Friday, September 28, 2007

Ausra/PG&E/FPL commit to 2GW of solar thermal...

Ausra, previously blogged on here, a CA bay area solar thermal power startup which has raised significant funds from Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, along with PG&E and Florida Power and Light (one of the nation's biggest wind developers) made a splash at the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting when they committed to building 2.0GW of solar thermal.

Using the MIT Energy Club's handy "U.S. Electricity Fact Sheet" one sees that the U.S. peak power capacity is ~1000 GW. One company consortium announcing solar thermal projects that would make up 0.2% of all electric power is nothing to sniff at.

Also, their commitment likely has some weight behind it: if they don't live up to it, Bill Clinton won't invite them back to his Meeting next year. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MIT Photovoltaics Social II brings out the MIT PV crowd....

Last Thursday, the MIT Energy Club held its second "MIT/Boston Area Photovoltaics Community Social" of the year. This bimonthly social series is part of a coherent Energy Club program, which includes the social series and the Club's annual January IAP course on Photovoltaics, designed to build up the nascent PV community at MIT and in the Boston Area.

MIT Photovoltaics Social II turned out ~50 folks and was more internally/student focused than MIT Photovoltaics Social I. However, the MIT enthusiasm for PV is definitely on the rise.

MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi kicked off the event with a shot gun overview of his thoughts after having attended the EU Photovoltaics Conference recently. Interestingly, Prof. Buonassisi has just hired his first graduate student, the first critical piece of his up and coming PV research empire.... :)

The Sachs/Buonassisi MIT solar nexus was present in force, with Tonio Buonassisi and his first graduate student present. From the Sachs group long time PV researchers Jim Bredt (of Z Corp fame) and Jim Serdy were present, along with Eerik Hantsoo and the Sachs group's newest PV grad student Anjuli (whose last name I did not catch!). Jon Mapel, MIT PhD student, was present representing the great organic PV work going on in Prof. Marc Baldo's group as well.

Nol Browne, MIT Sloan alum currently with Evergreen Solar, headed the industry contingent, while Eric Emmons, Principal at everyone's favorite energy venture firm, the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, and David Pelly, MIT alum/EIR at Matrix Partners/co-instructor of MIT's newest energy ventures course entitled "Energy Ventures", represented the investor side with aplomb.

The MIT PV Social also welcomed alum and former Club Secretary Libby Wayman back from her long stint working in Lesotho, Africa to get developing world solar thermal startup Promethean Power off the ground.

Club co-presidents, Daniel Enderton and James Schwartz, were present to field many new ideas for the Energy Club, including the possibility of creating a "Biofuels" sub community similar to the PV one that has already been formed. This is a wide open opportunity for someone who wants to get more involved with the Club!

Representatives from Green Mountain Engineering, and stealthy Harvard tech based PV-related startup SiOnyx were also present.

Looking forward to the next social in November and hope to see everyone there!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MIT Energy Club - Hidden Solar Resources

Over the years, the MIT Energy Club has accumulated a few great solar info resources. Please find a list below for your perusal:

MIT Energy Club IAP Course 2007: "Photovoltaics in 2012: What's Next in Photovoltaics Technology, Policy, and Economics" (Amazing overview slides primarily courtesy of MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi)

MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi's Solar Homepage (Excellent resource for people wanting to get into the field

MIT Energy Club Discussion 2007: "Solar: Thick vs Thin Film"
MIT Energy Club Discussion 2004: "Solar Power Overview"

MIT Energy Conference 2007: "Solar Power: A Path to Grid Parity"
- Slides
- Streaming Video

MIT Energy Conference 2006: "The Solar Panel: From a $10B Industry to a $100B Industry - How Will We Get There?"
- Slides & Streaming Video

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ausra, concentrating solar-thermal startup with new tech approach, raises $40M; Plans biggest plant in CA.... Cost: Solar Thermal vs PV??

Ausra, a new solar thermal startup backed by the illustrious venture firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, just announced the closing of a $40M+ financing round from these backers.

The company, originated in Australia and now in the Bay Area, has a novel technology approach that ideally will make parabolic trough concentrator solar thermal technology obsolete. The technology is essentially the same as traditional parabolic trough technology, with mirrors focusing incoming sunlight onto a linear pipe containing a high heat capacity fluid. The fluid is then pumped to a central boiler where the heat is used to make steam and run a steam turbine to provide electric power.

The novel part is that they have taken the "parabolic trough" part out and replaced it with compact linear fresnel reflector technology. Fresnel basically means that it achieves the same focusing onto a line as a parabolic trough, but using a flat reflector with features on it designed to mimic the focusing effect of a 3D trough reflector in 2D. See this pic for a feel.

The company claims it can deliver 10.4 cents/kWh electric power now and projects that it will be able to do 7.9 cents/kWh in three years. (Are these costs or long term contract sale prices? Somebody help me here.)

Interesting question:

Centralized solar thermal is being sold in many corners as a superior option to distributed photovoltaics, mainly in terms of cost.

However, in any given electric power market, photovoltaics, in that they deliver power on the retail side, should be given a cost "advantage" equal to the delivery (non-generation) costs of power. According to my latest NStar Electric bill, I was charged 10.8 cents/kWh for generation and 7.4 cents/kWh for delivery. So lets give PV an 8 cent/kWh advantage in discussions comparing it to solar thermal, at least in NE, for the sake of argument.

I typically hear PV levelized cost numbers of 20-50 cents/kWh, depending on the resource, interest rate, etc.

If we take Ausra at their word then, PV should be at or below 18 cents/kWh to compete with Ausra now and at or below 15 cents/kWh three years from now.

What are truly reasonable PV cost numbers these days? What are projections (given expected growth rates and learning curve behavior) 3 years, 5 years, 10 years out?

Solar thermal or PV. Weigh in!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Don't miss "MIT Photovoltaics Social II" this Thursday, Sept 13, 6-8PM, Muddy Charles Pub!

The MIT Energy Club is hosting the "MIT Photovoltaics Community Social II" this Thursday, Sept. 13, 6-8PM at the Muddy Charles Pub.

The event will be hosted by MIT Professor and PV researcher Tonio Buonassisi, MIT Energy Club founder Dave Danielson, and MIT Energy Club Lecture Series Chair and PV researcher Eerik Hantsoo (of both Nanosolar and Prof. Ely Sachs group fame).

The event will begin with a 10 minute overview of the recent European Union Photovoltaics Conference by Prof. Tonio Buonassisi so don't be late!

If the turnout this time is anything like MIT PV Social I, this will definitely be a great chance to meet other MIT/Boston area folks engaged in work in the photovoltaics world.

Furthermore, it appears that the MIT Energy Club's demo Evergreen Solar module has become a permanent fixture at the Muddy after last month's event. Who knows what PV prop will be added to the Muddy decor this time??

Free food and beverages sponsored by the MIT Energy Club.

Contact David Danielson, dtdaniel(att)mit(dott)edu with any questions!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

MIT at the European Photovoltaic Conference

The EU Photovoltaics Conference has become the de-facto key PV conference worldwide. To judge its impact, take a look at the number of press releases on these last few days. Analysts from BoA predicted a short-term boost in solar stocks resulting from the conference and its surrounding publicity - they appear to have been right. The media is simply abuzz here. I was even interviewed on TV today after my talk. ;o)

Speaking of talks, there were three talks with MIT folks at the EU-PVSEC. Although few in number, all were plenary talks with good audience turnout:
1) Highly Mismatched Semiconductor Alloys for High-Efficiency Solar Cells, with P. Becla as co-author,
2) Luminescence Imaging, with myself as co-author,
3) Stress Evolution of Wafer Bulks and Edges During Industrial Solar Cell Processing, with myself as lead author
It's a good start, but let's continue to build on that in the years to come...

Overall, the number of U.S. groups represented in oral presentations has increased quite a bit vis a vis previous EU conferences, including Ajeet Rohatgi's group (Georgia Tech), Bhushan Sopori (NREL), Alan Barnett and Christine Honsberg (U. Delaware), and Ron Sinton (Sinton Consulting), not to mention participation from multiple industrial partners. I remember back in 2004 in Paris, when I was one of only 3 people representing U.S. groups to present! I was also pleased to see the growing number of booths in the exhibition hall from New England companies who passed on previous EU Conferences.

Overall, though, we have still far to come in terms of creating a robust "PV technology pipeline" in the U.S., from where companies can pick their next-generation technologies from a steadily-replentished menu of new developments from universities and reseach institutes. Another area where we can hopefully contribute to positive developments. With technology-focused MIT, we should - and must - make a solid contribution in this regard.

For additional coverage of the EU-PVSEC, I recommend visiting: