GREEN DEALS: First Solar's new PV high

First Solar sets new record in PV efficiency; Australian CCS gets a global funding boost; and CSIRO study suggests rural wind farms are more popular than we're led to believe.

US solar giant First Solar has set a new world record for efficiency in cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) modules, achieving 14.4 per cent total area efficiency, a 1 per cent improvement on the company's own prior record of 13.4 per cent. First Solar also holds the world record for CdTe solar cell efficiency, at 17.3 per cent. (Cell efficiency measures the proportion of light converted to energy in a single solar cell, while total area module efficiency measures light conversion across a production-size, multi-cell solar module, which the company says provides "a more realistic assessment of real-world performance" than cell efficiency.) Both records were achieved using commercial-scale manufacturing equipment and materials at the company’s Perrysburg, Ohio factory.

“This considerable achievement supports our module efficiency roadmap and demonstrates our ability to convert our record-cell technology into ongoing module-level improvements,” said First Solar’s chief technology officer Dave Eaglesham, who announced the new milestone on Tuesday at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. “These records also underscore the tremendous ongoing potential of CdTe compared to silicon-based technologies," he said. Cadmium-telluride is the second most utilised solar cell material in the world, the first being silicon. The main upside of the technology is that it can be manufactured at lower costs than silicon-based solar panels, with FirstSolar using it to become the first manufacturer to produce solar cells for less than $US1 per watt. A downside, meanwhile, is the extremely high toxicity of Cadmium – although First Solar has also implemented the industry’s first comprehensive, prefunded solar module collection and recycling program. The company has now manufactured more than 5GW of its advanced CdTe thin-film solar modules, using a continuous manufacturing process which transforms a sheet of glass into a complete solar module in under two-and-a-half hours.

A nod and some cash for Aust CCS

The Global CCS Institute has announced that it will be funding a package of leading Australian carbon capture and storage demonstration projects and research initiatives, a move that the Institute's general manager Holger Bietz says will help "to accelerate new and existing projects at the commercial scale required," as well as deployment of the technology in Australia. “[The funding] also helps to cement Australia’s position as a global leader in pursuing CCS as a climate mitigation tool,” Beitz said on behalf of the Institute last week. The funding package includes $1.84 million to CSIRO, towards research quantifying the potential impact of CO2 capture technology on air quality; $240,000 to CarbonNet, to go towards a measuring, monitoring and verification study to ensure emissions are stored and accounted for; and $226,000 to Worley Parsons towards a study looking at the impacts of postcombustion capture deployment on an existing sub-critical pulverised fuel power plant – in this case, the Loy Yang A power station in Victoria.

“These are very important projects,” said Bietz. “The work with CSIRO in particular will draw international attention, given that it will develop a methodology to allow regulators to safely approve capture projects in Australia and any jurisdiction around the world.” In the past, the Institute has extended funding support to the Collie-South West Hub and Victoria’s CarbonNet as well as CCS demonstration projects in Europe, North America and Asia. The main aim of its funding program is to gather knowledge from from different stages of different projects' life cycles and then share this with the broader industry via workshops, group discussions and one-on-one meetings.

Blowing in the wind

Could it be that there is more public support for wind farms in rural Australia than media reports – or parliamentary inquiries – would have us believe? According to a CSIRO preliminary study released Monday this week, that is more than likely the case. The CSIRO "snapshot" of nine wind developments around Australia – below and above 30MW and at various stages of development (operational, under construction, proposed and rejected) – found there was "stronger community support for the development of wind farms than might be otherwise assumed from media coverage." The report says this includes support from locals who have not sought media attention or political engagement to express their views. Not surprisingly, the study finds a strong connection between the actual and perceived costs and benefits of wind farms and the design, implementation, and community engagement processes. It says that many of the benefits of wind energy – which the CSIRO describes as "a proven renewable energy technology with excellent resources in Australia" – "can be shared or communicated in ways that would enhance community support for the development of wind farms in a region."

And, like the parliamentary inquiry before it, the study also finds that there is scope for improving the existing regulatory approaches and frameworks for negotiating wind farm developments. The report says that while community concerns were sometimes overstated, limiting opportunity for community input risked undermining potential local support. "The alternative," it says, "of more prescriptive rules and processes to protect perceived community interests can risk forgoing developments that could deliver local benefits and achieve local support. The emerging notion of a ‘Social Licence to Operate’ provides a useful framework for wind farm developers to engage local communities in ways that could enhance transparency and local support, and complement formal regulatory processes." The report also finds that there has been minimal academic examination of this situation.

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