Light at end of silicon-shortage tunnel?

Reuters has this story from the SolarWorld conference in Germany, where some industry executives are saying the silicon shortage slowing growth in the solar industry will be over by the end of 2008. Peter Woditsch, CEO of Deutsche Solar, said for this reason his company and other traditionalists in the sector are not wasting time and money on technologies that reduce dependence on silicon, such as thin-film technologies. “Silicon is available in 25 per cent of the earth’s crust, so there is no need for a silicon shotrage,” he said.

It’s a question I’ve pondered for some time. It’s one thing to develop technologies for lowering the cost and improving the efficiency of solar cells, through, for example, better manufacturing and design. But if the silicon shortage issue is temporary, why the rush to wean ourselves off of it, particularly when most of the non-silicon innovations won’t hit the market until after the silicon bottleneck is over? Just because a solar PV technology doesn’t use silicon doesn’t mean it’s superior or has some kind of edge over silicon-based technologies in the long term. The key is better manufacturing processes and more efficient design.

Grid-tie wind becomes cheaper, easier to install

Southwest Windpower has finally released its much-anticipated Skystream 3.7 small wind turbine system, which has been designed as a grid-tie turbine with all necessary power electronics integrated into the system. The company is calling it a “new weapon” in the fight against high electricity costs.

“With no batteries, Skystream 3.7 connects directly to the home to supply power. When the wind is not blowing, the home is powered by the electric utility. Depending on the local utility, excess electricity can be sold back to the utility or used at a later date,” according to a company press release. “With a typical cost of $8,000 to $10,000 to purchase and install, Skystream 3.7 can pay for itself in 5 to 12 years. This payback period will vary and can be much quicker in states with investment rebates. It’s anticipated that Skystream 3.7 will save the average homeowner $500 to $800 per year, based on 4,800 to 6,600 kWh produced per year and a $.12/kWh cost of electricity.”

As I’ve pointed out in past posts, Canadian Tire is one major retailer in Canada that now carries Southwest Windpower’s products so perhaps we’ll soon see the Skystream 3.7 for sale there. The big question, which we’ll get answers for in the coming months, is whether Ontario’s standard offer program includes small wind? If so, then the province would pay 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, making this system a potentially attractive purchase with regards to payback. Considering a solar PV system with comparable power output would likely cost twice as much to purchase and install, this small wind product could prove compelling for some homeowners and businesses.

For another take, here’s a Red Herring story on the product release.

UPDATE: The standard offer program to be detailed and officially launched this fall does include small wind, with the same 11-cent per kilowatt-hour payback as large wind systems.

Podcast: Interview with SDTC’s Rick Whittaker

I had a chance recently to talk about trends in the cleantech sector with Rick Whittaker, vice-president of investments at Sustainable Development Technology Canada. Whittaker’s job is to seek out investments in Canadian cleantech companies as part of a funding program aimed at stimulating private investment. For every dollar that SDTC invests in a project the private sector will contribute two. It’s a great model that is playing a major role in stimulating commercialization of Canadian clean technologies.  Dozens of projects have been funded over the years related to clean energies, waste management/disposal, biofuels, hydrogen/fuel cells, energy management/conservation, etc… Check out the podcast for more details.