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2020 Year in Review: Optimal Use of Resources

Yuan-Sheng Yu, Director, Research
March 9, 2021

As the energy transition pivots away from its dependence on fossil fuels, it will lean toward new energy technologies with different resource limitations. From reliance on key minerals for batteries, to fresh water for industrial processes, to land for solar and wind farms, optimizing resource utilization will be critical. While in its early stages of market penetration, harnessing the "unlimited" power of sun and wind is a misguided notion in the long term. Resource constraints across the energy system cannot be ignored, as they have already led to many misguided and failed investments.

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Globalization has played a key role in the energy transition, from manufacturing hubs for batteries and solar panels to international collaboration and technology transfer. However, in 2020, COVID-19 shook up the energy industry, and the aftermath is likely to shake the economic fabric as countries seek to rely on local systems and be self-sufficient. The major trend of improving resiliency in the post-COVID future will make the optimal use of domestic resources an even greater priority as countries seek energy independence and security while still maintaining progress toward decarbonization. Energy security has always been a critical agenda item for many nations, and in a post-COVID future, countries will undoubtedly look toward utilizing as much of their natural resources as possible and increase domestic expertise across the entire value chain. We expect post-COVID stimulus plans to drive a more self-reliant and decarbonized energy outlook.

In this blog, we take a look back at some of the most important developments that occurred in the Optimal Use of Resources storyline.

Water, Energy, & Food Nexus (1)-1

  • Total signed an agreement for the development of agrivoltaic systems in France. The partnership involves the deployment of Next2Sun's solution on bifacial modules mounted in a fencelike configuration. The vertical configuration aims to generate electricity while separating different types of grassland.

  • Sun'Agri demonstrated the benefits of agrivoltaics in vineyards through a project with Piolenc in collaboration with the local chamber of agriculture and the French government. The setup involved 600 m2 of vines covered by a solar array able to adjust its tilt to optimize light absorption and limit water evaporation.

  • BlueWave Solar announced a pipeline of 10 agrivoltaic projects in Massachusetts as part of its community solar offerings. The value proposition is particularly interesting in New England, where only about 10% of the state's food demand is covered by local resources – making it potentially vulnerable to disruptions in the food supply chain.

  • Baofeng Group plans to expand a 640 MW, 2.9 meter high agrivoltaic system in the Binhe New District to a 1 GW plant. The first section of the project was connected to the grid in 2016 and coupled with the production of goji berries. In the past few years, the farm has reported a 40% reduction in water evaporation and 85% increase in vegetation coverage.

  • JinkoSolar plans to supply modules for a $1.6 billion, 2 GW agrivoltaic facility. The facility will include various activities related to the agricultural sector, such as water conservation and irrigation projects or crop planting and greenhouses.

Advanced Solar

  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) unveiled a 47.1% efficiency solar cell that consists of a six-junction tandem cell based on various layers of III-V semiconductors, such as GaAs or InP. Initially, NREL reported a 39.2% efficiency under 1 sun (standard illumination) but was able to increase that to 47.1% under 143 suns after depositing a concentrator cell on top of the device.

  • JA Solar announced a new photovoltaic module rated at 525 W under standard test conditions that hit the market in the second half of 2020. Though technical specifications were not disclosed in the announcement, it is likely that this module relies on monocrystalline silicon and features a larger active area per solar cell, which can be achieved by increasing wafer size beyond 156.75 mm or reducing the number of busbars.

  • Trina Solar unveiled a 600 W module five months after launching two 500 W bifacial modules. The new module features a 6 × 10 cell configuration and is expected to enter the market in Q1 2021. While the module's rated efficiency of 21.2% is similar to that of other monocrystalline silicon panels on the market, what makes Trina's module significantly more powerful is the use of half-cut solar cells – which deliver more power due to lower resistive losses.

  • Nextracker signed an agreement with Shanghai Electric to supply more than 1 GW of its NX Horizon single-axis solar trackers to the fifth phase of DEWA's Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. The NX Horizon trackers combined with bifacial modules are expected to gain yields up to 12%.

  • Canadian Solar launched a new series of modules, including two monofacial and two bifacial modules, both of which range between 640 W and 665 W in terms of power output and between 20.6% and 21.4% in terms of conversion efficiency.

Lithium Supply Chain

  • Lilac Solutions raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, with other investments from The Engine, Lowercarbon Capital, and The Grantham Foundation. Lilac's choice to source funding from venture capital firms may speak to its technology's early stage of development, the lithium industry's strong risk aversion, or both.

  • Ganfeng Lithium announced a 51% ownership stake in the Cauchari-Olaroz operation with its joint venture partner Lithium Americas. Lithium Americas received $40 million in interest-free loans and owns the remaining portion of the venture.

  • Lithium Americas suspended construction of the Cauchari-Olzaroz project earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread. This came on the heels of announced delays of construction equipment from its Chinese partners, also due to COVID-19. While delays are common, the project timeline will inevitably be pushed well beyond its early 2021 target.

  • Antelope Water Management acquired membrane distillation expert KMX. KMX is among the few membrane distillation companies that have found traction in chemical solvent removal and recovery, and new management is expected to turn the technology toward the recovery of rare-earth elements and lithium from mines, power generation, and oil and gas produced waters.

  • Vulcan Energy Resources and ÉS Géothermie  are exploring the potential of geothermal lithium extraction in the Upper Rhine region. The major draw in geothermal lithium extraction is the availability of energy and the convenience of water already being pumped for power production.

evolving energy story

Additionally, the Lux Energy Team curated the following “Analysts’ Choice” for further reading on the optimal use of resources storyline.

  • Innovating the Lithium Industry. As more and more automakers announce aggressive electrification strategies, the lithium industry has struggled to rapidly scale production of battery-qualifiable material. This report considers the impending gap between lithium supply and demand, the innovative companies looking to address today's challenges in producing battery-ready lithium chemicals, and the companies that are best-positioned to take advantage of this critical market opportunity.

  • Perovskite Solar Cells. Perovskites can potentially enable low-cost and high-efficiency photovoltaic cells, posing a disruptive threat to industry-standard silicon. These advantages are most significant when perovskites are deposited on top of silicon wafers, forming a tandem cell, though other applications (e.g., building-integrated PV) have also gained traction.

  • Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics. In order to stay ahead of the game, companies need to increase their power output while driving down costs to remain competitive. To accomplish this, developers need to improve the efficiency of their solar cells by modifying the cell architecture. This will lead to improving economics for silicon PV systems.

  • Agrivoltaics offer mutual benefits across the water-energy-food nexus. The demand for water, food, and energy is continually increasing and regionally dependent as a result of various socioeconomic factors, which are related to a rising global population, rapid urbanization, and economic growth. The so-called water-energy-food (WEF) nexus denotes the complex interactions among these three sectors and is a central piece of sustainable development.

  • German researchers evaluate the business case for agrivoltaics, calling for new regulatory frameworks to secure adoption. A number of countries have implemented measures to promote the adoption of agrivoltaics. For instance, in 2015, the German government kick-started the Agrophotovoltaics Innovation Group Resource Efficient Land Use project (dubbed APV-RESOLA), which is currently led by a group of academic and industry players that includes Fraunhofer ISE, the University of Hohenheim, and BayWa.

This blog is part of the Lux Energy Team's Year in Review series examining the highlights and key developments of the energy industry in 2020. For an overview of the other storylines in Owning the Energy Transition, be sure to subscribe to our energy newsletter.

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