Key Solar Market Trends to Watch

March 12, 2010
There's been lots of action in the solar market over the past few weeks, and EM's editors thought it would be helpful to offer readers the following summary

There's been lots of action in the solar market over the past few weeks, and EM's editors thought it would be helpful to offer readers the following summary of the solar news with the potential to have the most impact on the electrical market.

California utility plans to blanket warehouse roofs with solar panels

While you may hear more about utility-scale PV projects or residential PV applications, some industry insiders believe electrical distributors, reps and contractors may see more action with distributed PV installations, where local businesses, municipalities, schools and universities and other commercial and industrial users install PV systems, use what power they need and sell the remainder to the utility. National Electric Supply Co., Albuquerque, N.M., recently installed a PV system at its headquarters, and Electrorep, Sausalito, Calif., has had a PV system in place for several years.

A California utility is all over distributed PV, too, and is taking advantage of some little-used Southern California real estate for its next solar power project — warehouse roofs. Southern California Edison is leasing space on roofs of about 50 warehouses in the Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles to generate 250MW of electricity from solar power. The utility has signed a five-year contract with SunPower Corp. to provide high-efficiency solar panels capable of generating about 200MW, or about 80 percent of the total expected for the project.

The warehouses, which primarily are massive freight distribution centers, solve some challenges for the utility because they are readily available in high-growth areas where land can be costly and they are within the grid, eliminating the need to build transmission lines.

Distributors starting to sell PV panels

The announcement earlier this week that Essco Wholesale Electric, Inc./Sonepar, Chandler, Ariz., will distribute PV modules for Trina Solar Ltd., is yet another indication that some electrical distributors are getting more serious about solar. Border States Industries Inc., Fargo, N.D., inked a deal in Sept. 2009 to sell Centrosolar PV panels as part of its growing mix of renewable energy products. Griffith Electric Supply Co. Inc,. Trenton, N.J.; Munro Distributing Co., Fall River, Mass., and Rexel USA, Dallas, are other electrical distributors already selling PV panels.

Offshore PV firms to build U.S. plants

To bring some assembly work closer to end markets and cut down on the shipping of delicate PV panels, several of the larger Pacific Rim photovoltaics manufacturers recently announced plans to build manufacturing plants in the United States to produce PV modules. A recent Reuters report said Kyocera plans to build a plant in San Diego; Suntech wants to build a PV panel plant in Arizona; and Yingli Green Energy is considering factory sites in Austin, Texas, and Phoenix.

A March 6 article in the Phoenix Business Journal said that most of the heavy manufacturing of these PV panels would probably still be done in less-expensive offshore labor markets. The Reuters article said Kyocera expects its San Diego plant to produce 30MW per year, and that one megawatt can power approximately 800 homes.