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The Middle East: Solar Rockstar

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Just a short drive away from Dubai’s awe-inspiring skyline, lies the first phase of the Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park: row-upon-row of black solar panels shimmers in the heat, a seemingly futuristic mirage in the desert. Born of a vision for a sustainable future, the plant’s 152,880 First Solar thin film modules work silently, using the photovoltaic (PV) effect to convert sunlight into electricity.

The 13 megawatt (MWDC) solar PV power plant in Seih Al Dahal – which was inaugurated on 22nd October 2013 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – will generate more than 24 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Electricity generated by the power plant will displace an average of more than 15,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to removing 2,000 cars from the road every year. Beyond the impressive statistics, however, the plant represents the Middle East’s solar energy sunrise; a pilot project that will help define how solar power plants are built in and around the region in the, not-too-distant, future.

The plant, built to the exacting, world-class standards of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), is powered by First Solar’s Series 3 Black advanced thin-film PV modules, which not only incorporate record-breaking efficiencies, but are also certified for durability in harsh desert conditions.

In fact, the modules bring a number of benefits to the equation: for instance, their proven efficiencies – which have been certified by independent research laboratories – translate into better diffused light performance; in other words, the panels will continue to generate electricity on those, rare, cloudy days or in, humid dusty conditions. Certified for hot weather, the panels – and consequently, the plant – are designed to operate even in the hottest summer months.

Additionally, by selecting PV for the first phase of the Solar Park, DEWA has elected to conserve the country’s most precious resource: water. PV energy in general and First Solar technology in particular, uses little to no water during operation, contributing to the efforts to address the traditional water-energy nexus. Significantly, the plant will help Dubai avoid the annual consumption of approximately 32,000 metric tons of water per year – sufficient to fill approximately 13 Olympic-sized swimming pools – from displacing thermoelectric power generation.

An equally important outcome of the project is the fact that as much as 50 percent of the cost of the plant was spent locally – ranging from the racks used to support the panels to the electrical components, including transformers, cables and switchgears, all of which were sourced from the UAE – contributing towards domestic economic growth and generating business for contractors and suppliers.

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Even as the plant connects to the grid and UAE starts to reap the benefits of clean, affordable solar electricity, it will be important to pause and acknowledge the significance of this achievement. There is no doubt that this, the first phase of the Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, is a game changer not just for Dubai but also for the solar industry; it establishes a much needed benchmark and demonstrates that solar PV, with its price and operational efficiencies, is the right fit for the region’s renewable energy needs.

Original Article on First Solar

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PV Tracking Systems: Solar Efficiency

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Eco-efficiency is the concept of creating more value with less environmental impact. First Solar’s mission ‘to create enduring value by enabling a world powered by clean and affordable solar electricity’ articulates the company’s commitment to eco-efficiency. By producing affordable PV power plants with proven energy yield advantages along with the smallest carbon footprint, lowest water use, and fastest energy payback time of all solar technologies, First Solar is leading the way with eco-efficient PV energy solutions.

PV tracking systems can further improve the sustainability of CdTe PV power plants by creating more energy with lower life cycle environmental impacts. Tracking systems follow the sun’s movement throughout the day enabling PV modules to capture more available sunlight, resulting in energy gains of approximately 10-24% in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Tracker Eco-Efficiency

First Solar Tracker systems generate up to 25% more energy, deliver a lower Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE), and a bankable production profile preferred by utilities.Although tracking systems use some electricity during operation and require more cabling and steel than fixed-tilt systems, their energy yield advantage more than compensates for the higher construction and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and their associated environmental impacts.  In addition, tracking systems require fewer modules, which results in slightly lower environmental impacts associated with manufacturing and decommissioning.

Tracker Eco-Efficiency
PV tracking systems reduce the carbon footprint and energy payback time of PV systems, resulting in lower life cycle environmental impacts.

Tracking systems can contribute to an eco-efficient strategy by enabling PV power plants to produce more energy with fewer modules, thereby lowering both the costs and life cycle environmental impacts per kWh generated.

First Solar’s technical article titled “Eco-Efficiency of CdTe Photovoltaics with Tracking Systems” was presented at the 39th IEEE PV Specialists Conference, one of the world’s leading conferences on PV research and technology. The paper was written by First Solar’s Parikhit Sinha, Matthew Schneider, Scott Dailey, and Calvin Jepson, along with SmartGreenScan’s Mariska de Wild-Scholten.

Download a PDF of the Paper

Contact Lead Author

Original Article on The First Solar Blog

In Focus: First Solar’s Carbon Footprint

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First Solar’s mission, business, and strategy focus on delivering clean and affordable electricity.  As a leading renewable energy company, First Solar offers a significant response to climate change by providing power solutions that produce electricity with no air emissions, waste production, and minimal water use.

First Solar is helping to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by offering an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels.  With over 6 GW installed worldwide, First Solar has displaced around 4 million tons of CO2e emissions, the equivalent of powering approximately 3 million homes per year, based on world averages.  For First Solar, providing a clean energy solution is not enough; we also strive to manage the carbon impacts resulting from our own operations and activities.

In 2012, First Solar set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity 35 percent by 2016, from a base year of 2008.  The key driver in reducing First Solar’s GHG emissions intensity is improving module efficiency, which decreases our energy pay-back time, carbon footprint, and energy consumption per watt produced.

First Solar’s Energy Conservation Team is also implementing a number of energy saving initiatives at our largest factory in Malaysia.  “Since 2010, and the implementation of an energy reduction plan, we’ve achieved accumulated savings of more than $1.8 Million or 11,000 Tons of CO2equivalent,” explains Ahmad Faiz Ab Hamid, Director of Site Services at First Solar’s Kulim factory. “The savings came from various activities, ranging from large-scale saving measures such as air conditioning, cooling systems, and compressed air systems; to small scale savings such as LED lighting and solar water heaters.”

In early 2012, the factory in Kulim set an ambitious target to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent from 2011 levels, which will amount to $4 Million (24,000 tons of CO2 equivalent) savings.  The Energy Conservation team is installing an online power monitoring system which will enable them to track energy consumption more accurately and identify new opportunities for further savings.

First Solar also recognizes the importance of being transparent to external stakeholders, and openly reports on its environmental, social, and economic progress. In 2012, First Solar – for the second year in a row – took part in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an independent not-for-profit organization that reports on greenhouse gas emissions of companies around the world. CDP scores companies each year on the quality of disclosure and on performance, and makes company responses available via the CDP website for investors and other interested stakeholders. We were recognized for our transparency shown by a position in the top quartile of S&P 500 respondents for Carbon Disclosure.

First Solar strives to maintain its environmental leadership by voluntarily disclosing its sustainability performance and continuously improving the environmental benefits of its products. First Solar’s greenhouse gas reduction goal is simultaneously driving down emissions and the cost of solar electricity, helping the company fulfill its mission to provide clean and affordable solar electricity.

Original Article on First Solar

The 2013 World Future Energy Summit

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First Solar is pleased to be a platinum sponsor and exhibitor at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) taking place in Abu Dhabi January 15-17.

WFES is an exciting platform to demonstrate First Solar’s capabilities and build lasting relationships in a region that is rapidly embracing the full potential of clean energy.  At the forefront of innovation in solar energy First Solar’s industry-leading thin film technology is ideally suited to the hot climate of the Middle East. WFES attendees will see the company’s strengths across the PV value chain, from financing and project development to construction and maintenance. Reinforcing its commitment to the Middle East region, First Solar is opening offices in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two critical markets for the adoption of solar power.

The Middle East region needs utility-scale solar solutions to achieve the objectives set for renewable energy generation. Being a high level partner of WFES helps to showcase First Solar’s expertise to develop, manage and integrate cost effective PV energy solutions for a broad range of customers in the Middle East and beyond.

First Solar’s booth is located in Hall 7, Booth 7330 at WFES. In addition to daily booth presentations, there are three presenters involved with the Technology Exchange Presentation and First Solar CTO Raffi Garabedian will be speaking on solar energy technologies. Click here for a full list of First Solar’s WFES activities.

Original Article on First Solar

NSG Group’s Coated Panel Glass Solution

When someone describes how much of a solar power plant site is covered with photovoltaic modules, the term “under glass” is often used. The reason for this is obvious: the first thing you notice about the panels is the flat piece of thin glass, about eight square feet in size, that makes up the front of the energy-generating device. The image created by thousands or even millions of modules stretching as far as the eye can see across a utility-scale site resembles nothing less than a sea of glass.

Few companies in First Solar’s supply chain have been with First Solar for as long or provided as much material as NSG, which manufactures the ubiquitous glass substrates integrated into much of the 80 million First Solar thin-film PV panels deployed around the world, enough to circle the equator almost two-and-a-half times.

The two firms’ relationship took root in the 1990s, when Pilkington North America (before its acquisition by Nippon Sheet Glass) supplied samples to a small Toledo, Ohio-area start-up that would eventually become First Solar. Today, the specialized photovoltaic float glass coming off the production lines at NSG’s Ottawa, Illinois, factory is shipped to First Solar factories in both Perrysburg, Ohio, and Kulim, Malaysia, accounting for one of the largest raw material inputs for the company’s modules.

Dick Altman, regional director of NSG’s architectural and technical glass unit, has been along for the ride since the beginning. “First Solar was really our start in the solar area,” he recalls. “We initially began with a standard product, the TEC-15. We started to work together more closely when First Solar identified a potentially better product in working with the films they were putting on, which would optimize their solar panels. When we first started working with them, they gave us the spec for a piece of glass, we gave them a piece of glass, and we’d wait to hear back. We started collaborating more to optimize our product with their product and improve the overall efficiency. It’s been really successful, in my mind.”

The enabling films or coatings to which he refers are known as “transparent conductive oxides,” or TCOs for short, which are applied via a patented deposition process to the float glass during manufacturing. By precisely tuning the chemical composition and thickness of the durable TCO films, the amount of light that is actually transmitted through the glass can be enhanced, thus contributing to a higher conversion efficiency and power rating for the PV modules.

The innovation partnership between the two companies focuses on R&D efforts to develop more transmissive TCOs and low-iron float glass, as well as programs working on antireflective coatings and next-generation superstrate materials—all done with the mindset of producing low-cost, high-quality solutions.

With a manufacturing pedigree going back a century, the highly advanced Ottawa factory that now produces hundreds of megawatts’ worth of solar panel glass per year once housed production lines making automotive windshield and residential products, according to Altman. When the plant is cranking out solar orders, most of the capacity and nearly 200 employees working there are dedicated to providing First Solar with top-quality glass for its Perrysburg, Ohio, and Kulim, Malaysia, fabrication facilities.

NSG spends tens of millions of dollars on its own upstream supply chain, which mainly consists of large quantities of sand, soda ash, and coating chemicals—nearly all of which are sourced in North America, explains Altman. The outlook remains strong for the glass giant’s solar business, he adds, and calls the attitude among the Ottawa workforce “real positive.”

“For solar to be successful, we need to be competitive with other forms of energy,” notes Altman. “First Solar is one company that is moving in that direction to make that a real possibility. The challenge is to continuously improve the cost and efficiency. That’s their focus, and we think it’s the right one.”

Contributor Tom Cheyney is Chief Curator of SolarCurator.com and director of Impress Labs’ solar practice. He is the former Senior Editor of PV-Tech.org/Photovoltaics International.

Original Article on First Solar

Caring for Creatures at Utility-Scale Solar Projects

First Solar works hard to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts from its solar power projects, in line with its mission to generate energy in a sustainable way. Case in point: the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farms project that the company is building in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. for MidAmerican Solar. First Solar developers collaborated with public resource agencies and with national and local environmental organizations on a plan that will preserve in perpetuity 22,000 acres of the Carrizo Plain as habitat for species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, pronghorn antelope and tule elk.

Care for the environment is also an integral part of project construction. Topaz employs up to 10 biologists, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave the work site, six or seven days a week. They check all work areas for wildlife prior to any construction activities. In addition to helping maintain compliance with the project’s numerous environmental conditions and conducting wildlife surveys in preparation for opening new work areas, they patrol all active work areas throughout each day looking for wildlife and potential wildlife issues. During bird nesting season they conduct intensive daily surveys to locate and protect nests within and near work areas. And they regularly relocate small mammals and reptiles out of work areas to offsite preserve lands. 

Recently project biologist Mike Hill came upon a young loggerhead shrike, a bird that feeds on lizards and large insects, in an area being prepared for work. The bird had no obvious injuries but was unable to fly. Hill, who works with Topaz consultants Althouse and Meade, rescued the bird and turned it over to Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) for evaluation. PWC volunteers nurtured the bird back to health and released it last week in the Carrizo Plain.

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Young loggerhead shrike rescued by Topaz biologists

Hill says he and the other biologists have captured and successfully relocated “warm and fuzzy” mice, kangaroo rats and cottontail rabbits, as well as not so “warm and fuzzy” rattlesnakes and tarantulas.

Original Article on First Solar

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West: Powered by First Solar

This past May, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation inaugurated a new 250-kilowatt (AC) solar PV power system donated by First Solar which will help power the historic Taliesin West campus in Scottsdale, Arizona. The commissioning marks the successful completion of the first phase of the Energizing Taliesin West™ initiative, a pioneering effort to transform the entire National Historic Landmark Taliesin West site into a “net zero” energy customer, producing as much energy as it consumes annually, while maintaining the historic and architectural integrity of the site. The comprehensive project, led by energy efficiency consultant Big Green Zero, is focused on the twin goals of maximizing the campus’ energy efficiency through improved lighting, insulation, climate controls and other techniques while also generating renewable energy on-site.

The system is worth $1 million and incorporates 4,000 ground-mounted First Solar PV panels, which have a total peak generating capacity of about 250 KW. Given the ample sunlight in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, the system is expected to generate about 500 megawatt-hours of electricity per year with no water or waste. When combined with the energy conservation initiatives underway at Taliesin West, the output is expected to meet all of the site’s annual energy needs.

Taliesin West is not only a historic landmark, but also a site of tremendous significance to the international architecture community.  So the project team led by Larry Whittet of First Solar’s Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) group faced formidable challenges to build a renewable energy system that stays true to the substantial history of the site, but also captured the innovative spirit of Wright and his passion for experimentation.  Together, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Big Green Zero and First Solar created a system that integrates with the campus, enabling the Foundation to show off the technology while still maintaining the historic integrity of the site.

The entire solar power system is engineered to provide maximum renewable energy with minimal impact. The site was consciously designed to be invisible from the historic core of the campus, but it was positioned in such a way as to make a visible statement to visitors as they approach.  Native cacti and other plant species which were removed during construction will be transplanted throughout the project site, and the entire site will be seeded to restore native vegetation. The clean, emission-free electricity generated by the First Solar thin-film modules will displace approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking more than 50 cars off the road. Over the life of the system, which is expected to be 25 years or more, that’s about 7,500 tons of CO2 that will not be put into the atmosphere.

Jim Lamon, a Senior Vice President who leads First Solar’s EPC team that designed and built the site, summed it up: “We are very proud to be a part of this historic landmark, and we are confident the integration of clean solar power into Taliesin West will help advance the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and educate visitors from around the world about renewable energy.”

Original Article on The Current by First Solar