When solar and storage costs as much as grid electricity

Solar energy homes and local storage

Solar energy homes and local storage

The energy industry is witnessing one of the biggest shakedown in history and some are not embracing change. In every society, if companies don’t change to adapt to modern times, they are doomed to fail. Unfortunately, when they do, it can sometimes mean a workforce without employment, as well as the dreaded bail out system.

The utilities business model is one of the most threatened in the U.S. today and it hasn’t changed much over a century while technology has advanced in leaps and bounds.

When alternative energy became affordable

The biggest threat to slow-to-evolve utilities is that now alternative energy is becoming affordable. More homes and businesses are installing solar panels on their rooftops to offset their energy bills. SolarCity, as we mentioned yesterday, promises at least a $25 drop in your electricity bill by simply leasing their photovoltaic (PV) panels and installing them on your roof. A newer threat to utilities is that now, energy storage is coming to parity with plugging into the gird. This means anyone with a good calculator can buy solar panels, buy an energy storage system and enjoy their own utility on a roof. That also means a utility’s worst nightmare, people wanting to unplug from the grid.

What utilities can do

If people create their own energy, this means a serious loss of revenues for utilities. They now not only have to add more alternative energy to their portfolio to meet the rising demand for cleaner energy, but also contend with defecting customers wanting to take charge of their own energy production. All of this is happening while the writing on the wall shows utilities have to switch from being energy production to energy management.
Unfortunately, utilities haven’t raised the price of electricity, nor updated the grid. The grid needs to evolve to a smart grid from currently sending energy to homes, to one that works both ways, sending and receiving energy.

The excellent Rocky Mountain Institute painted a utility defection scenario last year in their report that turned out to be more optimistic than the reality of things. It now finds solar energy and on-site storage has reached parity with grid energy. This means, people who create their own energy and storing it at home costs as much as getting electricity from the grid. Add to this that our electricity is fairly cheap, compared to other countries and you can see the bigger problem for utilities.

According to the website: “The report discussed not only a base case scenario—which assumed no drastic changes in technological price, capability, or customer behavior—but also several more aggressive scenarios: one in which the price of solar-plus-battery systems drop drastically from today’s costs and faster than our base case projections, another where the solar-plus-battery systems are bundled with investments in efficiency and load flexibility, and a third that considered both of these scenarios together.”

The electric vehicles and vehicle to home threat

With the advent of electric vehicles (EV), both cars and motorcycles sold in urban areas, another problem looms for utilities. Vehicle to home (V2H), means drivers will be able to power their homes with their vehicle at night. With a little ingenuity, you could feasibly charge during the day and power your home at night with your EV, depending on how big the battery pack is and how many miles you need to travel.

The next few years will be tough for consumers and utilities as each face off with basic survival instincts, one wants freedom of energy, the other revenues. One has to change, and I don’t see customers going back to the happy spending years in such a morose economy.

Utilities face off with alternative energy

SolarCity shakes utilities, CPUC sides with them

Utilities face off with alternative energy

Utilities face off with alternative energy

Whether you like SolarCity or not, one thing the company is doing well, is seriously pushing utilities to rethink their business models. Unfortunately, a few would rather not work with the newer, more nimbler companies and are pushing back. Utilities cannot impose connection fees that can run as much as $800 on SolarCity, according to the California Public Utility Commission.

Utilities must shift from energy producers to energy managers

Should residential and commercial energy producers storing electricity on site be slapped with high utility fees? If it’s human nature to first oppose impending change, it becomes unproductive when the trends point to the way of things to come. Utilities are facing a very tough challenge, that of shifting away from centralized energy production to de-centralized energy managers.
According to RenewableEnergyWorld.



SolarCity is the largest U.S. solar-power provider in terms of market value. They won the right to connect to the grid again their energy-storage systems in California. While regulators briefly opposed, they finally agreed the company was exempt from utility fees.

If, until now, utilities produced energy through centralized power plants, they deal with homes and businesses installing photovoltaic (PV) panels making their own electricity. So far, this hasn’t eaten much into their bottom line returns, but the trend is growing and eventually spells an end to the current business model.

The shaky and lethargic economy hasn’t inspired many to go back to the happy careless day of spending. Consumers want to save, and none is more liberating than producing your own energy at home. What is even better than that? Storing that energy locally to make it available at night. As battery prices come down, this is becoming a reality for many. Now that businesses are starting to do the same, utilities are facing competition from their very own customers.

SolarCity shakes utilities’ core business models

Utilities tolerated SolarCity ‘s business model until now. The company installs residential solar panels by mostly leasing them, returning modest yields for home owners. While we can debate buying your PVs is a much better deal in the long run for homeowners, the growing problem for utilities is that SolarCity is starting to install local storage solutions. This means home owners and businesses can use that harvested sunlight at night using less energy from utilities.

Utilities have found so far ways around that, thinly veiled under insurance explanations that a home or business should never be unplugged from the grid in case of emergency. While that is a valid assumption, consumers are being squeezed to the point of looking for alternatives. Utilities are caught in the maelstrom of the alternative energy revolution. Unfortunately for utilities, they haven’t prepared well for the freedom energy creation at home.

Over the past four decades, their grid upgrade and maintenance has dwindled. This leaves them in a very weak position, unable to quickly transition from energy producers to energy managers.
SolarCity is only taking advantage of a need, that of consumers wanting to lower their energy bill and footprints.

Utilities have so far put up resistance without offering more viable solutions. To make things worse, electricity hasn’t appreciated as much as petroleum, and bottom line margins are becoming increasingly tighter. If a utility’s clientèle produces their own energy, stores it, and worse, band together to form micro-grids, then who needs utilities? Utilities shouldn’t force residential homes and business owners to pay hefty fees when creating and storing energy. SolarCity might not be perfect, but in this instance, it is pushing utilities to quickly change their business models.

Clean alternative energy

Affordably charging your cars and motorcycles with the sun and wind

Clean alternative energy

Clean alternative energy

Clean energy installation will almost triple to 290 gigawatts (GW) in 2030. This is because the cost of wind and solar power is becoming more affordable, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. And it gets better. The cost of electricity from wind and solar is competitive against dirty traditional fuels, such as coal and clean natural gas (CNG). This means utilities are forced to diversify the number of places where they get electricity, and what that means is the need to look for more renewable energy and less fossil fuels in order to maintain competitiveness. Get it? If utilities want to stay competitive in the energy sector with affordable prices, they need to include more alternative energy. What a great turn of event.

How affordable is alternative energy?

A study from New Energy Finance found that the cost of solar panels has declined 62 percent since 2011. Wind turbines have also dropped down 12 percent, and according to RenewableEnergyWorld. Wind alone hovers around 3.7 cents a kilowatt-hour (kW/h) in parts of Texas, and that is without subsidies. In other words, alternative energy in certain parts of Texas is as cheap as fossil fuels. They also have an added incentive, they don’t spew toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

Chile is building a 70 megawatt (MW) solar farm competing against other dirty energy sources. Why talk about Texas, a state traditionally known for its petroleum industry and Chile? Texas is home to one of the U.S.’s greatest natural resource, no, not petroleum, but a wind corridor that runs all the way up to its northern state neighbors. As far as Chile, its northern high altitude Atacama desert is one of the sunniest place on Earth, making it ideal for solar energy.

Utilities, you NEED to change your business models!

Unfortunately, utilities’ business models haven’t changed much since Thomas Edison in the 1880s. It rests on the old tried and true centralized power plants distributing electricity to customers who pay, and pay, and pay, with no end in sight as to what they paying for and where this is all going. In the meantime, we sent men to the moon. We have more computers in our homes than human bodies, and our demand for energy keeps on increasing. We obviously cannot indefinitely burn more petroleum, coal or so called clean natural gas. Utilities haven’t updated the grid as much as they should in the past decades. This is catching up with them and could end up costing us, taxpayers and consumers, a lot of money. The focus was spent on shortsighted revenues. Unfortunately, sooner or later, and now is later, the grid needs to follow the same progression that happened in the telecommunication industry, to become a viable two-way communication system aimed at managing energy. It needs to become what they Internet has done.

The revolution starts at home

Gandhi was famous for having said the revolution starts at home, not at a street corner with banners. I always enjoy talking to people charging their electric vehicles (EV) from their solar panels or wind turbines. Still, I often hear the tried and old: “That’s only works in California!” I’m not sure anyone can defend this old retort anymore when most of the U.S. is blessed with abundant natural, clean renewable resources. It doesn’t take much to sit down with a calculator and figure out how to use your local renewable resource to power your daily locomotion and more.

If you have a stream or river running through your backyard, look into a hydro turbine for continuous power. If you are in an area where the sun shines constantly, go and talk to solar energy companies. And if you’re lucky enough to live along the U.S. wind corridor, install a wind turbine or two. Many newer homes built in the upper eastern part of the country now come with some sort of geo-thermal system, saving thousands of dollars in the long run. But that is the key to alternative energy so far, long term. Don’t get blind sighted by short term profits. They are not sustainable, in any stretch of the word. The feeling of freedom you get from natural energy in your backyard powering your life is something you can’t put a price on.

Solar Panels

Panasonic break new solar panel world record

Panasonic world record

Panasonic world record

Panasonic reported a 25.6 percent conversion efficiency for its HIT (Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer) solar cells. The improvement 1 percent increase from 24.7 percent achieved in February 2013 makes it the world record for crystalline silicon-based solar cells of a “practical size.”

We welcome news of any advancement from the alternative energy industry, as well as solar energy. Congratulations Panasonic.

Press Release:

Osaka, Japan – Panasonic Corporation today announced that it has achieved a conversion efficiency of 25.6% (cell area*3: 143.7 cm²) in its HIT® solar cells, a major increase over the previous world record for crystalline silicon-based solar cells.

The previous record*4 for the conversion efficiency of crystalline silicon-based solar cells of a practical size (100 cm² and over) was 24.7%, as announced by Panasonic in February 2013 (cell area: 101.8 cm²). The new record is 0.9 points higher and the first to break through the 25% barrier for practical size cells.

This new record is also an improvement of 0.6 points over the previous record for small area crystalline silicon-based solar cells (cell area: 4 cm²) of 25.0%*4,5.

The achievement of this new record was made possible by further development of Panasonic’s proprietary heterojunction technology*6 to realize the high conversion efficiency and superior high temperature properties of the company’s HIT solar cells as well as adopting a back-contact solar cell structure, with the electrodes on the back of the solar cell, which allows the more efficient utilization of sunlight.

Outline of the core technologies behind the record conversion efficiency

1. Reduction in recombination loss
A key feature of HIT technology is its ability to reduce the recombination loss*7 of charge carriers*8, particles of electricity generated by light, through laminating layers of high-quality amorphous silicon on the surface of the monocrystalline silicon substrate, where power is generated. By utilizing the technology to form a high-quality amorphous silicon film on the monocrystalline substrate while minimizing damage to the surface of the substrate, it has been possible to realize a high temperature coefficient*9 of -0.25% per degree Celsius*10 which is able to maintain a high conversion efficiency even with high open circuit voltage (Voc)*11 and at high temperatures.

2. Reduction in optical loss
In order to increase the current in a solar cell, it is necessary to lead the sunlight which arrive at the cell’s surface to the monocrystalline silicon substrate, which is the layer which generates the power with less loss. Placing the electrodes on the reverse as back contacts allows the light to reach the substrate more efficiently. This has led to a marked improvement in short circuit current density (Jsc)*12 to 41.8mA/cm² over Panasonic’s previous figure of 39.5mA/cm² (in the case of a cell with a conversion efficiency of 24.7%).

3. Minimizing resistance loss
In solar cells, the generated electrical current is accumulated in the surface grid electrodes and output externally. Previously, the grid electrodes on the light-receiving side were optimized by balancing the thickness of the grid electrodes (thinning the grid electrodes to reduce the amount of light blocked) and the reduction of electrical resistance loss, but by placing the electrodes on the reverse side, it has become possible to reduce the resistive loss when the current is fed to the grid electrodes. In addition, a high fill factor (FF)*13 of 0.827, has been achieved, even at a practical cell size by improving resistance loss in the amorphous silicon layer.

Going forward, Panasonic will continue to pursue technology development of its HIT solar cells, aimed at realizing higher efficiency, lower costs and the more efficient use of resources, and will work towards mass production.

*HIT is a registered trademark of the Panasonic Group.

Cell properties

Open-circuit voltage (Voc)*9 0.740 V
Short circuit current (Isc)*12 6.01 A
Short circuit current density (Jsc)*12 41.8 mA/cm²
Fill factor (FF)*13 0.827
Cell conversion efficiency 25.6%
Cell area*3 143.7 cm²

Outline of the core technologies

*1 According to research by Panasonic as of April 10, 2014, for non-concentrating silicon solar cells (regardless of cell area).

*2 Result of evaluations at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

*3 The cell area is the area opened by the masks.

*4 Judged from the “Solar cell efficiency tables (version 43)”
[Prog. Photovolt: Res. Appl. 2014; 22:1-9]

*5 University of New South Wales (Australia) (March 1999)

*6 Technology for junction formation required for solar cells that covers the silicon base surface with an amorphous silicon layer. Has the key feature of superior passivation to compensate for the many flaws around the silicon base surface area.

*7 Resistive loss is where positive and negative charges generated in the solar cell combine and are consequently lost inside the cell, lowering the current and voltage that can be output and accordingly decreasing the solar cell’s output.

*8 The charge carrier is a particle of electricity containing an electron (negative) and a hole (positive). While the electron has a negative charge, the hole has a positive charge left from the disappearance of an electron.

*9 The temperature coefficient is a value expressing the ratio of conversion efficiency changes when the temperature rises by one degree.

*10 Value measured by Panasonic in assessing a similar cell. The previous HIT temperature coefficient was -0.29% per degree Celsius. The temperature coefficient of ordinary crystalline silicon solar cells is around -0.4 to -0.5% per degree Celcius. The lower the (absolute) value, the less the conversion efficiency drops under high temperatures.

*11 Open-circuit voltage (Voc) is the maximum voltage the cell can generate.

*12 The short circuit current (Isc) is the maximum current generated from a solar cell. The short circuit current density (Jsc) is the value found by dividing the Isc by the cell area.

*13 The fill factor (FF) is a value gained by dividing the maximum obtainable power of the solar cell by to the product of the open-circuit voltage and short-circuit current; the closer to 1 this is, the better the result.

About Panasonic

Panasonic Corporation is a worldwide leader in the development and engineering of electronic technologies and solutions for customers in residential, non-residential, mobility and personal applications. Since its founding in 1918, the company has expanded globally and now operates over 500 consolidated companies worldwide, recording consolidated net sales of 7.30 trillion yen for the year ended March 31, 2013. Committed to pursuing new value through innovation across divisional lines, the company strives to create a better life and a better world for its customers. For more information about Panasonic, please visit the company’s website at Press release:

Media Contacts:

Public Relations Development Office
Panasonic Corporation
Tel: +81-(0)3-3574-5664 Fax: +81-(0)3-3574-5699
Panasonic News Bureau
Tel: +81-(0)3-3542-6205 Fax: +81-(0)3-3542-9018
Alternative energy disrupt utlities

Will utilities change their business model in time?

Wind turbines and other alternative energy

Wind turbines and other alternative energy for a cleaner tomorrow

If you’ve been following the news with alternative energy and the few pieces I wrote for ReneSola, as well as for CarNewsCafe and Teslarati, you might have noticed I’m very interested in adaptive business models. After all, the number one reason companies eventually stop working is because their business model is not agile enough to adapt to changes.

One of the most puzzling aspect of the energy industry  is that it closely follows that of yesterday’s automotive world, a slow pace of evolution and upgrades. Simply put, the electric grid was built over a century ago and very little was done to upgrade it over the past three decades. The advent of alternative energy and its impatience with grid operators has led to the creation of independent energy makers and micro-grids. This is not only disruptive business as usual, but if the energy world doesn’t come to terms with this fast changing world, it could be left behind and demand money before bankruptcy.

Clean energy installation will rise to 290 gigawatts by  2030. That is a three fold increase, some predict is too conservative. The dwindling cost of wind and solar power even got  Bloomberg’s attention with their New Energy Finance forecast at its conference.

Not only is electricity generated from solar and wind price competitive against coal and so-called clean natural gas (CNG), but it’s also forcing utilities to take into consideration renewable energy into their portfolio. If they don’t, other nimbler alternative energy provider will sell their energy locally.

According to Nancy Pfund, a managing partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital company DBL Investors LLC,: “It’s not going to be your grandfather’s energy industry. We’re going to see a parallel evolution in energy like we’ve seen in computing, phones and radio. There really hasn’t been an innovation cycle in energy in 100 years.”

You can read more at RenewableEnergyWorld.

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