The Future is the Grid for Solar Technology

It is an understatement to say solar tech companies have suffered in 2011. The year has been marked by financial losses, layoffs, factory closures, trade complaints and bankruptcies afflicting solar manufacturers in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The drama will continue in 2012, and here is a look at what to expect next year.
1. Lining up the right dance partners. Raising more private equity means diluting share values, but many next-gen thin film startups remain in the perilous stage of entering mass production at a time when demand lags. They need money and more. We have already seen some of them lining up corporate investors — such as ambitious Korean conglomerates — who also can help them with technology development and sales and marketing. HelioVolt was rescued by SK Group, and GreenVolt found help from ABB. Others, such as MiaSole, are still searching.
2. Buyer’s market. For companies with financial muscles, it’s a good time to invest in solar, be it taking a share in a tech company or a power project. Many big energy companies have done just that, from Exelon in the U.S. to Total in France. Google got rid of its solar research effort but has made some big investments in solar power projects this year, including the $94 million in four solar projects near Sacramento, Calif., that it announced last week. There are many firsts. Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings is buying its first solar farm and has agreed to purchase a 49 percent stake in a second one. Investment firm KKR made its first renewable energy investment in the U.S. by putting an undisclosed sum in the same Sacramento-area solar farm. Hey, maybe we will see Chinese oil giants gobbling up some solar and wind projects abroad.
3. Game over. We know of seven companies that have declared bankruptcy or have shuttered their solar businesses. Energy Conversion Devices temporarily suspended production last month and is doing massive layoffs, and though it hasn’t filed for bankruptcy or otherwise announced its exit, the company’s prospects are bleak. If there are truly hundreds of solar panel manufacturers in China, then many of them won’t live much longer, and some should have expired by now. The Chinese government’s own research recently concluded that the number of domestic solar panel makers could fall to 15 before this decade is over. LDK Solar, a silicon producer that has added solar cell and panel manufacturing in recent years, is one of the struggling Chinese companies. Wells Fargo recently dropped its coverage of LDK because the solar company no longer presented “a viable solar investment.”
Although some of the high-profile U.S. solar startups have lined up big investors, as we mentioned earlier, their survival is far from assured, and, well, Solyndra won’t be the only big VC-backed solar investment that flames out.
4. New entrants keep on coming. Sure, times are tough now, but the solar market is supposed to grow and grow, right? So here you have Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest contract maker of consumer electronics such as the iPhone, plotting its entry into the solar market and planning on starting trial production next year. Other solar manufacturers should be worried, because solar panels are commodities and margins are shrinking quickly. Foxconn will join some of the largest consumer electronics makers that also have vowed to become major solar manufacturers: Samsung and LG (and Sharp and Panasonic already are big players in solar).
Although government incentives have played a key role in boosting the solar market growth, they are falling, drying up or changing too often, and many project developers and installers are looking forward to the day when they can build without subsidies (meaning they can do it more cheaply).
5. Changing strategy. It is interesting to see how companies change their strategies during tough times. We have seen more money devoted to boosting the sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies by companies that have historically spent more heavily on expanding factories to drive down costs. First Solar, which is laying off workers and throttling back its factory expansion plans, is undergoing a major strategy shift to focus on projects that serve utilities and in markets that aren’t so driven by government subsidies. All eyes will be on First Solar to see how it plans to tackle that in 2012.
6. The bane of election year politics. The U.S. is the third-largest solar market in the world, and it still has a lot of room to grow. The growth so far has been propped up by government incentives, and the expiration of a key federal subsidy this month and an ongoing trade complaint against Chinese manufacturers have stoked worries of a slower increase in installations in 2012. Add that to the fact that Republicans and Democrats both are trying to show who can manage the country’s finances better and cut spending. Getting more government help in 2012 will be as difficult as getting Newt Gingrich to be humble.
7. Emerging markets. China and India have been among the most-talked-about new markets this year, and the conversation will continue. But we also will hear more about other, lesser-known markets such as the Middle East and Africa, where the necessary ingredients for solar development — money and interest from utilities and government — are increasing. Latin America is starting to show signs of solar power development activities, though they are tiny still.
8. What will the IPO market bring? Not much. This year has proven a terrible time for making that public market debut. Companies that filed this year to go public, such as BrightSource Energy and Enphase Energy, are waiting for the right time. Until we see successful solar IPOs in the U.S. — and it’s been a while — very few will try their luck.
9. Beyond solar. Some solar installers see opportunities in the emergence of electric cars — both businesses promote their cleantech cred and sell to consumers directly. Companies such as REC Solar and SolarCity are selling electric car charging stations (SolarCity has erected solar power charging stations for Tesla owners). Automakers such as General Motors and Nissan are building electric car charging stations that use solar power. Up until now, solar retailers have largely focused on selling solar energy equipment and installation services. But as they grow in size and generate more money, they might want to diversify to offer other cleantech equipment and services.
10. Solar’s impact on the grid. The increase in solar energy generation has nudged utilities and electric grid regulators to give more thought and investment to the impact of solar in their mission to deliver electricity reliably. Since solar production can ebb and surge depending on the time of the day and the weather, new technologies and policies are cropping up to monitor solar energy production and minimize interruptions of power delivery. Storing solar energy in batteries and discharging it into the grid when needed is one solution that is being considered or tested in pilot projects. Inverters will play a greater role in regulating solar power’s flow into the grid. Some of the technologies already exist because of technical requirements in Germany, and they will make their way into the U.S.
Photos from GigaOM, First Solar, Enphase Energy, Duke Energy, Solaria
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The present stage of Solar Technology will make leaps and bounds when there will be improvements for solar cells panels, storage technology and connectivity to the Grid that will enable efficient widespread deployment based on cost return ratios which justify the move to alternative energy, the price of oil will continue to rise and many would not want to rely on fossil fuels for electricity generation and will de-centralised their needs by locking on to the energy Grid, even cutting their energy requirements by up to 50% by investing in solar technology.
In future, solar energy will be installed at the rooftops of every HDB block of flats, generating up to 50% of the energy required to light up the common corridors and lifts, even powering the next generation of waste management system for new HDB flats where a hybrid system will still work between old and new flats, where excess energy can be resold with the connectivity to the Grid.
– Contributed by Oogle. 

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No side effects, but what happens when you play GOD?

NEW YORK – Scientists in Oregon have created embryos with genes from one man and two women, using a provocative technique that could someday be used to prevent babies from inheriting certain rare incurable diseases.
The researchers at the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) said they are not using the embryos to produce children, and it is not clear when or even if this technique will be put to use.
But it has already stirred a debate over its risks and ethics in Britain, where scientists did similar work a few years ago.
The British experiments, reported in 2008, led to headlines about the possibility someday of babies with three parents. But that is an overstatement. The DNA from the second woman amounts to less than 1 per cent of the embryo’s genes and it is not the sort that makes a child look like Mum or Dad. The procedure is simply a way of replacing some defective genes that sabotage the normal workings of cells.
The British government is asking for public comment on the technology before it decides whether to allow its use in the future. One concern it cites is whether such DNA alteration could be an early step down a slippery slope towards “designer babies” – ordering up, say, a petite, blue-eyed girl or tall, dark-haired boy.
Questions have also arisen about the safety of the technique, not only for the baby who results from the egg, but also for the child’s descendants.
In June, an influential British bioethics group concluded that the technology would be ethical to use if proven safe and effective. An expert panel in Britain said last year that there was no evidence that the technology was unsafe but urged further study.
Dr Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said that safety problems might not show up for several generations.
She said she hopes the United States will follow Britain’s lead in having a wide-ranging discussion of the technology.
While the kind of diseases it seeks to fight can be terrible, “this might not be the best way to address it”, Dr Zoloth said.
Over the past few years, scientists have reported that such experiments produced healthy monkeys and that tests in human eggs showed encouraging results. The Oregon scientists reported yesterday that they have produced about a dozen early human embryos and found the technique is highly effective in replacing DNA.
The genes they want to replace are not the kind most people think of, which are found in the nucleus of cells and influence traits such as eye colour and height. Rather, these genes reside outside the nucleus in energy-producing structures called mitochondria. These genes are passed along only by mothers, not fathers.
About one in every 5,000 children inherits a disease caused by defective mitochondrial genes. The defects can cause many rare diseases with a host of symptoms, including strokes, epilepsy, dementia, blindness, deafness, kidney failure and heart disease.
The new technique would allow a woman to give birth to a baby who inherits her nucleus DNA but not her mitochondrial DNA.
Doctors would need unfertilised eggs from the patient and a healthy donor. They would remove the nucleus DNA from the donor eggs and replace it with nucleus DNA from the patient’s eggs. So, they would end up with eggs that have the prospective mother’s nucleus DNA, but the donor’s healthy mitochondrial DNA.
In a report published online yesterday by the journal Nature, Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov and others at OHSU report transplanting nucleus DNA into 64 unfertilised eggs from healthy donors. After fertilisation, 13 eggs showed normal development and went on to form early embryos.
The researchers also reported that four monkeys born in 2009 from eggs that had DNA transplants remain healthy, giving some assurance on safety.
Dr Mitalipov said that the researchers hope to get federal approval to test the procedure in women, but that current restrictions on using federal money on human embryo research stand in the way of such studies.
The research was funded by the university and the Leducq Foundation in Paris.
Dr Douglass Turnbull of Newcastle University in Britain, whose team has transplanted DNA between eggs using a different technique, called the new research “very important and encouraging” in showing that such transplants could work.
But “clearly, safety is an issue” with either technique if it is applied to humans, he said. AP

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There is no side effects, what remains is a ethical question when trying to play God, DNA has it’s purpose to retain it’s characteristics for survival of the fittest, but when you mess with nature, and there is wide spread use, one day there will be consequences which can wipe out the entire race of human beings, it is alrite if it is only use to save a precious life, it should be strictly controlled and ethical questions need to be answered to save a life. In future there will be a walk around where you do not need to merge 3 embryos, where it is possible to replace the mutant DNA and use it to cure diseases without a cut and paste method, by re-creating the portion from scratch, without affecting the ethical question with messing the order of nature by playing God.
– Contributed by Oogle.

New Underground MRT station between Outram and HarbourFront?

New Underground MRT station between Outram and HarbourFront?

When you take the NE line, you will notice that the LED signboard mention of station 1 is HarbourFront, and station 3 is Outram, what about station 2? A new underground MRT station in secret?
– Contributed by Oogle.
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24th October 2012
By Maria Almenoar
Commuters can expect a smoother travelling experience when new facilities in at least 23 MRT and LRT stations are completed in the next three years.
Upgrading work by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) includes building linkways to nearby buildings, bicycle racks, railings and covered taxi and pick-up bays.
It could not say how much the upgrading will cost, as some tenders have not been called. It did say, however, that it will cost $5.4 million to add lifts at pedestrian overhead bridges next to six stations: Bishan, Aljunied, Khatib, Yew Tee, Kranji and Sengkang.
The works, which started in November last year, will be completed by the end of next year.Also slated for completion next year are enhancements at five stations: Dover, HarbourFront, Kovan and Yishun MRT stations, as well as Teck Whye LRT station.
Modifications range from extensions to the roofs to covered linkways and pick-up bays.
Another lot of stations will get improvement works by 2015.
The Commonwealth, Clementi and Queenstown stations will each get two new entrances with fare gates and ticketing machines.
An additional pedestrian bridge will also be built at each station, linking it to both sides of the main road outside.
This will help alleviate congestion on existing linkways, especially during morning and evening peak periods, said the LTA.
The new amenities will cater to an expected growth in travel demand in these neighbourhoods once new developments come up.
Another nine MRT and LRT stations will also get better facilities by June 2015: Kallang, Lakeside, Bukit Gombak and Serangoon MRT stations; and Bukit Panjang, Bangkit, Keat Hong, Pending and Southview LRT stations.
Some enhancement work has been completed. For example, Outram Park station, an interchange station serving the North-East and East-West lines, was fitted with new toilets earlier this year.
The LTA also spent $126 million to install half-height screen doors at the platforms of elevated stations to prevent accidents.
The project, completed in March, took about three years. To improve ventilation where half-height doors have been set up, the LTA is installing fans.
Work will be completed by the first quarter of next year.
mariaa@sph.com.sg