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A review of solar and wind technologies and future.



September 27, 2009 – Comments (12)

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:

Future Production




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).  


Possible Production


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,



12 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On September 27, 2009 at 3:49 PM, rofgile (99.37) wrote:

Here is a link to my blog on the AONE IPO that happened this week.

Included in that blog is a nice video about Nanosolar's manufacturing technology of CIGS ink, as well as a tour of their factory they got online in Germany.  Its a neat video to see all the robotics and modern tech in their factory.  


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#2) On September 27, 2009 at 4:00 PM, 4stree (< 20) wrote:

I have a question about wind farms.  Heard second hand that the wind mills "kill a 'h e double hockey sticks' of alot of birds in the west.  This from a wildlife biologist.  Is it true, and is this a liability to the industry seeing as it would be not so environmetally friendly?

Personally, I would tend to believe an article from say, Popular Mechanics over NG on a topic like this.  Have to keep an eye out for propagamda and such.  Not against renewable energy, just skeptical of wind as now captured.

 Disclosure: long STP

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#3) On September 27, 2009 at 4:37 PM, garyc27 (< 20) wrote:

I also have a question.  Denmark currently has a total of 6.000 wind turbines, a population of 5,519,441 people but their average utility bill is 30% higher than other countries in Europe.

The huge amount of wind generation capability doesn't seem to be offsetting traditional resources for electric generation.

Why is there such a large difference?

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#4) On September 27, 2009 at 4:41 PM, rofgile (99.37) wrote:

Hi 4stree:

 That's not true of any modern windmill.   The modern windmills are just so darned huge.  Because the blades are much larger, they don't have to move so fast that they become bird killing machines.  They are akin to slow moving obstacles that are the size of semi trucks.  

Here's a nice picture I got when I was up in Wisconsin this month:


I've yet to see a large solar farm when driving along the highway, but these windmills are becoming a more common sight.  They work well for farmers, because having a large windmill doesn't block the land below from use in farming / large flat farms have great wind in the midwest / and this provides a constant earning stream for farmers.  

Solar's future is on roof tops in cities, not big farms like for wind. 

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#5) On September 27, 2009 at 4:46 PM, rofgile (99.37) wrote:


 From a google search (I am not an expert on Europe, Denmark or .. well much !  But google helps..)

 On the Cost of Danish Power

The cost of electricity in Denmark is high, but this is a result of tax policy, not wind. According to Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics agency, the pre-tax price of electricity for an average medium household in Denmark is 120€ per MWh, which is virtually equivalent to the European average of 119€ per MWh. The pre-tax price of electricity in Denmark is actually 23 percent lower than Ireland as well as significantly lower than the United Kingdom (by 14 percent) and Germany (by 7 percent). After taxes are taken into account, the price comparison is slightly different: the electricity tax in Denmark means the net price of electricity is higher than the European average. But as the CEPOS study points out, this is a function of Danish policies, not a result of wind deployment.

From this page 

Response by:

Samir Succar

Energy Analyst, New York 

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#6) On September 27, 2009 at 6:06 PM, Chromantix (90.31) wrote:

In Maryland, you have to have the state come out and do a survey to determine how many birds you'll kill if you decide to put up a single prop generator. If what I heard this weekend (from a solar salesman, so potentially biased) there's also the noise polution factor as well.  For solar, simply get the permits and you're set. 


FD: No position in any dedicated wind/solar company at time of writing but am long in GE.

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#7) On September 30, 2009 at 11:47 PM, 4stree (< 20) wrote:

Thanks Rofgile.  Always helps to check that second hand stuff.  Especially since I haven't been west since '95. 

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#8) On October 01, 2009 at 5:42 PM, KamranatUCLA (29.43) wrote:

You sir are a clueless idiot if you think buying stocks can make you have an income or make you rich.

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#9) On October 01, 2009 at 6:01 PM, KamranatUCLA (29.43) wrote:

Most technologies that come to be part of our lives do so in sometimes very short amount of time and it's like igniting a room full of gas.

Like internet, or cars, or you can go back to any important technology and you will see it grows fast in a short amount of time.

Predicting what % of our energy will come from what source is stupid and the chart that you have on top is basically BS.

Yes, we do have Coal for the next 700 years or so say the experts...but just 20 years ago Tuna Fish was also viewed as an "unexhaustable saltwater fish" by the world oraganizations.

If scientists come up with a new form energy production and they will if things change fast, then a person like you has no room to speculate. Are you an engineer? are you a scientist?economist?

Please when you talk about stocks just say upfront that it's your hobby, and that you have no indebt knowledge of anything.

I mean good for you..maybe you are a finance person and you are good in analyizing rations that a 10th grader could do too, but don't step out of your place...stay down in your place and say you are speculating.

How many "investors" do you knew that nuclear Energy would be 824 units (of whatever you chart suggest) of our total energy production just 60 years ago.

I like wind's clean but it wont be the answer...this aint Holland..and this aint's 2009.

I think there is more promise in new technologies (like the guy who burns saltwater when he excites the water molecules by radio waves). Water is made of Hydrogen and Oxygen both of which are explosives, and if we can harvest saltwater for it's compenents without putting more ebergy in as we get energy out ( like by using radio waves) then we can really solve some problems.

But long as Coal is there and is cheap, WE WILL BURN IT!

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#10) On October 05, 2009 at 1:12 AM, ArgusPanoptes (23.92) wrote:

great graphs... i've been looking for a visualization of how much energy is POSSIBLE with only so much solar radiation hitting the earth in so many applicable areas.

in my opinion, take away ocean/tidal power generation. I dont think it will be too long before people realize how stupid it is to take energy from ocean currents... the ecological and environmental damage could be the greatest of all. I'd say the same for wind power but it is already so established it will be a hard industry to dismantle. 

someone mentioned that the blades are so big that they dont kill animals. it is true that tuning down the maximum speed reduces kills, but its the negative air pressure at the tail end of the turbine tips that kills bats like nobody's business. just by flying near one their lungs hemorrage massively causing instant death - without actually touching the windmill itself. Anywhere you put them, they will always kill a fair amount of animals. with enough use, they may change entire ecosystems.

again - in my opinion, i think that people will come to the realization that even some "clean" technologies can be more directly damaging to the environment than traditional energy. I think a better bet would be to put more $/R&D into cleaning up byproducts of existing infrastructure while pushing solar forward as the primary clean energy.

what are the negatives for solar? it 'steals' some of the sun's radiation - and - granted, most of the energy won't be used to create heat - you can assume the net effect is a slight net-loss in solar radiation? its a win-win. it doesn't sap energy from the earth's natural cycles and it doesn't kill animals. hell the best place for one is in the most hostile environments.

that all said, solar is a LONG long, i just hope to get a tiny piece of the love on the nanosolar ipo. 

How do IPO's usually work? There is an announcement of a sale and I then call my broker? I have never been interested in one and I am new to the game... 

+1 rec great thread

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#11) On October 20, 2009 at 12:21 PM, Deepfryer (27.12) wrote:

I can't believe no one has mentioned Nordex (NRDXF.PK). This one is a great investment, one that I hold in real life. The company is similar to Vestas but much smaller, and still growing like crazy.

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#12) On October 23, 2009 at 8:45 AM, rofgile (99.37) wrote:

Wow, I didn't realize people were still commenting on this blog.  

KamranatUCLA - boohoo!  Buying stocks has doubled my savings by good investments over the last year!  Maybe that's good luck and timing, but yes, investing is a way to grow your savings.  You are overly negative.  Anyone can research an idea - you don't need a certification from someone to try. Go out and start researching.  Do you think Feynman waiting till he got his PhD before he began learning physics and electronics?

Argus: Yeah, long term for energy, it does seem like solar based power is the answer over everything else.  I mean, life on earth is really solar power based (all plants, warmth, etc comes from solar).  Oil, coal, and other hydrocarbons are all dead animals and plants that got all their energy indirectly from solar.  Coal and oil basically just are old batteries that were charged over millenia by solar.   The one tricky thing with solar power is that one company is going to do it better than everyone else - and then another company will beat them with a better way, etc.  That's going to make longterm investing tricky.  Right now I think FSLR and NanoSolar are the best bets.

Deepfryer:  Thanks for the Nordex recommendation, I'll start researching them. 


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