Making silicon obsolete: thoughts on developments in perovskite research

“I don’t know any group that works on photovoltaics that isn’t looking at perovskites,” stated Dr Henry Snaith, leader of the perovskite research team of the Oxford University Department of Physics. With developments in perovskite research appearing to commence a materials revolution in the pv industry, Solar Bankers hopes to take a step back and humbly offer its opinion.

It seems the main obstacle hampering pv technology’s advancement to the forefront of energy production is the difficulty of simultaneously optimizing its cost and performance. The past tendency has been one of high efficiency necessitating increased costs, one of reduced costs being coupled with reduced performance. Very efficient commercial solar cells are based on thick silicon sheets produced in costly processes involving high temperatures. Conversely, thin-film models using copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) save material costs but have poor efficiency. And those based on gallium arsenide currently produce the highest efficiencies among solar cells but are too expensive to attract mass investment.

This trade-off may in the future be resolved by developments in materials research. The perovskite class of materials could replace silicon as the main pv semiconductor by combining inexpensive production methods with competitive power-conversion efficiencies. Dr Snaith has stated that this could cut the cost of a watt of solar generating-capacity by three-quarters.

Perovskite is a class or species of minerals composed of, or similar in structure to, calcium titanium oxide. The intricacies of the material’s physical or chemical properties are not of interest here, but it is important to note that perovskite can describe either calcium titanium oxide itself, or a variety of other elemental combinations with the same crystal structure as calcium titanium oxide. This is an important distinction because, thus, many elemental concoctions can adopt the same semi-conducting properties and behavior as the calcium titanate base. Manipulating the proportions and quantities of the substances involved allows the semi-conductor’s behavior and properties to be calibrated, such as the frequency of electromagnetic radiation it absorbs best. 

For instance, Oxford Unviersity’s research team has produced a rather sophisticated organic-inorganic combination (what they call an organometal). The organic component of this perovskite cell acts as a dye which increases the number of frequencies of light the crystal is sensitive to, optimizing the crystal’s absorption capacity. The inorganic component then serves to conduct the additional electrons (current) thus released.

Perovskites are themselves naturally occurring materials. They consist of cheap bulk minerals and metals often contained in disposed electrical items, blended and purified at room temperature, in low-cost and comparatively primitive processes. Laboratory prototypes have emerged with a per-watt cost of 40 dollar cents (half the standard commercial value for silicon-based cells). Dr Snaith predicts that this may halve again at industrial scale. With respect to performance, perovskites have a comparatively high conversion potential because of their ability to absorb light on a very large spectrum. Researchers at UCLA reported in 2014 the development of a cell with an efficiency of 19.3% while the scientific community predicts efficiencies will continue to rise in excess of 20% by the end of the year.

Nonetheless, several concerns about the reliability of perovskite cells have arisen. And as the wonder of the perovskite phenomenon, with all its positive facets and revolutionary prospects, has been exhaustively discussed in a great variety of media (and we are here presenting ourselves as mere regurgitators of common wisdom), playing the devil’s advocate and practicing skepticism should prove a far more productive and interesting mental exercise.

Especially environmental concerns have hitherto deterred investors from taking a closer look at perovskite. Those perovskite concoctions which until now have produced the highest efficiencies were predominantly lead-based. Yet perovskite arrangements are also quite unstable – they are saltlike minerals easily dissolved in water – likely release lead if exposed to humid conditions for longer periods of time. Large amounts of lead possibly being carried into the environment by natural processes at utility-scale production would rather defeat renewable energy’s purpose of eco-friendliness, and is unattractive for commercialization. Furthermore, the toxic by-products and wastes associated with lead mining and production could pose a significant environmental hazard, especially if lead production expands to meet increasing demand from a growing perovskite industry.

Perovskite enthusiasts and researchers advance a number of arguments against the concern. According to an article from IEEE Spectrum, Dr Snaith argues that annual lead emissions from coal combustion are still 10 times the amount that would be needed for a terawatt of perovskite cells. It may be the case here that the article’s author misinterpreted Snaith’s statement, for the argument is weakened by a fallacy of commensurability. The argument would be stronger if phrased in a way that compared the lead emissions from coal and perovskite generating capacities of equal size. In this way, Dr Snaith quite rightly points out that concerns are slightly exaggerated if one terawatt of electricity from coal combustion required 10 times as many lead emissions as one terawatt of perovskite energy would.

Concern among investors is nevertheless understandable, considering the difficulty of marketing an apparently green technology which could carry toxic substances into the environment – even if only by negligible amounts. Researchers Dr Snaith, the current leader in the field, and his UCLA colleague Yang Yang (the current efficiency record holder) have both admitted that an ideal solution should dispense with lead.

Perovskite optimists have argued that concerns about lead emissions are inappropriate because, as in the case of lead glass, proper chemical binding can prevent lead emission all together. A valid point, but it neglects the sensitivity of the perovskite concoction – and thus its behavior as a semiconductor – to the chemical additions it interacts with. Thus an entirely new branch of perovskite research has emerged, aiming to replace the cells’ lead elements without significant losses in performance. This branch has been developing rigorously, with lead foundations rendered nearly obsolete even though significant losses in performance had to be conceded (a drop from the record 19.3% to around 3% according to initial trials). A skeptic might argue that while resolving the difficult trade-off between performance and cost, perovskite has merely produced a new trade-off between performance and environmental friendliness or reliability. It is unclear whether this may be the case: in 2013-14 several labs independently developing tin-based cells with efficiencies of around 7%. And researchers predict progress will accelerate. Yang Yang of UCLA has stated that tin might even contribute much more favorably to the material’s conductive behavior than lead, raising the material’s efficiency potential.

(Another issue surrounding the developments is the accuracy of the reported efficiency values. The scientific community has noticed that perovskite solar cells demonstrate rather pronounced hysteretic behavior (when the value of a physical quantity lags behind the effect causing it). This has led to concern whether claimed power-conversion efficiencies are accurate. Nature Materials magazine reckons the community should focus more on seeking confirmation from independent certification laboratories.)

Yet the replacement of its toxic elements does not resolve the more fundamental weakness indicated by the material’s previous tendency to release lead. We reckon that the main issue still remains proving the durability of the perovskite-based cell model. A perovskite cell would be required to maintain the high performance it promises throughout an effective lifetime of up to 30 years (roughly the standard for pv products). Needless to say, natural forces like weather and erosion must be taken into account. Perovskite has to prove its durability especially in a European setting, facing long-term exposure to the humidity it is so vulnerable to. For perovskite-instability in humid conditions does not only mean any toxic substances contained therein could be emitted, but more importantly that the general durability and reliability of the generating medium is yet unproven. Many regions in Africa and the Middle East as well as India – considered ideal locations for large-scale, yet non-intrusive solar harvesting – would demand a lot from cells. There, high temperatures combine with unusually strong air-particle corrosion due to the abundance of sand and strong winds. It just happens to be the case that especially humidity renders perovskite cells unstable, but a broader point is made here: it is now durability and reliability, rather than cost efficiency and generating power, that determine whether perovskite-based technology is fit for utility-scale and mass-market deployment. As a corollary, it is also these current concerns surrounding utility fitness, rather than efficiency potential, that pro tem slow the industrial deployment of perovskite cells – and keep large-scale investors reluctant.

Japan: World’s Hottest Solar Energy Bonanza is the Land of the Rising Sun in 2013

High-efficiency photovoltaic technology is favorable in Japan with their ability to power from smaller home and rooftops. This would also be a great opportunity for Alfred Jost’s, CEO of Solar Bankers’, patented game-changing high-efficiency innovative solar module to saturate the market– using less silicon and area to produce energy efficiently.

Solar energy is decidedly the focus of attention and investment in Japan in the wake of the costly ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima.  And, Japanese energy suppliers know that while conventional electric plants are not so costly, they create too much pollution and emit too much CO2 into the atmosphere.  Many in the green, renewable energy field remain daunted by the high costs of doing business in Japan, especially given the small size of the country vis-à-vis China, Brazil, India, etc.  However, what they miss is that the higher cost of doing business in Japan implies the higher energy costs — and thus the higher profits to be made — per energy unit.  Japan is many times smaller than, say, China, but the energy cost per unit is many times higher than in China, and each Japanese person uses much more electric power than does the average Chinese person.

Goldman Sachs is well aware of this Japanese advantage, and has been planning to invest in Japan’s green renewable energy market at the optimal time, as reported by Shigeru Sato in Bloomberg Magazine on May 20, 2013:

“Goldman Sachs to Invest $486 Million in Japan Renewable Energy

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. plans to invest as much as 50 billion yen (US$487 million) in renewable energy projects in Japan in the next five years, tapping demand for electricity produced from solar and wind-power generators. The Wall Street firm also plans to take as much as 250 billion yen of bank loans and project-financing over the same period to move ahead with projects that would cost a total of 300 billion yen, Hiroko Matsumoto, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman for Goldman, said by telephone. The Nikkei newspaper reported the plan earlier today. Japan began offering incentives in July through feed-in tariffs to encourage renewables after the Fukushima nuclear-plant crisis stemming from the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Japan has been forced to slash its reliance on atomic power generation since Fukushima. Goldman Sachs formed the Japan Renewable Energy Co. unit in August to plan, design and operate power plants run on sun, wind, fuel cells and biomass fuels, it said on its website

Investor Attraction

Renewable energy has attracted interest from investors ranging from billionaire Masayoshi Son’s Softbank Corp. and financial-services company Orix Corp. to the country’s biggest banks led by Mizuho Financial Group Inc….Japan will probably become the largest solar (& wind with VAWT) market in the world after  China this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg….

Despite the rosy outlook for solar and other renewable energies in Japan at present, some investors worry whether demand and institutional support can remain strong in Japan for the foreseeable future, and whether Japanese producers and suppliers won’t make extra efforts to take market share from the foreign concerns now entering the market.

Prior to the disaster that struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March of 2011, Japan had 50 nuclear reactors with a production capacity of 50 GW. To this day, just two of the 50 reactors have been restarted. Gradually, Japan will be powering up their nuclear reactors as they pass safety checks and defeat the protests and concerns of anti-nuclear backers.

With 25 percent of base load power lost from the nuclear shutdown, Japan imports fossil fuels to satisfy demand. This is not only non-ecofriendly but also increases the utility rate of the Japanese consumers. With solar as a candidate to fill in for the energy shortage, Japan will have to prepare for significant market growth. The strong performance in the first quarter, having shipped 1.7GW, indicates a remarkable start to the sudden growth of the Japan PV market.  If subsequent growth holds steady, the Japanese PV market will reach 5.3GW in 2013 — with the possibility of reaching 6.1GW.

The potential is so great that it actually places Japan in a position to surpass Germany and Italy and come in second, right next to China, the current solar market leader; this also makes Japan number one in the global market in dollars, while China remains crowned number one in wattage. The escalation is encouraged through the high 38 cent per kWh feed-in tariff (FIT), with a ten-year term for small rooftops and twenty years for larger installations.

The following data is taken from Eric Wesoff’s article on, “Japan: the World’s Hottest Solar Market in 2013,” July 22nd, 2013:

  • Residential installs 1Q13: 356 megawatts
  • Commercial installs 2Q12 to Feb. 2013 (10 kilowatts to 1 megawatt): 309 megawatts
  • Large-scale installs 2Q12 to Feb. 2013 (>1 megawatt): 110 megawatts
  • Commercial applications 2Q12 to Feb. 2013: 4,575 megawatts
  • Large-scale applications 2Q12 to Feb. 2013: 6,436 megawatts
  • Residential shipments 1Q13: 562 megawatts — up 70 percent over 1Q12.
  • Commercial shipments 1Q13: 407 megawatts — up 89 percent over 4Q12 and 5,187 percent over 1Q12.
  • Large-scale shipments 1Q13: 762 megawatts — up 146 percent over 4Q12 and 1,378 percent over 1Q12.
  • Total shipments 1Q13: 1,734 megawatts

If foreign solar investors and suppliers stay focused and disciplined, they will succeed in providing solar and other renewable energies to Japan in a steady, sustainable way that will promise solid growth and profits for decades to come. Solar Bankers is poised to lead the field with its new low-cost high-efficiency technology.


POWER AFRICA: Rural Electrification in Kenya – Different Energy Sources in Comparison

Solar Bankers is investigating the business opportunities in providing rural Kenyan households with a reliable and sustainable source of electricity. As already explained in previous discussions, rural electrification is pivotal to Kenya’s future economic development because of its benefits to social communication, living conditions, and industrial efficiency.

For this brief soliloquy we shall attempt to create an accessible case study, reflective of Kenyan energy demand, to compare the feasibility and efficiency of using different energy sources for rural electrification. We shall consider a rural Kenyan community of 10,000 people, and project onto this fictive scenario the data required to make broad comparisons between energy sources. Individual energy solutions will, primarily, be compared in terms of their financial costs, to give an idea of their economic efficiency. All calculations and outcomes are educated estimates, not intended to reflect definitive or absolutely precise realities, but to give an impression of the proportions and magnitudes involved.

The first and most fundamental aspect of the case study to be elucidated is the likely electricity demand/consumption of a rural Kenyan village of 10,000 people. We must assume that when a rural household, currently not connected to the energy grid, is provided with an access to electricity, its electricity consumption will be similar to that of a household which currently is fully connected. These households are now concentrated mainly in the urban centers of Nairobi and Mombasa. To then calculate the likely energy consumption of rural community only recently provided with electricity, a few pieces of data are necessary. For instance,

The total population estimate for Kenya in 2013 is 43,500,00.

Around 15% of Kenyans have access to grid-electricity.

The total annual electricity consumption in Kenya is 6.6 TWh, or 6,600,000 MWh.

This means that the number of Kenyans with access to electricity is 6,525,000.

One may then calculate the annual per capita consumption of those Kenyans with access to electricity:

(energy consumption) / (number of consumers)             =         1.01 MWh/year/person

=          1010 kWh/year/person

Daily per capita consumption, hence, is:

1010 / 365    =         2.78 kWh/day/person

Then, the total daily electricity consumption of a community of 10,000 people is around 27,800 kWh.

The total installed capacity to supply the community may then be deduced by dividing daily consumption by the amount of hours energy is supplied every day. We assume energy is produced 24 hours per day, which implies that:

Total installed capacity required      =         27,800 /24        =        1158 kW          =         around 1.2 MW

With a 20% capacity backstop, the total installed capacity required to supply a Kenyan community of 10,000 with electricity would be around 1.5 MW.

When considering the solution of solar energy, a sustainable and reliable energy supply is necessarily based on an energy mix. This is because average daily solar exploitation in Kenya peaks at around 6 hours, while our calculation assumes a daily exploitation of 24 hours. Geothermal energy – efficient, relatively inexpensive, highly available, and very suited for Kenya’s geological profile – should cover the hours of solar inactivity.

The availability rates of modern geothermal plants range, on average, between 80% and 90%. If we assume a geothermal availability rate of 80%, the community of our case study could theoretically be supplied with geothermal energy for 19.2 hours every day. One must, of course, note that an availability rate does not describe patterns of daily inactivity and activity. It usually describes the annual, or longer-term, availability of an energy source, taking into account broad and major periods of likely inactivity. But for the purposes of our calculation, we shall levelize the availability factor to describe more specific, daily periods of inactivity. This is not very reflective of reality, but creates a more accessible and workable theoretical scenario.

So, the community is supplied with geothermal energy 19.2 hours of the day, regardless of whether the plant continues to produce and store electricity, or shuts down. The solar component of our theoretical system has an assumed availability factor of 20%, and accounts for 4.8 hours of daily electricity production. This is deliberately less than the maximum availability mentioned earlier, ensuring the solar system does not have to consistently work at maximum productivity.

The total installed energy mix is, hence, comprised of 1.5 MW of solar, and 1.5 MW of geothermal energy. The cost of this system is then deduced on the basis of estimates by the US Department of Energy for the average levelized cost for energy plants. Costs are given in USD per MWh produced by the particular energy source. The calculations for system-costs are as follows:

A. Geothermal:

Total system levelized cost            =         99.6 USD/MWh

=         0.16 USD/kWh

Costs for the geothermal component of our proposed system amount to around 10 dollar-cents per kWh produced.

B. Solar:

Total system levelized costs          =         156.9 USD/MWh

=         0.16 USD/kWh

Total costs for the solar component are around 16 dollar-cents per kWh produced. The costs for the entire system, thus, amount to around 26 dollar-cents per kWh produced. And this rough estimate may be compared with the cost of producing the same amount of energy from coal or fuel oil.

In the case of oil, current prices render a fuel-based energy supply of a rural Kenyan community of 10,000 people economically very inefficient. The cost of oil by itself is already considerable:

C. Fossil fuel

The amount of residual fuel oil used to generate one kWh of electricity is estimated to be around 0.002 barrels. Now, we have hypothetically calculated the daily electricity consumption of a Kenyan community (of 10,000 people) to be around 27,800 kWh. The multiplication of the two quantities produces the community’s daily residual fuel consumption for purposes of electricity production – around 56 barrels. The price of oil is around 106 USD/Barrel. The daily cost of fuel used for electricity production is, hence, around 5430 USD. Converted, this is equivalent to around 20 dollar-cents per kWh of electricity produced. But this calculation considers solely the cost of the fuel used for production. To deduce the total system costs of production, significant O&M and capital costs for the fuel-based power plant would have to be taken into account. Also, volatile oil prices render the costs of a fuel-dependent energy supply uncontrollable.

Coal, on the other hand, is slightly cheaper than the renewable energy-mix in levelized cost, but of course bears several disadvantages.

D. Coal

Around 1.07 pounds of coal produce one kWh of electricity. Based on this assumption, the newly grid-connected community of our scenario consumes around 32207 pounds of coal every day for electricity production. This is equivalent to a daily consumption of 14.6 metric tons. If one assumes the current price of coal is around 60.40 USD/metric ton, then the daily cost of coal amounts to 882 USD. When compared to daily electricity consumption, these costs are equivalent to around 3 dollar-cents per kWh produced. But, again, this takes into account only the cost of coal. In fact, the purchase of coal for electricity production constitutes around a third of the total costs for an entire coal-based system. Consider, the estimated, average levelized cost for coal-based electricity production is around 100 USD/MWh, or 10 dollar-cents per kWh produced.

Coal, however, similar to fuel, makes energy production too dependent on the uncontrollable developments of international commodity markets. With ever-scarcer supply, the price of coal will tend to rise and Kenya, as an emerging economy, will have difficulty extending its influence on international markets to ensure a reliable supply of coal. So, coal-based electricity production, in the short run, appears to be economical – but in the long run it is neither reliable nor sustainable.



POWER AFRICA: Solar Bankers investigates Kenya for opportunities in solar – Part II

The General Situation – Electricity Supply and Urbanization

Issue #2: it is not the lack of energy, but a lack of access to the energy available. Kenya should primarily focus on extending its distribution infrastructures, not its production infrastructures.

Only 15% of Kenya’s population has access to electricity. To modernize and urbanize, raise living standards and further economic growth, rural electrification is essential. But Kenya is still struggling to figure out how exactly to do this. Methodologies differ in efficiency. And Kenya still has to familiarize itself with all technological possibilities.

Current debates about methods of electrification involve two primary possibilities: the extension of the major public grid and the establishment of local micro-grids. It is also important to consider who and what regions of the country are to be electrified. As already mentioned, 85% of the Kenyan population does not have access to electricity. Those that do have access live mainly in the large urban centers of Kenya such as Nairobi and Mombasa, whose connection through the public grid forms a kind of axis across western Kenya. So Kenya is not concerned with extending electrification to already urbanized population, but primarily to Kenya’s rural populations living in the northeast, of which only 5% have access to electricity. These rural populations (around 78% of Kenya’s total population) are significantly larger than those urbanized with access to the major public grid. So, in essence, those people in Kenya not yet connected to the grid, constituting the vast majority of Kenya’s population, live in isolated, dispersed, rural communities with only very limited infrastructural development. But with most Kenyan’s having no access to energy, and being aware of its ability to raise living standards, aggregate demand for electricity is considerable. Thusly there is considerable pressure on infrastructural development to extend electrification into precisely these rural, barely developed regions. For several reasons, which we shall elucidate forthwith, the preferred methodology involves the extension of the major grid to these communities. Solar Bankers believes this is not necessarily the most efficient course of action. We believe the Kenyan government should opt to center its development planning on the construction of micro-grids.

But great forces, both social and political, put themselves against the implementation of micro-grid solutions, and drive forward the solution of grid-extension. One of the main impediments to the development of micro-grids is a widespread distrust of these small-scale infrastructures. This involves most policy-makers, industrial authorities, and local rural residents perceiving the major grid to be more reliable than a micro-grid supply. To them, micro-grids seem independent from proper government control and regulation and, hence, seem less safe. So the majority of rural households demand access to the major grid to satisfy their electricity needs. But there is a major short-term problem with extending the general public grid to meet these needs. Because the large-scale extension of the public grid is only feasible in the long-term, the rapidly growing electricity-demand of these rural households and communities is currently only scarcely met. This unmet demand results in the increasing migration of rural residents into urban areas, seeking the reliable connection to the major grid. This raises poverty levels and exacerbates power shortages in urban areas – such as Nairobi or Mombasa – as ever more people access the already constrained grid. A fear of micro-infrastructures and an insistence upon grid-extension undermine the health of the Kenyan economy in the short-term.

But these reluctances and insistences drive infrastructural planning out of alignment with the organizational and economic nature of Kenyan society. These reluctances and insistences motivate the Kenyan government to plan an extension of the major public grid from the urban centers of Nairobi and Mombasa to the vast rural regions of eastern and northeastern Kenya. But the communities to which the grid is to be extended, in their rurality, are highly dispersed – a quality posing a significant obstacle to grid-extension. The economic efficiency of extending the major public grid will be low as distances between households render extension expensive but the people effectively connected will be few. The costs of this approach to electrification are disproportionate to the intended aim. They might even outweigh its economic benefits if the financial burden of grid-expansion encumbers the Kenyan economy and constrains its productivity. Thus, an extension of the public major grid, to achieve general electrification, is economically inefficient and barely feasible.

The solution should be micro-grid development – but of course reluctance to implement this solution is ubiquitous.

POWER AFRICA: Solar Bankers investigates Kenya for opportunities in solar – Part I

The General Situation – Hydropower

It is difficult to determine whether the Kenyan economy provides the framework for a healthy solar industry. Kenya’s geography seems to suggest there is considerable potential for a profitable market in solar resources. Annual horizontal insolation in Kenya peaks at around 2000 kW/m2, and an installed 1 kW in solar capacity can generate 2000 kWh (in Germany it will generate only around half). But Kenya’s solar resources remain widely unexploited, viewed as too expensive and lacking potential. And not only does solar energy account for less than 1% of Kenyan energy production: it is so unpopular that it appears to be deliberately expelled from and neglected within the realm of governmental planning. The Kenyan authorities, a small yet clout-rich network of production and distribution monopolies, prefer to concentrate on expansively exploiting geothermal resources.

But the pillar upon which Kenyan energy production currently rests is hydropower – a pillar now increasingly eroded and rendered unstable. Hydropower accounts for around 45% of Kenya’s total installed capacity and grid-provided electricity, but is, ironically, neither sustainable nor reliable. Kenya’s hydropower infrastructures are frequently incapacitated by drought, causing vast urban power collapses. The socioeconomic effects of these meltdowns extend from interrupting the activities of grid-connected, urban households to fully debilitating those sectors of the economy relying on electricity to function – industry and services. In fact, the Kenyan economy is especially vulnerable to electricity shortages because its industry and services – telecommunications, financial services, IT – comprise around 76% of its GDP. It is estimated that recent power outages have accounted for cumulative industrial costs equivalent to 7% of GDP.

The unreliability of the Kenyan power grid has, hence, resulted in business expansion being associated with great risk and cost. This has created disincentive to expand or establish a business in services or manufacturing. Private investment (both domestic and foreign) into these vital sectors is deterred because power shortages so significantly limit productivity and render production unreliable. Investors and managers are reluctant to finance increased production and trading activities dependent on a volatile grid. They anticipate that expansion will entail increased expenditures in contingency planning for the event of a power outage. But, more importantly, they also anticipate that the increased costs of managing a collapse in expanded production and trading will outweigh the benefits of expansion. And, probably, those businesses having previously suffered from power shortages and having neutralized the costs stemming therefrom, will be financially unable to expand anyway. These developments contribute to stagnation in Kenya’s economic growth, as power shortages have rendered the expansion and establishment of larger-scale businesses significantly unattractive to investors.

So, issue #1: an over-reliance on unreliable and outdated hydropower for supplying the public grid.

To read about our opinion on the development of Kenya’s energy infrastructures, see our upcoming article.

Taking Solar Power to the next Level – Interview with pv magazine

Originally published in pv magazine, 2012.


Solar Bankers LLC is an Arizona-based company in the field of renewable energy, focusing on solar power. Together with its sister company, Apollon Solar, it is one of the pioneers of next-generation photovoltaic solutions. With the development of a game-changing solar module and the grant of a U.S. patent, Solar Bankers plays a decisive role in the expansion of the global solar energy industry and is a key player in the quest to achieve grid parity.

Securing investment in today’s solar industry hinges on innovation and technological advances. The vision is to offer electricity from solar energy at prices comparable to electricity generated from fossil fuels – a concept also known as grid parity. Solar Bankers has developed modern production technologies for solar panels that significantly lower manufacturing costs, thus moving grid parity within our grasp. As a true technology leader, the company provides economically viable solar modules with unparalleled yields that surpass its competition.

Solar Bankers’ proprietary solution addresses the major downsides that make today’s photovoltaic technologies unprofitable. These disadvantages mainly arise from the high relative costs of the core raw material, silicon, as well as losses of efficiency caused by unsolved design challenges (e.g. cell spacing and shadows). Solar Bankers uses a unique concentrated technology that focuses incoming light rays to overcome these obstacles.This approach reduces the amount of silicon required in the production process by over 90 % and simultaneously raises the efficiency of the individual PV cell to unmatched levels.

Using a holographic film, Solar Bankers’ module is currently able to focus light rays by a factor of 10. Existing technology will increase this figure up to an estimated factor of 30, while the amount of silicon will be reduced further, from 10 % to 5 % of that used in a conventional solar panel.

Solar Bankers uses materials that provide a sunlight conversion rate of 28 %, placing it well above standard silicon cells (17 %) and the latest thin-film modules (8 %). In 2011, Solar Bankers was also granted a U.S. patent for a high-concentration refraction module with an integrated inverter. The low production costs and high-efficiency allow rates as low as 65 U.S. cents per Watt, a phenomenal price for solar power.

Among other trans-national endeavors, Solar Bankers recently agreed with the government of Sri Lanka to build a 110 MW solar park with a total investment of 350,000,000 USD. At current per capita consumption rates, the company will provide tens of thousands of Sri Lankan households with inexpensive, green energy each year for the decades to come.

Alfred Jost, President/CEO of Solar Bankers, served as Head of Product Development and Structured Finance at J.P. Morgan for many years before turning his attention towards the acquisition and debt restructuring of companies in financial distress. From 2008 onward, Alfred Jost has increasingly become involved in the important and growing field of renewable energy.

Why did you decide to move into such a volatile market?

A. Jost: “The circumstances are in fact somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, our new module fulfills the stringent demands the energy market puts on us: 1$ = 1 Wp for every sold unit. My approach was to make the existing technology more efficient – in this case, reduce the amount of silicon used in the production process.”

Where do you see opportunities? How do you view the current state of the PV industry?

A. Jost: “In the past, the industry has relied on feed-in tariffs. This dependence has developed into a disadvantage for the solar market within the last months. Attaining grid parity, now more than ever, is vital and requires completely new approaches and out-of-the-box thinking. Today, everybody is going green – consequently, solar panels must become household products! It is my vision to fuel developments in this direction.”

How are you going to achieve this?

A. Jost: “The key is to provide investors with sound financing opportunities. I am not reinventing the wheel here, but just learning lessons from other, unrelated markets. One good example is the automobile industry. In the near future, the solar companies that combine the most innovative products, the best possible service and the most competent salespeople will dominate the industry.”

Do you believe the solar industry has a future?

A. Jost: “Yes. By forming alliances with manufacturers, financiers and R&D, we can improve our products, not only by raising the efficiency of the individual cell, but especially by optimizing light incidence.” –

PV Magazine reports about Solar Bankers’ interest in Bosch Solar Energy

Taken from PV Magazine, “Solar Bankers interested in Bosch’s German PV facility,” by Sandra Enkhardt, translated and edited by Becky Beetz, 4.26.2013.

Solar Bankers could take over Bosch’s photovoltaic manufacturing facility in Germany. A progress report on the negotiations concerning Bosch’s solar shares is expected this May. By the end of the year, the Stuttgart-based company wants to completely exit the crystalline photovoltaic business.

German newspaper Thüringer Allgemeine has reported that U.S.-based Solar Bankers LLC is interested in taking over Bosch’s photovoltaic manufacturing facility in Arnstadt. The news was confirmed by a representative of IG Metall, located in Erfurt. Arizona-based Solar Bankers, which describes itself as a pioneer of next generation photovoltaic solutions, already has a German subsidiary in Dresden.

The newspaper report continued by stating that the interim results of the negotiations over the possible acquisition of Bosch’s solar shares should be available next month. Meanwhile, a final decision is expected this September.

On Friday, IG Metall announced further protests by Bosch’s solar employees at the Thüringer state parliament in Erfurt. Currently, production is being continued at the company’s photovoltaic manufacturing facility in Arnstadt; it should remain in place at least until a final decision is announced in September, Bosch assured Thüringer Economy Minister, Matthias Machnig.

As announced in March, by the end of 2013, Bosch will completely exit the crystalline photovoltaic business. Around 3,000 employees will be affected by the decision, most of which are based in Arnstadt.

Currently, the company is seeking a buyer for its Arnstadt manufacturing facility, and its around 90% stake in aleo solar. Bosch explained its reasons for the exit as such: “In recent months, Bosch thoroughly considered all options for its crystalline photovoltaics business. However, none of the options offered a long-term economically-viable perspective. A continuation of the business in the area of crystalline photovoltaics is not economic and, even a substantial risk.”

At the start of April, Bosch confirmed that initial enquiries from prospective investors had been received. “We are examining all bids and prospects very thoroughly. The goal is to preserve as many jobs as possible and to find the best solution for the affected employees,” a spokesperson told pv magazine at the time.

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