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Published on January 18th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

18

First Solar Begins Operation of Largest Thin-Film PV Plant in California

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January 18th, 2010 by  

First Solar’s utility-scale PV plant has now been quietly up and running, in Blythe, California, for its first full month. Once it got a go-ahead in the summer this project only took three months to build.

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Perhaps its relatively smaller size for utility-scale solar holds a key to its success in getting off the ground.  Unlike the 250 MW solar trough technologies that are held up in reviews, this project is a modest 21 MW.

PG&E just inked a new deal with First Solar this month, placing an order for the next size up: 48 MW, suggesting that incremental steps are the way to get more solar on the grid in California. The original application with the CPUC had been for a very unassuming 7 MW. With the option to go larger.

PV plants tend not to be as ambitious in scope as utility-scale solar thermal technologies because they are more expensive. This 21 MW thin-film project is so far the biggest PV plant yet built in California.

The First Solar project uses their own advanced thin-film PV, though, that is made of cadmium telluride and is much cheaper than regular PV. This means that it has the same potential as solar thermal technologies to scale up. They have plans to build two more projects in California in the 250 – 300 MW range.

Thin-film is both cheaper and less “efficient” than PV, which is not to be construed as meaning that it doesn’t work very well. One megawatt of PV makes exactly the same power as one megawatt of thin-film. It merely means that it will take a larger area of thin-film to produce the same energy as a smaller PV module.

However, that lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time as well, so thin-film is a good long-term investment. Unlike PV which might be 12% less efficient in 25 years (so it can no longer be warrantied at the same output that it was originally rated at ) thin-film keeps on chugging away.

Southern California Edison has signed a 20-year purchase power agreement for the energy it will produce.

Image: First Solar

Source: Greentech

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • http://ecdfan.blogspot.com ECD Fan

    Susan:

    You can take a look at “COMPARISON OF DEGRADATION RATES OF INDIVIDUAL MODULES HELD AT MAXIMUM POWER” from C.R. Osterwald, J. Adelstein, J.A. del Cueto, B. Kroposki, D. Trudell, and T. Moriarty, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, CO 80401

    http://www.photonenergysys.com/osterwald%20wcpec.pdf

    (specifically, the tables on the last page).

    While I disagree with some of their results, they do show that CdTe degrades 1.3% a year (8 years of exposure) or, in the second table, 1.84% a year (10 years of exposure). Amorphous silicon thin-film’s degradation is generally about 1% or higher as well (more recent results for Unisolar, for example, from the same studies show 1.24% degradation under STC). Crystalline (x-Si or poly-Si) degradation is generally 0.5% a year.

    [SK: great: thanks]

  • http://ecdfan.blogspot.com ECD Fan

    Susan:

    You can take a look at “COMPARISON OF DEGRADATION RATES OF INDIVIDUAL MODULES HELD AT MAXIMUM POWER” from C.R. Osterwald, J. Adelstein, J.A. del Cueto, B. Kroposki, D. Trudell, and T. Moriarty, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, CO 80401

    http://www.photonenergysys.com/osterwald%20wcpec.pdf

    (specifically, the tables on the last page).

    While I disagree with some of their results, they do show that CdTe degrades 1.3% a year (8 years of exposure) or, in the second table, 1.84% a year (10 years of exposure). Amorphous silicon thin-film’s degradation is generally about 1% or higher as well (more recent results for Unisolar, for example, from the same studies show 1.24% degradation under STC). Crystalline (x-Si or poly-Si) degradation is generally 0.5% a year.

    [SK: great: thanks]

  • Susan Kraemer

    So I guess I got what I paid for at PEC!

    Do you have a link to the NREL research? I will fix the post if that is wrong. These posts bounce around the internet forever, and I certainly don’t want to spread around an incorrect statement.

    Yeah, you are right about the extra labor for thin-film – at least on roofing. You have to practically install it in a lab to keep grit and dust from getting between the thin-film and the roof.

  • Susan Kraemer

    So I guess I got what I paid for at PEC!

    Do you have a link to the NREL research? I will fix the post if that is wrong. These posts bounce around the internet forever, and I certainly don’t want to spread around an incorrect statement.

    Yeah, you are right about the extra labor for thin-film – at least on roofing. You have to practically install it in a lab to keep grit and dust from getting between the thin-film and the roof.

  • http://ecdfan.blogspot.com ECD Fan

    Dear Ms. Kraemer:

    Your statement that lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time is plain false. Numerous studies, including ones done by NREL and European research insititutions, have documented that. For example, Tucson Electric’s data have shown that First Solar’s module degrade over 1.5% a year, while crystalline modules degrade about 0.5% a year. And First Solar’s modules are one of the least-degrading thin-film modules.

    Also, yes, thin-film PV modules are cheap, but system costs per Watt are comparable to those of regular crystalline modules. It is not just the larger area required by the thin-film modules – it is also numerous other balance-of-system costs that are higher for thin-film, such as wiring, mounting solution, installation labor, etc.

  • http://ecdfan.blogspot.com ECD Fan

    Dear Ms. Kraemer:

    Your statement that lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time is plain false. Numerous studies, including ones done by NREL and European research insititutions, have documented that. For example, Tucson Electric’s data have shown that First Solar’s module degrade over 1.5% a year, while crystalline modules degrade about 0.5% a year. And First Solar’s modules are one of the least-degrading thin-film modules.

    Also, yes, thin-film PV modules are cheap, but system costs per Watt are comparable to those of regular crystalline modules. It is not just the larger area required by the thin-film modules – it is also numerous other balance-of-system costs that are higher for thin-film, such as wiring, mounting solution, installation labor, etc.

  • rich EE

    ” lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time as well, ”

    Does this only apply to cadmium telluride or is it for all thin film products ?

    Also , what is your source for this longevity info ?

    [SK: I'm pretty sure it applies to thin film generally. My source: last Fall I took the solar classes run by PG&E at the Pacific Energy Center which I highly recommend. They are actually free and super concentrated and very comprehensive.]

  • rich EE

    ” lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time as well, ”

    Does this only apply to cadmium telluride or is it for all thin film products ?

    Also , what is your source for this longevity info ?

    [SK: I'm pretty sure it applies to thin film generally. My source: last Fall I took the solar classes run by PG&E at the Pacific Energy Center which I highly recommend. They are actually free and super concentrated and very comprehensive.]

  • Mark

    Hi – as I understand it, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, (EISA) requires over 20% reduction in energy consumption. This is equivalent to all of our coal or natural gas consumption. This makes me believe that regulatory direction “Reduce your consumption” creates motivation which creates technology. I founded http://www.Tintbuyer.com to educate people on the actual ENVIRONMENTAL and FINANCIAL benefits of solar control window film on a building and get into this discussion with my customers frequently. People are attracted to ‘big’ solutions rather than the existing because at their core they feel the ‘big’ solution may or may not happen and, in a way, may not ever have to change. The solution is found not in creating new industries and $100B for photovoltaic GENERATING capacity but rather changing the way we think about CONSERVATION. If every home installed compact fluorescent, increased attic insulation, installed clear heat control window film, and increase the t-stat 1 degree we would reduce CONSUMPTION far more (and far more quickly) than building new generating capacity. It’s like putting more horsepower in a car to make it go faster but ignoring excess unnecessary weight of the car.

  • Mark

    Hi – as I understand it, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, (EISA) requires over 20% reduction in energy consumption. This is equivalent to all of our coal or natural gas consumption. This makes me believe that regulatory direction “Reduce your consumption” creates motivation which creates technology. I founded http://www.Tintbuyer.com to educate people on the actual ENVIRONMENTAL and FINANCIAL benefits of solar control window film on a building and get into this discussion with my customers frequently. People are attracted to ‘big’ solutions rather than the existing because at their core they feel the ‘big’ solution may or may not happen and, in a way, may not ever have to change. The solution is found not in creating new industries and $100B for photovoltaic GENERATING capacity but rather changing the way we think about CONSERVATION. If every home installed compact fluorescent, increased attic insulation, installed clear heat control window film, and increase the t-stat 1 degree we would reduce CONSUMPTION far more (and far more quickly) than building new generating capacity. It’s like putting more horsepower in a car to make it go faster but ignoring excess unnecessary weight of the car.

  • Paul

    Susan have you ever researched Solar Systems in Australia? http://www.solarsystems.com.au/

    They build concentrated PV systems that make 0.23m² of silicon cell generate the same power as 350m² worth.

    That’s also without using the remaining 65% of heat energy which is bled off the back of the PV cell and and sunk into the ground. This heat could also be used to generate electricity using a sterling engine or an organic rankine cycle system (i.e. an AC run in reverse – like low temp geothermal)

    Each time I see a picture of a field full of PV panels it seem wasteful when concentrated PV can use as little as 1/1000 that of flat-plate material.

    [SK: Love Enviromission from Australia too. Such innovation is driven by your being about a decade ahead of us in climate change, no doubt!]

  • Paul

    Susan have you ever researched Solar Systems in Australia? http://www.solarsystems.com.au/

    They build concentrated PV systems that make 0.23m² of silicon cell generate the same power as 350m² worth.

    That’s also without using the remaining 65% of heat energy which is bled off the back of the PV cell and and sunk into the ground. This heat could also be used to generate electricity using a sterling engine or an organic rankine cycle system (i.e. an AC run in reverse – like low temp geothermal)

    Each time I see a picture of a field full of PV panels it seem wasteful when concentrated PV can use as little as 1/1000 that of flat-plate material.

    [SK: Love Enviromission from Australia too. Such innovation is driven by your being about a decade ahead of us in climate change, no doubt!]

  • http://www.elementalled.com Elemental LED staff

    This is great news also because, the last I heard, one big barrier to getting more solar up and running in the southwest was the great transmission distances between the locations of the “farms” and the consumers of the power. So perhaps they’re attacking this problem by creating smaller, more local farms?

  • http://www.elementalled.com Elemental LED staff

    This is great news also because, the last I heard, one big barrier to getting more solar up and running in the southwest was the great transmission distances between the locations of the “farms” and the consumers of the power. So perhaps they’re attacking this problem by creating smaller, more local farms?

  • Bill W

    You’re missing some adjectives in there when you start comparing “PV” vs. “thin-film.” As I’m sure you’re aware, thin-film is still photovoltaic (PV). What you’re really comparing is crystalline (mono- or poly-) PV vs. thin-film PV.

  • Bill W

    You’re missing some adjectives in there when you start comparing “PV” vs. “thin-film.” As I’m sure you’re aware, thin-film is still photovoltaic (PV). What you’re really comparing is crystalline (mono- or poly-) PV vs. thin-film PV.

  • http://www.californiality.com California Blogger

    Way to go, California, harvesting the sun!

  • http://www.californiality.com California Blogger

    Way to go, California, harvesting the sun!

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