Toshiba has just announced that it is entering the photovoltaics business, joining fellow high tech giants such as Sharp and Sanyo, who already have significant market share. But it appears that Toshiba will be servicing the industrial market rather than the commercial or residential one. Companies like Sharp and Sanyo mostly make rooftop modules that can power anything ranging from a house to a factory. Toshiba, on the other hand, intends to build photovoltaic power plants.
Consequently, Toshiba will be establishing its photovoltaics department within its Transmission Distribution & Industrial Systems business unit, a division that already works with industrial-scale energy distribution technology. That means that the people who are going to be designing these photovoltaic power plants already have extensive experience when it comes to engineering energy storage and distribution.
This is good for the future of photovoltaics. As of now, it is still unclear whether PV power works best as a distributed or centralized power source – i.e. when/where is it more efficient to put individual solar panels on rooftops versus building large desert-based power plants. As mentioned above, Sharp is pushing the distributed model as far as it can go. Maybe Toshiba will push the centralized model. Personally, I’m more interested to see if one model works better, or if they each work equally well under specific circumstances (or if one of them flops).
The second piece of PV-power-plant news comes out of Southern Israel, where a startup company called Arava Power just received the first license in Israeli history (granted by the Public Utility Authority) to build a photovoltaic power plant in Israel. The plant they are planning to build is only 4.9 MW – relatively small potatoes compared to PV power plants being built in Germany, Spain and the Southwestern US. The reason it’s exciting, though, is that Israel already has plenty of scientists working on solar technologies, both PV and solar thermal. Brightsource, for example, who is building large solar thermal plants in the Southwest, is an Israeli company.
Until now, the belief was that there was not a good market for solar electricity in Israel, and that the Israeli bureaucratic hurdles would be too cumbersome to deal with. Arava has yet to prove itself as a successful business, but by getting this license they have likely caused all of Israel’s other solar technology companies to reconsider their options.
Finally, AU-Optronics – a Taiwanese company which makes LCD panels – has announced that it will begin making thin film PV panels starting this year. A lot of the technology used to make LCDs overlaps with the technology used to make thin film PV, which is why a lot of display technology companies are jumping on the bandwagon. This is especially true in Taiwan, which is home to many said high tech companies, as well as companies producing materials for solar panels, such as polysilicon and coper indium gallium selenium (CIGS).
As with Toshiba, AUO’s announcement is exciting considering its large size, solid expertise, and significant financial investment. They say they are ready to set up a pilot production line this year – which is good for Ecogeeks who don’t like to wait!
written by underdog, January 08, 2009
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