A review of solar and wind technologies and future.
In a recent National Geographic magazine story, they discuss the future of solar power. The article is extremely well written, and a great look at the current industry and future prospects. If you have time, please take a read at: National Geographic Site.
What struck me most from the article was a projection for the future of renewable energies:
Notice how it is not solar that makes the huge expansion as a % of total energy generation in these projections, but it is instead wind power. Right now wind is a cheap, developed technology with large scale production and wind farms being built across the globe. Solar is a great technology, but it is still developing with regards to crystalline silicon vs polysilicon, vs CIGS vs Cde Thin Film, vs .. ??? - The technologies are already great, and right now due to the collapse in free credit, solar panels are darned cheap in in oversupply. This could be leading into a solar farm boom (see China's recent announcement of a 2000 MW solar farm being built by First Solar).
This was another great piece of data. Current power consumption is 20000 Terawatt-Hours. The total production from solar or wind power dwarfs current consumption by a large factor (Approximately 50-fold with maximum of all. More likely 10-fold with rational limits to land use, ocean use, and political circumstances). This is an amazing statistic. Whenever someone tells you that it is not possible for photovoltaic (PV) solar to replace our total current power consumption, you should now know that that is an incorrect statement. We could replace total current power consumption easily by many factors with concentrating solar alone, PV solar alone, or by wind alone. That is frankly amazing, and a good picture into what the future will be like. We will shed our dependence on fossil fuels, and this will be a century of wind and solar boomtime. I would argue that the expansion of wind and solar power will rival the boom century for railroads and railroad companies.
What are the technologies?
Concentrating solar, is well developed technology. It doesn't require new inventions of material science, instead it relies upon concentrating light with mirrors and focusing this energy into a medium such as oil or salt that can be store the energy without boiling. The oil would then be used to boil water and power turbines (like a coal or nuclear plant). Salt can be used to store energy during the night for a slow release and power generation in the dark. Very hot stuff here.
Silicon based Photovoltaic (PV). Traditional solar PV technology. Not the most efficient, but well developed technology. Heavily dependent on supply/demand for silicon to determine materials pricing. This made it very expensive last year, benefitting companies in Thin Film. Generates electicity directly by converting photons into electrons.
Thin Film PV. Thin film uses alternative materials than silicon, and uses a lot less of them in a thin film across a metal surface. The thin film generates electricity directly by converting photons into electrons. Materials are CdTe (Cadmium Telluride) or CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide). Both technologies are developing fast, and it looks like CIGS is winning the efficiency race.
Among the best investments listed, here is my short list of what should be on your radar:
Acciona (Concentrating solar company - Spain), currently not possible for US investor to invest in.
First Solar - FSLR (Leading PV solar company CdTe tech Thin Film - US)
SunTech - STP (Leading PV solar company in Silicon based - China)
Nanosolar - ??? (A novel start-up making CIGS Thin Film, super cheap and super efficient - US) - This one may IPO this year.
Vestas - VWDRY (Leading wind company - Denmark)
GE and SI are also getting into the wind market.
AMAT - makes materials and equipment for PV companies.
Disclosures: I hold shares of FSLR, and soon VWDRY. I'm waiting for Nanosolar to IPO this year, I think they will have a rocking IPO like AONE (A123 Systems, battery company) did. I held AMAT for a while, and may make a larger position in the future.
*I should say that the views in this are not credible investing advice, use at your own risk, etc etc. If investing based on this information causes the world to end from global cooling or wind stoppage, I am not responsible, etc....*
I am not sure about the future of many technologies such as computers, LED, medicine, etc. So much could change with these in a span of 10 years. What is sure to me is that our power consumption sources will begin to change rapidly in the next decade. An article in the NYTimes today from Friedman highlights this: "The New Sputnik"
What country and what companies will lead the way? When will our consumption from these sources take over from coal? These are the major planning questions. I think the short list of companies above will be the major players in this decade. Right now I think the US and China will dominate solar technologies (they've got the scientists, engineers, and geography to be in the competition). The US and Europe will dominate wind technologies (for now...).
Hope you all have a great weekend,