. Adams and Day called the current produced this way, “photoelectric.” But try as they may, no one could increase selenium’s low conversion of sunlight into electricity and scientists concluded that to realize the vision of solar cells powering the world would require finding a new photovoltaic material.

That came when the collaborative effort of Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson at Bell Laboratories developed a photovoltaic device capable of converting enough sunlight directly into electricity to generate useful amounts of power. Their public display at Bell’s press conference on April 25, 1954 of a 21-inch Ferris wheel spinning round and round powered by the first watt of silicon solar cells presented to the world one of the most significant breakthroughs ever recorded in the history of solar energy and of electricity. The New York Times realized the importance of what its reporters saw, stating on its front page that the invention of the Bell silicon solar cell marked “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” US News and World Report speculated that the new solar cell “may provide more power than all the world’s coal, oil and uranium…[its] future is limitless.”

At the time of the Bell announcement in 1954, all the solar cells in the world delivered about one watt. Today, more than 100 billion watts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the silicon solar cell but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail solar scientists had only previously dreamt of – entering the Era of Grid Parity Era, where solar panels generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil fuels and nuclear. With the phenomenal growth of solar PV in the last several years and its future even brighter, the time is ripe to celebrate the founding of a technology that led Science magazine almost forty years ago to declare, “If there is a dream solar technology, it is photovoltaics — solar cells…a space-age electronic marvel at once the most sophisticated solar technology and the simplest, most environmentally benign source of electricity yet conceived.”

*The material for the article comes from John Perlin’s recently published book, Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story. John and the crew at Renewables100 recently organized a 60-year birthday party for solar in Palo Alto, California.

From Selenium to Silicon and Beyond: Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the First Solar Cell Capable of Converting Enough Sunlight Directly into Electricity for Practical Power was originally published on Solar Love!.

Types Of Power Converters In A PV System

SolarInvertersNA1One of the most important parts in PV system architecture is the power converters. The reason is that they play an important role in transforming the different types of electricity, to make the electricity convenient to the end users. Since the solar cell produces a DC type of electricity, there’s room for various types of power converters. Here, some of the most commonly used power converter types are briefly describe according to their topology, function, efficiency, and the major global manufacturers.

1. Power optimizer: Commonly known as a DC-DC power optimizer in solar PV markets, a power optimizer is a module-level power converter. It takes DC input from the solar module and gives either higher or lower DC output voltage. Such a converter is equipped with an MPPT technology to optimize the power conversion from the solar panel to the DC load or a battery or central inverter. It is also considered one of the most efficient power converters, delivering up to 99.5% efficiency. However, it needs DC cabling from the array. Some of the major players in this power converter market are SolarEdge and Tigo Energy.

2. Module inverter/micro-inverter: This is also a module-level power converter. It takes DC input from the solar module and converts it into AC electricity, which is then ready to be connected to the load or single-phase main grid or to a central inverter. It is also equipped with MPPT technology to detect the maximum power point of each module. Even though it doesn’t requires any DC cabling, it is more expensive than the power optimizer due to its advanced design. The efficiency of such a power converter is about 96%. The important players in this power converter market are Enecsys and Enphase.

3. String inverter: As an extension of a module-level power converter is the string inverter, which is suitable for a string or parallel strings of modules connected in series. Such a power converter is used for small PV systems up to 10 kW in capacity and are usually connected to the main grid. The output of such a power converter is 3 phase lines which are ready to be connected to a low voltage main grid. Even though it is incorporated with MPPT technology, due to the connection of a large PV array, it has a global maximum power point (MPP) which then degrades the efficiency of the PV system. In order to improve the efficiency, it would be wise to use a module inverter first and then the string inverter. However such configurations are more expensive. Apparently, one of the cons in such power converters is that the PV system is highly affected by shadowing on PV modules, thereby pulling down the system efficiency as low as possible. Meanwhile, many researchers are investigating a new MPPT algorithm to get the most efficient global MPP to overcome the shadowing affect. Players include SMA, Power One, Fronius, and Delta Energy Systems.

4. Central inverter: In large PV power plants (10 kW and higher), central inverters are used instead of string inverters. However, the central inverters’ functionality remains the same (i.e, to produce a 3-phase high voltage output for grid integration), which is why this power converter is considered essential for connecting with the main grid. In many large PV power plants, central inverters are inevitable. But there are many losses within the PV system due to their large and complex configuration. However, to mitigate such losses, some of the manufacturers, like Siemens, have developed a master-slave arrangement, such that at low irradiance the system efficiency will increase. 

This report from Solarpraxis AG allows a deeper dive into these solar PV technologies. In my next article, I’ll provide a comparative analysis of power optimizers and module inverters, focusing in more depth their pros and cons.

Image Credit: Delta Products Corporation

Types Of Power Converters In A PV System was originally published on Solar Love!.

Concepts In Photovoltaic Technology

Since the first solar cell was produced by Bell Labs in the 1950s, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has been gradually evolving. The work resulted in the development of a compound which is formed of semiconductor elements found in the periodic table and the synthesis of an organic solar cell. Broadly, photovoltaic technologies are now classified as: crystalline silicon solar cells, thin-film solar cells, and organic solar cells. In the following paragraphs, an overview of various concepts in photovoltaic technology based on crystalline silicon wafers are briefly described. Such concepts were used from the early 1990s to deliver relatively high-efficiency solar modules for the market. As the $/watt of a solar panel is dropping, the evolution in photovoltaic technology is also progressing.

High-efficiency concepts of crystalline silicon (c-Si) wafer based solar cells

Many researchers are working on c-Si solar cell solutions aimed at overcoming the limitations faced using the traditional method of photovoltaic technology production. The prime approach to increase the efficiency of c-Si solar cell would reduce both surface and bulk recombination within the cell. For this reason, most of the high-efficiency c-Si solar cells is based on monocrystalline wafers. Notably, in c-Si PV technology, there are three important concepts: PERL, IBC, and Hetero-junction types of solar cells.

1. PERLPERL is an abbreviation for Passivated Emitter Rear Locally diffused. This concept was first developed by Prof. Martin Green’s group at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of us who know him have dubbed him as a “father of photovoltaics.” Through this concept, a collaboration between Suntech and UNSW achieved a 20.3% efficiency record for a production solar cell in March 2012. This concept has been an example for various PV technologies developed afterwards. Figure 1, below, shows the PERL solar cell concept, which uses p-type Float zone silicon wafers.

Fig 1 : PERL solar cell.

In the PERL concept, the front contact area, the emitter layer, and the rear contact are together able to achieve higher efficiency.

  • Now, the optical losses in the front contact area are reduced by implementing a textured inverted pyramid structure coated with an anti-reflector. The contact area at the front side has been made as small as possible. This enhances the total amount of light coupled into the solar cell by allowing collection of reflected light for the second time with less shadowing losses.
  • The emitter is heavily doped underneath the contacts. In PERL, this is achieved by phosphorous-diffused regions. The rest of the emitter is moderately doped to preserve the “blue response.” A silicon oxide is passivated on the top of the emitter to suppress the surface recombination velocity.
  • In the rear surface of the solar cell, point contacts are used in combination with the thermal oxide passivation layers to reduce the unwelcome surface recombination at the uncontacted area. Heavily doped boron acts as a local back surface to limit the recombination of the minority electrons at the metal back.

2. IBC: IBC is an abbreviation for an Interdigited Back Contact solar cell. Back-contacted solar cells, in contrast to PERL, use n-type Float zone monocrystalline wafers. SunPower commercialized IBC solar cell modules with an initial achievement of 22.5% of efficiency. Now SunPower has achieved an efficiency of 24.2% from a monocrystalline silicon IBC solar cell.

Fig 2: IBC solar cell.

The IBC solar cell has many localized junctions instead of a single large p-n junction. The electron-hole pairs generated by the incident light that is absorbed at the front surface can still be collected at the rear of the cell. The semiconductor-metal interfaces are kept as small as possible to reduce the unwelcome recombination at this defect-rich interface. Such a small cross-section of metal fingers also reduces the resistive losses of the contacts. As depicted in Figure 2, the back of the IBC solar cell has two metal grids. One collects the current from the n-type contact and the other contact collects the current from the p-type contact. The front surface field is created by being heavily n-doped at the front of the cell to reduce surface recombination. However, the doping intensity decreases gradually towards the back to act as a p-doped region. Finally, it behaves like a p-n junction. The front surface acts as a passivation (silicon dioxide) of the defects at the front interface. As in case of PERL, the top front surface is textured and deposited with double layered anti-reflection coating.

3. Hetero-junction: So far, both PERL and IBC solar cells are homo-junction solar cells, or a p-n junction with a depletion zone (i.e., these junctions are fabricated by different doping types within the same semiconductor material). This means that the band gap in the p- and n-doped material is the same. However, in hetero-junction solar cells, the junction is made from two different semiconductor materials. One semiconductor material is p-doped and the another type of semiconductor is n-doped. The crystalline silicon wafer–based hetero-junction solar cell concept was invented by the Japanese company Sanyo, which is currently part of Panasonic. It is also called a HIT solar cell, which stands for heterostructure with intrinsic thin film, and has achieved an efficiency of 24.7%.

Fig 3: Hetero-Junction solar cell.

In c-Si wafer–based hetero-junction solar cells, one semiconductor material is from an n-type float zone monocrystalline silicon wafer and the other material from hydrogenated amorphous silicon. As depicted in Figure 3, there are two junctions — front and rear — in the solar cell. The front junction is formed by a thin layer of intrinsic amorphous silicon with deposition of a thin layer of p-doped amorphous silicon on top of it. In Figure 3, i/p a-Si stands for intrinsic p-doped amorphous silicon. Similarly, the rear junction (i/n a-Si) is composed of a thin layer of intrinsic amorphous with deposition of n-doped amorphous silicon on top. HIT allows the introduction of the n-type backside contact scheme as seen in IBC, thus allowing it to use a bi-facial configuration (i.e., it can collect light from the front as well as scattered and diffuse light falling on the back of the solar cell).


A comparison remark of the above three concepts is presented here. From this remark, a customer can decide which is the right PV technology for their needs. The c-Si wafer–based HIT solar cell from Panasonic achieved an efficiency of 24.7% on a wafer size of 102 square centimeters, making it a favorable PV technology in the commercial market. However, it is still important to acknowledge the below remarks.

1. PERL vs IBC

Often, the PERL concept requires a more expensive process in fabrication than IBC or HIT. The IBC solar cell doesn’t suffer from shading losses of a front metal contact grid. And due to the use of n-type float zone c-Si wafers, the IBC solar cell doesn’t suffer from light-induced degradation. Another important note is that the IBC n-type silicon wafer is not sensitive to impurities like iron impurities. However, in PERL p-type float zone c-Si wafers, boron doping is homogeneously distributed over the IBC n-type float zone c-Si wafer. This means that within one n-type wafer the electrical properties can vary, resulting in a lower energy yield of solar cell production from n-type float zone c-Si wafers like IBC.

2. PERL & IBC  vs HIT

In HIT solar cells, the use of amorphous silicon in the contact area makes it a good passivation material which enables a longer lifetime of the charge carriers, thereby increasing the yield. In PERL and IBC, diffusion to the contacts takes place in the emitter layer through a metal finger spacing, but in HIT, it occurs through a transparent conductive oxide metal ITO which shortens the diffusion length as compared with PERL and IBC.

Concepts In Photovoltaic Technology was originally published on Solar Love!.