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Solar Innovation Startups: A New Taxonomy and Climate Impact

Insights on solar energy generation hardware technologies: a new solar innovation taxonomy and climate impact metrics.

This is an exciting time to indulge in the surging world of solar innovation. The year 2020 marked the moment solar power broke even with coal and made headlines as the cheapest source of electricity. [1]

As more efficient technologies and new applications emerge, Eutopia integrated existing research on solar energy generation hardware in order to develop a taxonomy for solar energy generation technologies and extract metrics to assess the climate impact of these technologies.

“The combination of the taxonomy and the climate metrics aim to provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ view to navigate solar innovation and quickly access relevant insights.”

 

2020: a bright year for solar energy

Before delving into our taxonomy and climate impact metrics, it is important to first provide a brief contextualisation of the latest developments and encouraging achievements of solar technology.

Despite the pandemic, solar saw a growth of 18% from 2019 to 2020, yet another global annual installation record for the solar PV sector. [2]

From 2010 to 2020, solar PVs LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) has dropped by 84% from 0.384 USD/kWh to 0.057 USD/kWh. [3]

Even then, the investment in solar PV has increased from roughly 120 billion USD in 2010 to 140 billion USD in 2020, because of technology improvements and reduced costs. [4]

More than every third power plant unit installed in 2020 came from solar. This brings the global cumulative solar capacity to 773.2 GW. [5]

 

A taxonomy for solar energy generation technology

After extensive research about the latest innovation developments and startups in the solar industry, our analysts have identified three main technology pillars: photovoltaics, concentrated solar power and solar thermal systems.

Then, each of these technologies was further broken down and categorised as shown in the figure below.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – These technologies capture sunlight to produce heat that drives today’s conventional thermoelectric generation systems. The unique feature of CSP is the ability to store heated material in an inexpensive and efficient thermal energy storage system.

Photovoltaics – These technologies represent the most common way of producing electricity from the light. In 2020, photovoltaics dominated the solar electricity generation market.

Solar Thermal Systems – These systems are mainly utilised for space heating, air conditioning, hot water, industrial process heat, drying among other applications.

 

Scouting solar startups using our taxonomy

With over 15k climate tech startups on Eutopia’s database, it is integral to empower users to immediately filter companies according to their specific needs. Our taxonomy breaks down business models, specific technology, value chains to map the innovative startups into our platform.

Eutopia has accumulated and analysed about a thousand path-breaking solar technology startups.

Focusing on climate tech, Eutopia covers it all: from startups like Epishine and Axsol with the ambition to normalise solar energy in consumer space to the ones charting altogether new territory, like Solmoveand Lambda Energy.

For a more advanced navigation, the solar startups featured on our platform are categorised according to our new taxonomy.

Take a look at how this looks like in a company profile page:

solar power startups peafowl

Focused on Internet of Things applications, Peafowl is breaking ground by developing solar cells to power IoT-based products with renewable energy. Their solar cells, based on thin film and silicon PV, are claimed to produce electricity even when very little light can be intercepted.

 

Climate impact metrics – explained

As the market intelligence platform for climate tech, Eutopia envisions to develop a comprehensive framework to provide policy-makers, corporates and investors with insights about climate innovation to put us on track towards net zero.

For this reason, we are experimenting ways to estimate the environmental impact of climate startups, starting from the solar innovation industry.

The climate impact metrics developed by Eutopia aim to provide a simple framework to estimate the environmental potential of various solar energy technologies.climate metrics startup

These metrics consist of five parameters – i.e. Eutopia Score, Green Premium, Installed Capacity, TRL and Product Life – that quantitatively evaluate the most recent instances of solar technologies and their economic scope and relevanc

Let’s dig in!

 

Eutopia Score

climate score startup solar energy

Sources: [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14]

 

In line with our effort to measure the environmental impact potential of over 15k climate startups, our team of data scientists and climate tech analysts came up with the prototype version of the Eutopia Score.

The score is computed as the weighted average of six factors, capturing both macro- (HQ country Eco-innovation index, GVA and CO2 emissions by sector and country) and micro-economic aspects (maturity stage, activity sector, developed technology) directly related to the venture.

Every startup featured on our platform is then scored with a value between 0 and 1 and therefore it is possible to easily compare the climate impact potential among different ventures, sectors and countries.

 

Green Premium

solar technology green premium

Sources: Bill Gates 2020; Trinomics B.V. 2020; IRENA 2021

 

Introduced by Bill Gates, the Green Premium is defined as the cost difference between a product that involves emitting CO2 and the alternative that doesn’t.

In this case, the Green Premium is the difference between the yearly average cost of electricity (€/kWh) produced by coal or gas and the electricity generated from solar energy.

Having the highest Green Premium, CSP is rightly at a lower rank of installation due to higher maintenance requirements and installation costs. With metal oxides acting as key functional layers within the PV cell structure, ‘thin film’ technology allowed PVs to be lightweight, flexible and hence, cheaper.

 

Installed Capacity

solar power solar energy total installed capacity

Sources: IRENA 2021; Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems 2021

 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) refers to Total Installed Capacity as the maximum output of electricity that a generator can produce under ideal conditions.

The graph above shows the Total Installed Capacity per solar technology in GW.

According to our analysis, the most relevant method of producing electricity is through the use of photovoltaics.

A monopoly can be observed within the world of photovoltaics itself, where Silicon being the oldest PV technology is a clear market winner and occupies 95% of the total solar panel production. [15]

The best belongs to thin-film technology. With a total installed capacity of 6.5 GW in 2020 [16], Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) has been established at a similar level of application to some other popular categories of PV technology.

 

TRL (Technology Readiness Level)

solar energy TRL technology readiness level

Source: European Commission 2014: EARTO 2014

 

Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are different points on a scale used to measure the progress or maturity level of a technology.

According to the European Commission, the TRL ranges from 1 to 9 indicating the progression of the maturity level of a technology throughout its research, development, and deployment phase.

While both concentrated solar PV and crystalline silicon PV have nearly the same TRL, the latter has consistently stayed at the average market efficiency of PVs. Within crystalline PVs, Monocrystalline dominates the solar market with an estimated market share of 80% today.

On the other hand, once the dominant variant, multi-crystalline, now represents 20% of the market and is expected to completely fade away in the coming years.

As for the thin film, with a TRL of 4-5, it has consistently been cheaper than crystalline silicon PV, though narrowly. Claiming a meagre 5% of total PV production, thin film still has a long way to go.

 

Product Life

solar energy product life

Source: NREL 2018; A.T. Kearney Energy Transition Institute 2017

The lifespan of solar energy generation technologies is loosely defined in the industry as the manufacturer’s warranty period for the panel’s life expectancy.

On average, most solar installations last for 25 years, during which it is guaranteed that panels will operate at their peak efficiency of at least 80% of their rated output.

Since waste generation and recycling are important aspects in achieving sustainability goals in the solar industry, accounting for the life span of the various solar technologies is crucial.

 

The road ahead

Transitioning to solar power is an ambitious goal and requires strong policy implementation and market incentives to reach the target of 630 GW net capacity additions by 2030 to make the 2050’s goal of net-zero mission feasible.

Solar tech is yet to overcome some integral challenges like energy distribution, panel efficiency, maintenance and environmental cost of production, all essential to achieve this goal.

Even so, with necessary advancements in innovation and widespread creative methods of application, the demand graph of solar tech is bound to make continuous strides and further fuel the cycle of cost-effectiveness and innovation.

Stay tuned for more!

We at Eutopia are a dedicated team of individuals driven by passion and innovation in the climate technology sector.

Do you want to learn and discover more about solar technology startups and have more insights on the climate innovation ecosystem in Europe?

Book a demo with our sales team: https://calendly.com/federico-eutopia/30mins
References:
  1. Renewables Increasingly Beat Even Cheapest Coal Competitors on Cost; IRENA; https://www.irena.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2020/Jun/Renewables-Increasingly-Beat-Even-Cheapest-Coal-Competitors-on-Cost

  2. Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2021-2025; SolarPower Europe; https://www.solarpowereurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/SolarPower-Europe_Global-Market-Outlook-for-Solar-2021-2025_V1.pdf

  3. Renewable Power Generation Costs 2020; 2021; IRENA; https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2021/Jun/IRENA_Power_Generation_Costs_2020.pdf

  4. PV Status Report 2019 – European Commission.https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/default/files/kjna29938enn_1.pdf.

  5. Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2021-2025; SolarPower Europe; https://www.solarpowereurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/SolarPower-Europe_Global-Market-Outlook-for-Solar-2021-2025_V1.pdf

  6. Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Emissions by Sector.” Our World in Data, 11 May 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector

  7. Europa.http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=env_air_gge

  8. “Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Kt of CO2 Equivalent).” Data,https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.GHGT.KT.CE

  9. “National Income – Value Added by Activity – OECD Data.” TheOECD, https://data.oecd.org/natincome/value-added-by-activity.html

  10. “GDP from Construction.” GDP from Construction – Countries – List, https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/gdp-from-construction

  11. “World Development Indicators: The World Bank.” World Development Indicators | The World Bank,http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/4.2

  12. “The Eco-Innovation Scoreboard and the Eco-Innovation Index.” Eco-Innovation Action Plan – European Commission, 26 Oct. 2020,https://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecoap/indicators/index_en

  13. Comparing Eco-Innovation Indices – Aseic.org.http://www.aseic.org/fileupload/pblctn/14913691582228960081.pdf

  14. “Green Growth and Eco-Innovation.” OECD, https://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/greengrowthandeco-innovation.htm

  15. PHOTOVOLTAICS REPORT; Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/de/documents/publications/studies/Photovoltaics-Report.pdf

  16. Renewable Power Generation Costs 2020; 2021; IRENA; https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2021/Jun/IRENA_Power_Generation_Costs_2020.pdf

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