Navigant Research Blog

V3 Gives Solar PV a New Spin

— February 10, 2013

Source: V3 SolarV3Solar has made waves in the cleantech press over the last few weeks with its Spin Cell prototype.  With claims of levelized cost of energy (LCOE) around $0.08 per watt (as reported by CleanTechnica), this system would shatter current records for solar power cost effectiveness, prompting the question: does the Spin Cell actually work as well as advertised?

First, a brief primer on the technology.  The Spin Cell bucks the traditional flat solar panel design: it’s a conical device that spins.  The cone shape, which resembles an Apollo-era space capsule, allows for greater exposure to the sun, without active tracking.  The self-contained unit, based on traditional concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) cells, also has magnifying lenses on its exterior surface that increase the light to each of the individual solar panels.  However, in conventional solar arrays, increased solar radiation raises the temperature of the cells themselves, decreasing efficiency or, ultimately, destroying the unit.  V3Solar claims that the spinning unit’s motion keeps the surface of the PV cells cool (only slightly above ambient temperature), thus maintaining efficiency.

V3Solar hired Bill Rever, a solar industry veteran, to perform a technical review of the device.  While Rever thoroughly explains the concepts of the technology, as well as the economic implications, the term “technical review” is a bit of misnomer.  Essentially, Rever restates the tests that were run by Nectar Design on the prototype, without offering any new information.  The results of the tests indicate that the temperature on the Spin Cell remains lower than the flat panel control, but they don’t detail its power production.  Most importantly, the CPV yields have not been empirically proven in this design.

Hyping the Spin

Still, the hype that the Spin Cell has created is justified.  The technology is interesting, but the business case for the Spin Cell is the real draw.  An $0.08 per watt LCOE would make it one of the cheapest forms of electricity, even compared to coal and natural gas.  Like most things in the energy industry, if the economics work out, the technology will prevail.  Programs like feed-in tariffs (FITs) and renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) help support nascent green technologies, but the ideal goal is for those technologies to thrive without government intervention.  If the Spin Cell works as V3Solar says it does, V3Solar will have accomplished what no other photovoltaic company has: creating a carbon-free, economically competitive means of energy production.

If proven, the technology would not only permit inexpensive and clean generation, but would also free up significant governmental funds dedicated to making solar more economically attractive.  For example, the solar Residential Renewable Energy and Business Energy Investment tax credits, in the United States, would be rendered obsolete, increasing available government funds for more advanced energy technologies such as bioenergy and marine hydrokinetic technology.  Similarly, Germany’s FIT would be able to ramp down quicker than planned, while Japan’s new FIT would become unnecessary.

The Spin Cell eventually will have to prove itself in the only testing environment that matters: the open market.


Clean Energy: A $2 Trillion Market through 2018

— February 9, 2013

The Pew Research Center recently published a report that leverages Pike Research market forecasts across six major clean energy industries: solar photovoltaics, wind power (onshore and offshore), biomass power, concentrated solar power, and marine and hydrokinetic energy.  In that report, Innovate, Manufacture, Compete, we forecast that revenue in these leading clean energy sectors worldwide will total $1.9 trillion from 2012 to 2018.

We cover all of these industries in depth in our Smart Energy practice market research reports – and it’s interesting to see them lined up together as they appear in Figure 6 of the Pew report.  In total, the market for these seven core industries is projected to grow from $200 billion in 2012 to about $327 billion a year in 2018, representing $1.9 trillion in cumulative revenues.  During this time, the total capacity of worldwide installations is expected to grow from 80 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 to 192 GW annually in 2018.

The numbers speak for themselves, and we used a conservative approach in arriving at them.  We are already seeing leading industries, such as wind power, beat expectations in many countries. As countries and states inch closer to their target dates for the various renewable energy mandates, clean energy deployment is poised to continue to grow throughout the decade.

Source: Pew Research Center

(Source: Pew Research Center)

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Korean-German Battery Venture: Haven’t We Seen This Before?

— February 7, 2013

Source: RootFunLast month the joint venture company formed between South Korean energy firm SK Innovation and German Tier One supplier Continental officially began operating.  Under the agreement, originally signed in July 2012, the JV will conduct business under the name SK Continental E-motion.  The new company has the potential to benefit from the expertise of SK Innovation in lithium ion battery cell manufacture, combined with the experience of Continental as a supplier to the world’s leading automotive OEMs.

But haven’t we seen this combination before?  In June 2008, a JV called SB LiMotive was created with much fanfare.  Jointly owned by Korean battery manufacturer Samsung SDI and German supplier Robert Bosch, the company was set to become a major player supplying battery packs for the emerging market in hybrid and electric vehicles.  Acquiring the assets of U.S. battery manufacturer Cobasys in July 2009 along with development agreements with BMW and Fiat appeared to cement the relationship and give the company a solid foundation.

In December 2012, though, Bosch announced that the JV, which was not generating profits after 4 years in operation, had been formally dissolved and that it was setting up Robert Bosch Battery Systems as a subsidiary to focus on building battery packs for electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

Battery cell manufacture capability joined with Tier One expertise would seem like a powerful combination to capitalize on the growing market for onboard electrical energy storage, but as we’ve seen, it’s not without risk.  For SB LiMotive, perhaps the market simply didn’t grow quickly enough, and the different philosophical approaches of the two owners were so far apart that a split was the only option.  SK Continental E-motion will likely face the same situation in a few years if it does not begin showing a profit.

Still, there’s potential for success despite the experience of its similar predecessor.  The market for EVs has matured in the last 4 years, and expectations are now much more realistic.  The stated focus on 48V stop-start systems could lead to rapid growth ‑ provided that at least some of the major OEMs adopt the technology.


‘Dying’ EV Industry Set for Growth

— February 6, 2013

DeathReuters posted an interesting “news” article on February 4th claiming that EVs face a dead end.  This article was very selective in its reporting and missed an obvious fact: sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. more than tripled in 2012, and continue to outpace the growth of the supposedly more mainstream hybrids.

Despite the “public’s lack of appetite for battery-powered cars,” as Reuters put it, 54,000 plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars (known collectively as plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs) were sold in 2012, up from more than 17,000 in 2011.  As the chart below shows, PEV sales in their two full years on the market are well ahead of where hybrids were at this point in their lifecycle, and we forecast that they’ll stay ahead of hybrids in the years to come.

U.S. HEV vs PEV Sales


(Source: Pike Research,

In 2014, when Cadillac, Honda, BMW and Audi will also be offering mainstream plug-in vehicles, nearly 100,000 PEVs will be sold.  For a “dying” segment, that’s pretty impressive; Detroit would be ecstatic if every automotive segment displayed growth like this.

Satisfied Consumers

It is true that Nissan’s overly-optimistic plans for EV dominance with its Leaf have fallen well short of expectations, forcing the company to regroup.  Despite falling short of its goals, however, the Nissan-Renault alliance increased sales in 2012 by 83 percent.  Also, the all-electric Tesla Model S is off to a racing start, selling an estimated 1,500 units in December alone, while more than 23,000 Chevrolet Volts were sold in 2012.  The Toyota Prius Plug-in and Ford C-Max Energi plug-ins are both well reviewed and are in demand from consumers.  Consumer satisfaction ratings for EVs are through the roof, and  car of the year awards for EVs have been piling up like a junkyard full of gas guzzlers.

While it is also true that PEVs sales won’t be a double-digit percentage of the auto market anytime soon, the gradually rising cost of gasoline will prompt more consumers each year to test drive something with an electric motor.  The pre-holidays drop in the price of gas abated quickly, as average gas prices jumped a whopping 18 cents during the last week, and many consumers and fleet owners would like to avoid such uncertainty in the transportation fuel costs.

While the payback period for some EVs today is too long, we are still in the early days of the industry.  Improvements and cost reductions in EVs and their batteries will parallel the advances in recent years of smart phones, which were originally written off by many as too costly and insufficiently robust.

Reuters also referred to recent announcements about fuel cell vehicle partnerships as another indication that EVs are on the way out.  However, Toyota (one of two companies that Reuters interviewed) has never had much enthusiasm for battery-powered vehicles.  The fuel cell vehicle industry, which has been gestating for decades (see the rosy projections from 2003), would love to someday accomplish what this round of EVs has attained in only a few years.


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