PV Insider speaks with Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower, on the their involvement with KAUST and Masdar, the experience gathered from operating in the Middle East, dust-mitigation strategies, and their future agenda for this market.
Q: SunPower solar modules have been supplying power to KAUST in Saudi Arabia (through the 2 MW PV system built by Conergy, the project’s EPC contractor) and to Masdar Institute in the UAE for nearly three years now. How has your operational experience been to date?
A: We’re very pleased with the performance of our solar technology already installed in the Middle East, including the 2 MW solar system installed on the roof of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s (KAUST) main campus buildings in Saudi Arabia, and the 1 MW solar system on the roof of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology building in Abu Dhabi. Both SunPower installations at KAUST and Masdar have exceeded the performance predictions for the systems, and have consistently outperformed their predicted output. They are both owned and maintained by the universities, and SunPower was the panel supplier.
Q: What makes SunPower’s panels able to withstand the dust storms and high humidity that characterize the desert environment? And how are you managing the cleaning of panels in such a water-deficient region?
A: Dust and/or soiling management is an important issue for solar projects and has been experienced in other parts of the world. The bottom line is that we don’t believe that the dust in the Middle East will present an issue for solar if properly managed and we have a good dust management plan, including:
Soil preparation/seeding to reduce dust
An operations and maintenance strategy for cleaning the system while reducing the water consumption and cost. In some, cases special optimized equipment can be used to facilitate cleaning. Washing equipment can be developed on a customized basis to meet the cleaning needs of a given system configuration. For example, in Abu Dhabi, at the Total / MASDAR 100MW CSP project, a customized washing truck was developed which enables efficient cleaning by maximizing speed.
SunPower and Total intend to begin a technical collaboration with KAUST to work on dust mitigation strategies for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and will test new advanced coatings which will reduce the accumulation of dust.
Q: What is the current cell efficiency level of SunPower monocrystalline/polysilicon?
A: SunPower third-generation Maxeon solar cell is in commercial production with efficiencies of up to 24.2 percent.
Q: Is there a way of tackling climatic challenges prior to the installation of a PV power system?
A: Because SunPower offers the world’s highest efficiency solar panels, there is approximately 50% less surface area to keep clean versus conventional panels. Additionally, we design our systems with a vegetation plan to minimize the amount of airborne dust. In high winds or dust storms, the SunPower trackers can be stowed in a flat position avoiding the forces of the wind.
Q: Which industries and applications do you see as best suited to benefit from PV systems and why?
A: PV’s most common use will likely always be for electricity generation, such as in replacing grid-delivered electricity that is generated from fossil fuels. This PV-based power generation will be either centralized, or decentralized in the form of rooftop and smaller-scale ground-mount applications. In the distributed arena, industries that have been good customers for SunPower have been those sectors with a strong need to reduce electricity costs: primary and secondary schools, universities, retail, financial services, cold storage and others. There will also be several industries where PV provides an attractive cost-saving opportunity because it can also generate power when away from a grid, avoiding the use of diesel or liquid fuel.
Q: What is next for SunPower in the GCC and the wider Middle East region? Are you planning to take part in Saudi Arabia’s upcoming solar energy procurement?
A: We applaud the broad and aggressive efforts to embrace solar, throughout the Middle East – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have all announced planned renewable efforts. Saudi Arabia announced that it would invest $109 billion to build 41 GW of solar energy by 2032, 16 GW in PV, to meet one-third of its power demand.
This is a real opportunity for SunPower given our solar technology and track record of building solar power plants around the globe. SunPower is currently completing the 250 MW AC California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo, CA where 350 people were hired to work on the project which is expected to inject $315 million into the local economy. The company also recently sold the world’s largest solar power plant, the 579 MW AC Antelope Valley Solar Projects for between $2 billion and $2.5 billion to MidAmerican Solar, part of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate. That project is expected to create 650 jobs.
For the Middle East market, SunPower’s technology and products are ideal for high-DNI, desert environments and we’ve already shown this in other parts of the world, especially in the United States and in India and southern Europe. SunPower has been a leader in the megawatt scale solar power plant space for 15 years. As of the end of 2012, our worldwide fleet comprised of greater than 150 ground mount systems with an aggregate capacity of more than 700 megawatts.
Specifically, the SunPower® C7 Tracker is well suited for high–DNI environments such as those in the Middle East. Named for its ability to concentrate the sun’s energy by 7 times, it delivers the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale deployment available today. The C7 combines a horizontal single-axis tracker with rows of parabolic mirrors, reflecting light onto narrow band of the world’s highest-efficiency silicon solar cells. SunPower technology delivers superior field performance with our customers seeing between 7% and 10% higher energy-delivery per rated watt, compared with conventional solar systems. Saudi Arabia is a priority for SunPower, and our technology is well-suited for this environment. Total, which has a controlling interest in SunPower, has done business in the Middle East for almost 90 years. We will capitalize on this experience as we have great interest in the Middle East region. SunPower has an office in Abu Dhabi, UAE and is in the process of opening one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by the end of the year.
Founded more than a quarter century ago and headquartered in San Jose, California, SunPower Corporation provides its proprietary solar technology to residential, commercial and utility customers around the globe, through design, installation and long-term maintenance and monitoring. Backed by Total’s financial strength and international footprint, SunPower is the core of Total’s solar energy business.In 2012, the Emirates Solar Industry Association named SunPower the Solar Technology of the Year for solar cells with a record-breaking efficiency rate combined with the lowest yearly degradation rate.