Bigger is Better in Solar

Bigger is Better in Solar

Just how diverse and competitive the thin film solar industry is becoming was evident at Photon’s second PV Technology Show held in San Francisco last week.

During a panel set up to explore manufacturing technology choices, five companies discussed their solutions – Applied Materials, Centrotherm Photovoltaics, Energosolar, Leybold Optics, and Oerlikon. The speakers each made the case for what differentiates their technology and provided market advantages. Representing Applied was SunFab Chief Technology Officer Chris Eberspacher, a 25-year solar industry veteran well known for his significant contributions to thin film solar cell technologies.

Eberspacher explained to the large audience how the SunFab thin film line is best suited to rapidly and effectively scale at competitive costs that continue to decline. He made the case with this key point: large 5.7m2 size modules offer unique economies of scale and balance of systems (BOS) cost advantages.

Economies of scale benefits result from the basic cost structure of depositing films – as module size increases, there is a subsequent decrease in deposition costs due to material and tool utilization efficiencies. Larger modules require fewer components such as junction boxes and cabling compared to smaller modules and reduce the number of modules required for equivalent amount of electricity output. When this BOS edge is calculated with efficiencies reaching 10% SunFab can offer better installed value. Therefore, SunFab modules are expected to command a higher price than other thin-film technologies.

All the speakers laid out their company’s vision for efficiency roadmaps and voiced confidence that their technical advancements will meet specified goals. Eberspacher confirmed Applied is on target to execute its goal of reaching 12% efficiencies by 2012. Such improvements, he said, will require the development of new materials, enhanced anti-reflective coatings, and advanced cell structures.

Other speakers touted everything from the roles TCO (transparent conductive oxide) and CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) technologies will play in the future, to a new concept for a mircromorph turn-key line. All this innovation points to one thing: thin film solar cell technology, which is expected to capture approximately 50% of the solar market in years to come, is a high stakes opportunity that has only just begun.

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