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Welcome to the archives of the IEA OPEN Energy Technology Bulletin, a free newsletter from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its Committee on Energy Research and Technology. The OPEN Bulletin provides regular updates on activities within the IEA's energy technology and R&D community that are contributing to energy security and protection of the environment and climate worldwide.

 

Special Issue
IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme
No. 19 - 23 June
2004

Annual market growth for photovoltaic (PV) solar power applications has averaged more than 30% in many IEA countries over recent years. Expanding beyond their original vocation for stand-alone, small-scale rural electrification, PV power systems are now also increasingly connected to electricity grids worldwide. Today's evolving energy industries and markets offer more opportunities than ever for exploiting photovoltaic solar power.

IEA's Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS) links national teams into a mainstream force for expanding application of PV systems worldwide. This special issue of IEA's OPEN Bulletin presents the Programme's activities and products. IEA-PVPS is one of some forty Implementing Agreements within the IEA’s Framework for International Energy Technology Co-operation.

Ten years of international co-operation have enabled the Programme's 21 participating countries to assemble a wealth of expertise, ranging from market surveys and policy analyses to technical guidelines or product and project databases. Details of more than 100 IEA-PVPS publications and other products can be found on the PVPS website.


1. New stakeholders - a new decade
2.
Urban energy solutions for the emerging global market
3. Tracking PV progress - technology and market trends
4. Can PV technology deliver on its promises?
5. The right tool for the job
6. A hungry market, a good product – making it happen
7.
The big picture - PV in future global energy supply
8. Exploiting synergies
 


IEA-PVPS AT WORK 

1. New stakeholders - Photovoltaic power system (PVPS) technologies are ready for widespread application in today's energy markets. PV is an increasingly popular option around the world. Not surprisingly, the community of stakeholders and target audiences for the work of the IEA-PVPS Programme extends beyond the electricity utilities, the PV industry and government. Today, builders, planners, architects, project developers and international agencies are all active players in the fast evolving market. Technology is striding ahead. Some PV solutions are already economical, others are attracting great interest because of the added value they promise, some are longer-term options whose development requires continued public support.

A new decade - With six projects, or "Tasks", the second-decade agenda of the IEA-PVPS international collaborative effort covers multiple areas of broad, ongoing interest. A core message is that PV costs are falling constantly and that public funding delivers results. It is crucial to foster better understanding of PV’s premium (added) values and highlight ways of factoring them into investment decisions, particularly for grid-connected PV. New players from the construction, planning and finance sectors must be brought into the PV community's dialogue. For off-grid PV, the spotlight is on non-technical deployment barriers like securing finance for systems and services and on educating users and developers. Central issues are how to optimise on international opportunities in a carbon constrained world, how to meet market development challenges created by local policy instability, and how to address the continuing key role of the electric utilities.


2. Urban energy solutions for the emerging global market. As the global market finds definition, PV is poised to provide urban energy solutions. Whether for a newly planned community targeting an environmentally and sociologically conscious market, or an existing high-density built urban area, PV can meet the needs. The newest PVPS project - Task 10 - deals with Urban-Scale PV Applications. Its international team brings together the expertise of architects, builders, municipal planners, financiers, utilities, solar industries and educators. The Task will build on existing market development success stories in helping to establish a sustainable global urban market. Business opportunities through urban energy solutions constitute the theme of Task 10.

Incorporated into the new project’s work will be findings from two completed IEA-PVPS Tasks. Task 5 developed and verified technical guidelines for grid interconnection of building-integrated and other dispersed PV systems. Task 7 dealt with integration of PV into the architectural design of roofs and facades of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, and of structures like noise barriers, parking areas and railway canopies. It also analysed market factors (both technical and non-technical) that influence widespread adoption of PV in the built environment.

As a mainstream element in urban buildings, PV has a natural place in whole-
building design and in energy-conscious urban planning. Consult the Task 10 flyer.


3. Tracking PV progress - technology and market trends. With typical annual growth of more than 30%, PV market performance is impressive in the IEA-PVPS countries. Market size has recently doubled over every two years or so. The picture varies enormously, however, among countries. Indications of global trends can be gained by studying developments in IEA-PVPS participating countries.

A representative overview of evolving markets in IEA countries is provided each year by Trends in Photovoltaic Applications. Based on National Survey Reports from IEA-PVPS countries, this report is compiled by the IEA-PVPS Task 1 information team. It tracks technology status and analyses trends for systems, components and applications in the various PV power system markets. Information is presented against the backdrop of current local business environments, policies and relevant non-technical factors. Some informative findings emerge.

With around 75% of currently installed PV capacity in the reporting countries as a whole, grid-connected PV is growing sharply, and increasing proportions of public PV budgets in many countries now go to market initiatives rather than demonstration/field trials. Taken individually, however, not all reporting countries reflect these trends; off-grid applications still account for greater shares of new and existing installed capacity in more than 50% of countries.

In recent years, output of modules has been increasing by some 50% per year, and so has production capacity. Japan accounts for much of the expansion. Although many PV materials are now available, the vast majority of module output is still based on crystalline silicon material.

PV prices continue to fall. But they fluctuate, and they vary among countries, an inevitability, given the stage of market deployment and the impact of non-technical factors. PV may still be considered a costly option in the urban environment, but public opinion remains supportive.

The published reports pages on the IEA-PVPS website present collected findings and analysis on technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of PV systems and applications.


4. Can PV technology deliver on its promises? What about operational performance, or long-term reliability, or sizing of systems? Technical questions like these are crucial for fast evolving technologies. Technical updates are provided by IEA-PVPS Task 2 to a diverse audience of PV practitioners and experts, research laboratories, utilities, manufacturers, system designers, installers, standardisation organisations and vocational schools.

The tool for this is the PV Performance Database, an international source of digested information on the technical aspects of PV power systems and subsystems. Drawn from published and unpublished material, national submissions and selected contacts, the information is presented using standard data-collection format and definitions. Users can select PV system data, monitoring data and calculated results, all of which can be exported into spreadsheet programmes. The database is updated regularly and, like most IEA-PVPS publications, downloadable free of charge.

To ensure quality and comparability of database content, and to underpin analytical reports on key issues, IEA-PVPS Task 2 also undertakes analysis of performance and maintenance data for PV power systems and components in participating countries. Work to date has dealt notably with: availability of irradiation data; tools for checking the performance of PV systems; shading effects and temperature effects; long-term performance and reliability; monitoring techniques; and normalised evaluation of PV systems. Useful guidance is also available from Task 2 on sizing of PV power systems and suggested ways of improving PV system performance.



5. The right tool for the job. Good quality control for off-grid PV systems is based on the premise that all phases in the life cycle are potential sources of failure. Quality assurance for off-grid PV is the specialisation of Task 3. This team provides end-users and programme managers with experience-based guidelines for quality assurance in PV systems, projects and programmes. The ultimate objective is a warranty of service to the user at a reasonable cost.

Implementation of quality assurance procedures is often difficult in the field, especially when procedures are complex and when the installation, operation and maintenance phases all have to be covered. Also, assessing the performance of installed stand-alone PV systems involves not only technical criteria, but also non-technical economic and social factors. Task 3 activities provide new project managers with realistic, efficient recommendations for managing off-grid PV system quality in the field.

Technical contributions to cost reduction of PV hybrid systems also come within the remit of Task 3. Standardisation and modularity of systems are promoted, along with ways to reduce investment costs and increase performance through design of storage systems like batteries. Guidance is provided on selection procedures and energy management strategies. (Consult also the Website topic "off-grid".)


6. A hungry market, a good product – making it happen. An estimated 1.64 billion people around the world lack access to electricity, 99% of them in developing countries. Conventional electricity grids will not reach them in the foreseeable future. Renewable energy, and especially PV, can provide electricity for basic services and thus contribute directly to meeting the Millennium Development Goals accepted by the international community.

IEA-PVPS Task 9 works to increase the rate of successful deployment of PV systems in developing counties. PV systems can contribute to rural electrification through diverse applications. They can supply health clinics (refrigeration for vaccines, sterilization and lighting), schools and community centres. Domestic PV solar systems can provide electricity for lighting and low-power appliances such as radios. PV can fuel community battery-charging and water-pumping for drinking, livestock and irrigation. In many areas, the technology is cost-competitive with traditional alternatives such as kerosene lamps and small diesel generators.

The Task 9 team's brief is to enhance co-operation and information flow between the IEA-PVPS Programme and all the key stakeholders. Its goal is to provide an effective and efficient programme addressing the needs and potential of all the partners. Work is organised around three themes.
- Infrastructure requirements in developing countries - helping to overcome the critical barriers to widespread PV deployment and implementation through development, dissemination and application of a series of guideline documents.
- Energy and PV's technical and economic potential and opportunities - stimulating awareness and interest amongst the multi- and bilateral agencies, NGOs and other target sectors, thus enabling decision-makers to gain the necessary expertise and knowledge to seize opportunities for deployment of PV.
- Technical supply and economics - identifying the various options available and working on the issues for the preparation, design and implementation of PV deployment programmes.


7. The big picture - PV in future global energy supply. We can expect large-scale change in the energy sector over the coming decades. Where might PV be tomorrow? IEA-PVPS Task 8 is looking towards an exciting future for PV and world energy supply. It is evaluating the feasibility of creating very large-scale PV systems in the world’s desert areas. Their capacities would range from multi megawatts to gigawatts.

The key factors opening the way to such very large-scale PV systems have been identified. So have the benefits of such applications for neighbouring regions and their potential contribution to global environmental protection and longer-term harnessing of renewable energies. Medium- and long-term scenario projections have been made for the feasibility of deploying very large-scale PV systems in specific areas.

Task 8 is now looking at in-depth case studies and developing practical proposals for demonstration projects and pilot systems suitable for selected regions. These should provide general guidance for development of practical projects and chart the sustainable path to larger systems in the future. The IEA-PVPS website provides more documentation.


8. Exploiting synergies. In line with the IEA's objective of expanding international collaboration to promote sustainable energy systems, the IEA-PVPS Programme maintains close links with other IEA co-operative efforts. It thereby focuses on the growing need for cross-technology-oriented approaches, notably with other technologies for solar energy or for energy in buildings-related activities. A recent joint meeting with the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) Programme resulted in concrete co-operation linking SHC Tasks on solar resource data management and on hybrid PV/thermal collectors with the IEA-PVPS Task 10 on urban-scale photovoltaics.

Equally important, the IEA-PVPS Programme is present at major international events, such as the recent International Conference for Renewable Energies in Bonn (Germany) and the subsequent 19th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Paris (France).

View the presentation during an IEA side event at the Bonn conference by IEA-PVPS Executive Committee Chair, Stefan Nowak.


About IEA-PVPS

Established in 1993, the IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS) is one of the collaborative research and development agreements within the IEA's Framework for International Energy Technology Co-operation. The mission of the programme is to “enhance the international collaboration efforts which accelerate the development and deployment of photovoltaic solar energy as a significant and sustainable renewable energy option”. The Programme's mandate is to support ongoing growth in the market for photovoltaic (PV) systems beyond the present niche markets of remote applications and consumer products and towards the utility market, building-integrated and other distributed and centralised PV generation systems. Click for more about the Programme.