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Bigger is always better when referring to the US and this is also becoming increasingly applicable to solar modules. At Solar Power International 2012, a number of manufacturers have launched 300W plus modules that are specifically catering for the booming utility-scale market.
First mover for this year was Suntech Power Holdings, having announced a few weeks ago that it’s new Ve-Series module, with 72 multi-crystalline cells and 15.5% module efficiency achieved entry into the 300W club.
Not surprisingly, the Ve-Series comes with a 1000V operational certification undertaken by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). This is needed to be able to safely connect a longer string series than allowed by the earlier 600V industry standard.
Suntech touts that the new frame design (frame thickness reduced from 50mm to 40mm, providing a 2.6lb decrease in total module weight), reduces total shipping, handling and storage costs, as a pallet of the new Ve-Series modules has 19% more power than a pallet of Suntech's older-generation Vd-Series modules. The lighter format also allows for more efficient module handling and installation, helping to reduce project labour costs.
A consideration not required last year but recognized by the leading module manufacturer was that the 300W module is not subject to the recent US import tariffs as modules are made in three countries, including in Goodyear, Arizona.
Another manufacturer that doesn’t have to worry about import duties is US-based producer, Advanced Solar Photonics (ASP). Exhibiting at SPI 2012, the company announced that it focused on manufacturing high-efficiency, high-power mono-crystalline PV modules that come in all performance sizes from 250, 300, 440 and 600W.
However, as utility-scale means an ever increasing focus on BOS costs, ASP is also displaying its Integrated Solar Array (ISA), billed as an innovative solution that fully integrates the modules into the mounting structure, eliminating the aluminum frame, grounding wire, clips, nuts and bolts.
ASP claims that the elimination the aluminum frame, reduces each module cost by US$25 or US$0.10/W. Without the frame, no grounding wire is needed (US$0.015/W). Further cost savings on clips, nuts and bolts are realized by integrating the panels into the mounting structure (US$0.04/W). As the integrated product is completely assembled at the ASP factory with the same labour required to manufacture framed, non-integrated panels, the amount of labour required in the field to install the ISA is also reduced by (US$0.02/W). The total cost savings of the Integrated Solar Array product is approximately US$0.175/W, or up to half of total BOS costs for ground-mounted systems.
Not be outdone, Motech Americas has also launched at the show its new, XS+ series of mono-crystalline modules. The release of the XS60+ and XS72+ series is designed to complement Motech's IM60+ and IM72+ series with 260W for a 60 cell module and 310W for a 72 cell multi-crystalline module.
"This new 320W module with an efficiency of 16.5% is exactly what our customers have been asking for. The flexibility of mounting sizes and improved design will lower system and installation costs, while increasing yield for our customers," noted Derick Botha, vice president of sales and marketing, Motech Americas.
Motech Americas entire US product portfolio, the new XS+ Series, manufactured in Delaware, is not subject to the recent US import tariffs imposed on solar cells produced in China.
Major Chinese producer, Yingli Green Energy also made its entrance to the 300W club by announcing at the show that it was among the first manufacturers to introduce a 72 cell solar PV module certified by UL for a maximum system voltage rating of 1,000V. This new product is marketed under the name YGE-U 72 Cell.
Robert Petrina, managing director of Yingli Green Energy Americas, added, "Industry analysts predict up to 60% growth in the North American utility-scale solar market by 2013. By introducing the YGE-U 72 Cell Series, Yingli Americas is positioned to take first-mover advantage of this growth. Our module enhances utility-scale projects' profitability by simplifying the permitting process, boosting performance and reducing balance-of-systems costs."
Yingli also noted that the new module was fully compatible with single-axis solar tracking systems manufactured by Array Technologies and was now commercially available in the United States and Canada.
Q.CELLS North America, a subsidiary of Q.CELLS SE, recently acquired by South Korean conglomerate, Hanwha and expected to be consolidated into its Hanwha SolarOne subsidiary, has also made available to the North American market a 72 cell, 300W module, dubbed Q.PRO L. It can be assumed the ‘L’ refers to its dress size.
Though the latest 300W club members highlighted customer requests for these big performing modules, Q.CELLS did not feel the need to bother, heeding the advice of its own project developer arm to realize the need.
“Our high quality modules reduce risk for investors and system operators, while simultaneously minimizing the overall levelized cost of electricity,” said Boris Schubert, CEO of Q.CELLS North America. “Q.PRO L is another example of how Q.CELLS is redefining the Quality in solar PV systems by setting a higher standard for performance, reliability and consistency.”
It was not explained if Q.CELLS had used the 300W modules in any of its most recent 100MWp plants built in North America.
LG Electronics has also launched the MonoX NeoN premium series solar module, which features the same 60-cell panel design of the MonoX module launched in October 2011, however it boasts a higher maximum high-efficiency output of 300W with 18.3% module efficiency. At 16.8kg, the new solar module is 11.1% lighter than previous models and is claimed to be among the lightest on the market.
"While the solar industry has continued exponential growth in 2012, it faces a number of challenges in meeting the needs of its customers. Right now, we are seeing the ongoing challenge of space limitations and installation costs as a barrier to entry for both residential and commercial applications." said James Lee, senior vice president, LG Electronics USA. "At LG, we are meeting this challenge in our research and development laboratories where we are developing high-efficiency solar modules that have the same durability and size as existing modules, but that yield a higher wattage than any other module available on the US market and are significantly easier to install."
LG's selective emitter technology is used in these modules along with fine line electrodes, resulting in broader light absorption area that generates a greater amount of power. Finally, LG's own "surface passivation" technology reduces the electrical loss at the solar cell surface.
More updates to follow should they be announced at SPI 2012.