Advancements cut costs for solar
Developments in photovoltaic technology and in mass production of solar cells are beginning to drive down costs and increase cell efficiencies, according to several solar industry representatives.
“The potential for reductions in the cost of modules and complete systems is huge,” said Paul Wyers, unit manager for ECN Solar Energy in The Netherlands. “In the past 10 years, module prices have halved—a trend which is expected to continue for the next decade.” Wyers spoke during June's Glass Performance Days conference in Finland.
According to some estimates, consumer costs for solar technology will break even with solar generation in the next few years for Southern Europe, meaning no government subsidies will be required to make the technology commercially viable. The break even point for middle European countries is between 2015 and 2020, Wyers said.
One of the major cost-reducing technologies is the emergence of thin-film, where a film is applied to glass or stainless steel. While thin film captures only about 10 percent of the global PV market, the design flexibility and cheaper cost of the cells compared to traditional silicone-based cells are driving developments of the technology, says Steve Coonen, vice president of sales for Open Energy of Solana Beach, Calif. “This is an opportunity to cut the cost of cells in half,” he says.
Thin films also provide flexibility in size and shape, something that photovoltaics have lacked in the past, Coonen said.
One of the most recent developments in thin film comes from Scheuten Research of The Netherlands. Last month, Scheuten launched a pilot manufacturing line for its Sunrise product that uses a copper indium selenide thin film, said Volker Geyer, research and development manager.
Scheuten is scheduled to open a 250 mega-watt peak capacity line in 2009 and a 1,000 MWp line in 2012, Geyer said.
Mass production of thin film such as Sunrise is expected to increase the material’s market share to about 20 percent and decrease costs even more.
Despite the rapid changes in the solar market, Wyers says the industry needs to push for even more advancements. “Although reliable PV systems are commercially available and widely applied, ambitious further development of PV technology is crucial to enable PV to become a major source of sustainable energy,” he said. “Without technological advances, prices fall only slowly.”
Read next week’s e-glass weekly to learn about specific developments from glass manufacturers that are driving the PV industry forward. To read about the role of fabricators and glaziers in the solar market, click here.
—By Katy Devlin, e-newsletter editor, e-glass weekly