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BP SOLAR: Passion for Solar

Part of BP Alternative Energy, BP Solar is a global company with about 1,600 employees. BP Solar designs, manufactures and markets solar energy products and provides complete solar energy solutions for the residential, commercial, industrial and utility sectors. Reyad Fezzani, CEO of BP Solar, speaks about how BP Solar has become one of the world’s leading solar companies with over its 37 years of experience and installations in most countries.

 

Reported by Amanda Kim

 

We are curious about how BP Solar, one of the world’s largest solar energy companies, first got involved with the solar business.

 

BP Solar has a long and impressive history. We are still at the forefront of new developments which are taking us firmly towards grid parity.

Our journey so far:

1973 The Solarex Corporation (now BP Solar) is formed to transfer solar energy from space to commercialized use on earth.

1977 Solarex initiates polycrystalline process.

1979 Solarex becomes a fully integrated solar manufacturer.

1980 BP enters the solar industry.

1982 Solarex constructs the Frederick, MD, the U.S.A. manufacturing plant including 200 kW array--still one of the largest installations of building-integrated photovoltaics in the world.

1983 Solarex awarded first major contract by United States Coast Guard for 14,000 modules to be deployed on sea buoys.

1984 The Telephone Organization of Thailand selects Solarex to supply PV for 52 repeater stations for the backbone of its telephone network--the first major PV telecom project in SE Asia Solarex successfully completes the JPL Block V tests--forerunner of today’s IEC 61215 accelerated life test sequence.

1985 Georgetown University (Washington, DC, the U.S.A.) installs a BIPV array of 330 kW Solarex modules on its Intercultural Center

1986 BP Solar starts research activity on CdTe solar cells.

1987 Solarex introduces the “Mega” cell: 114 mm x 114 mm. Results in a 30% increase in solar efficiency from the previous industry standard of 100 mm x 100 mm.

1993 Solarex introduces the first 20-year PV module warranty in conjunction with its 20th anniversary in the industry.

1995 Georgia Institute of Technology installs 334 kW of Solarex PV on the roof of the new Aquatic Center used for swimming and diving events in the 1996 Olympics. Included on the facility is a 4.5 kW array of large area semitransparent AC modules integrated into the entrance canopy.

1999 BP Solar and Solarex merge to form BP Solarex

2000 BP Solar installs solar on the roofs of the Athlete’s Village as part of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, creating one of the world’s first solar suburbs. The suburb has since grown to include more than 1,000 BP Solar systems.

2001 BP Solarex changes name to BP Solar. BP Solar installs 97 kW canopy system as part of Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Power Switch Program

2002 BP Solar completes 457 KW installation for Munich Airport--terminal 2.

2004 BP Solar launches residential installation program through The Home Depot.

2005 BP creates a new low-carbon power business, BP Alternative Energy, and increases investment in renewable energies including solar, wind, hydrogen and Combined-Cyclegas-Turbine (CCGT) power generation.

BP Solar installs 1.3 MW ground-based tracker system for USMC Air-Ground Command Center in Twenty-Nine Palms, CA, the U.S.A.

2006 BP Solar introduces anti-reflective glass across all of its products > 165 W worldwide, providing more energy per rated power. BP Solar announces Mono2TM’s new silicon growth process that significantly increases cell efficiency over traditional multi-crystalline based cells.

2007 Wal-Mart selects BP Solar to install 4.3 MW of solar on 7 facilities in California, the U.S.A.

2008 BP Solar is exclusive solar supplier to Shea Homes Trilogy Division as they become the first national (the U.S.) homebuilder to offer solar as standard feature across all of their communities.

Black Hills Energy selects BP Solar to install 1.2 MW ground-based system at Colorado State University- Pueblo. BP Solar completes two installations totaling 551 kW for FedEx Freight.

2009 Higher Lifetime Value was a crucial factor for BP Solar winning New York’s largest solar installation. The 37 MW project for the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) is to be installed at Brookhaven National Laboratory. It will sustain 6,500 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons a year.

At the end of October 2009, BP Solar as the first major company announces an enhanced global power warranty. For all crystalline Photovoltaic (PV) solar modules of more than or equal to 40 W, manufactured from Jan. 1, 2010, BP Solar guarantees a minimum power output of 93% for the first 12 years and 85% through 25 years.

 

 

And what has personally motivated you to invest in clean solar energy? Tell us briefly about yourself.

 

I am proud to lead the largest and most established renewable energy business in BP and to be a part of BP’s Alternative Energy portfolio. BP Solar has a tremendous team of professionals with deep experience and great behaviors. It’s one of the main reasons I come to work every day. It’s also wonderful to have my children tell their friends they are proud that their dad is working in a solar company. In the end we all like to do something that makes a difference and that moves us forward.

 

BP Solar has a long and strong history of designing, manufacturing and marketing solar electric systems for homeowners, businesses and governments. What makes it possible for BP Solar to maintain its strong business presence in the solar PV market for such a long period of time?

 

Solar power plays a crucial role in BP, and we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in solar power for over 37 years--this we did through the good times and the bad, and we here remain committed as ever in solar power.

As we celebrated BP’s 100th anniversary on 14th April, 2009, BP Solar announced the milestone of cumulative sales of one GW--supplying 10 million solar power modules, and saving four million tons in CO2 emissions. At the end of 2008, one out of every 15 W the industry installed was provided by BP Solar. BP Solar aims to return to be a top 5 solar marketer delivering --the highest lifetime value solar power offer--to our customers, an offer we believe is the most compelling in our industry today.

 

You, already, are operating in many regions and have installations in over 160 countries. But what is your forecast for your next potential market geometrically? And what are the goals of BP Solar for the coming few years in terms of sales volume?

 

We expect Germany to remain the world’s largest market over the next few years, through continued growth in residential and small commercial but also increasingly through large-scale power development.

After last year’s slowdown vs. 2008, we expect Spain to stabilize, and we are seeing impressive growth in Italy, France, Greece, and Eastern European markets stimulated by new policies.

The U.S. market has begun to accelerate, today mainly in the utility scale segment, but also in residential and commercial. Over the next three years the U.S. has the potential to become one of the worlds largest PV markets, as has China which has the resources and bold plans, and could catapult over others as it did in wind and India which recently announced a bold vision to get to 20 GW.

Looking forward to the next five years, BP Solar expects to grow profitably and faster than market. We now have a tremendous raw material position and momentum from the last three years with a compound annual growth rate of 30%. More recently we sold 114 MW in 2007 and 162 MW in 2008. In 2009, we ended the year with total sales of around 200 MW.

 

Let’s talk about your products and technologies now. What do you consider as the biggest achievements of BP Solar technologically, since its founding?

 

Just to mention some main achievements, which were the introduction of the first integrated roof mount system IntegraFrame and the introduction of the first internal circuit board IntegraBus.

BP Solar further introduced anti-reflective glass across all of its products > 165 W worldwide, providing more energy per rated power.

BP Solar also announced Mono2TMa new silicon growth process that significantly increases cell efficiency over traditional multicrystalline based cells.

 

Please tell us about your latest innovation.

 

We introduced a new module frame designed to resist highest wind and snow loads.

Our patented IntegraBusTM diode board ensures a more reliable electrical connection while keeping the diodes cooled, this leads to higher longevity and more reliable operation. Our patented backsheet provides higher electrical insulation, mechanical strength and environmental resistance. BP’s high-transmission glass with anti-reflective coating delivers proven up to 4% incremental annual energy yield.

Our modules have industry-leading low degradation rates: based on an NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) study, BP’s degradation is at only 0.3% per annum, and our internal tests show even less.

Furthermore, BP Solar and IMEC, one of the leading European research centers in photovoltaics, recently demonstrated an 18% conversion efficiency for silicon solar cells made of BP Solar’s newly developed Mono2TM silicon. By combining IMEC’s advanced processing techniques with BP Solar’s high-quality low-cost substrates, it was demonstrated that Mono2TM has a good potential to become a new base material for low-cost highly-efficient solar cells.

 

What are some of the technological challenges BP Solar is facing today? And what are your efforts to bringing cost-effective, pollution-free energy solutions to the world?

As an industry we need to re-adjust our thinking in terms of what really matters for a consumer. It is not just about highest energy efficiency, which often comes at a cost in terms of reliability. It’s also not just about the lowest cost per Watt on the day that you buy the solar system. What really matters to consumers is the lifetime cost of energy: getting the highest value over the life of the investment and the cost in cents per kWh over that life.

 

So what underpins the lowest lifetime cost energy claim?

 

Industry-leading module design, stringent quality, assurance, and reliability, proven in tests, patented design features that further enhance system reliability, and;  a low-cost manufacturing value chain, in-house and with industry-leading partners.

It’s like to share our confidence behind these starting with superior testing.

One of our tests is at 250% of what is required by the IEC (International Electro-technical Commission).

We do not launch a product on the market that does not meet our internal Q6000 standard, which is much more stringent than the IEC tests. We have done the same tests with competitor products: Only two of the 10 manufacturers--modules analyzed would have been launched on the market by BP Solar the rest failed our tests.

 

What are some of the recent trends in PV cells and modules?

 

Apart from the technological advances I have noted, the biggest trend of course, is falling prices. As technology has advanced and scale is achieved, we are seeing solar reaching grid parity in many regions and well on the way in others.

 

What is your opinion about the current PV market situation?

 

After the slowdown we saw in 1H-9 we have seen an unprecedented rebound in sales in 3/4Q and expect that momentum to return the market to higher rates of growth in 2010 and beyond. This picture is predicated on the state of the global economy, the availability of financing and the will of governments to continue to provide policy support. And of course the rapid price decline in the cost of solar seen in the last months is a major factor in stimulating demand.

 

You have over 2,200 employees globally working for BP Solar. How do you motivate the large employee base?

 

Many of our employees are working in the solar sector because they have a passion for the business. In a recent employee survey, we learned that 80% of our employees surveyed are personally motivated to put in a great deal of effort to help the organization be successful. We have stepped up our employee communications to ensure that we share our successes around the globe. We know that sharing good news serves as a tremendous motivator.

 

Lastly, what is your company’s management philosophy?

 

At BP, we help the world meet its growing need for heat, light and mobility. And we strive to do that by producing energy that is affordable, secure and by being responsible in all of the ways we work including caring for our impact on the environment. We have a set of values that we use in all our business decisions. They guide our behaviors, and the types of products and services we offer. It is these values, and what we stand for as a company, that makes BP distinctive.

 

Amanda Kim is Senior Editor of InterPV. Send your comments to kbs@infothe.com.

 

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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