The International Solar Energy Research Center Konstanz (ISC Konstanz) in Germany is expected to hold an official opening over the next few months of a new desert module testing facility in El Gouna, Egypt.
Work has already begun on making the facility. ISC Konstanz has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin), which will supply researchers to carry out the dual functions of testing the durability and efficiency of existing systems in desert conditions, as well as conducting research and development into creating new solar cells suited to the climate and terrain.
When asked about the advantages for and reasons behind establishing the facility, Radovan Kopecek, executive committee managing director of cell concepts at ISC, told PV Tech that in terms of the specific location, good infrastructure was already in place at El Gouna that has academic facilities already linked with TU Berlin.
Kopecek added that the ISC test site would conduct research for companies on areas including glass manufacture, the effects of sand abrasion and testing and improving the temperature coefficient of prototype multi-crystalline silicone cells.
He explained that the facility would look closely at developing more efficient cell structures suited to the climate of the desert in the Middle East, as research into existing PV cell design technologies has been, to some extent, inert since their initial development for European markets.
ISC Konstanz in El Gouna is expected to conduct research to counter what Kopecek said was a relative lack of progress made in researching and creating cells more suited to the environments commonly encountered in the emerging solar energy markets of developing world, where much of the installation and planning of new utility-scale solar power plants is taking place.
The new facility is expected to perform tests for module suppliers with a view to eventually building pilot module production sites.
ISC Konstanz is also expected to establish a research facility in the desert in northern Chile, following the launch of the Chilean Solar Energy Research Centre (SERC) in March 2013, with which ISC Konstanz has close links.
Chile has recently been the focus of some high-profile PV developments, including utility-scale plants announced by SunEdison and First Solar earlier this month.
Kopecek explained that testing modules suitable for the Egyptian market in the Chilean desert or vice versa would not be appropriate due to reasons including the differing climate and relief conditions. For example, the high altitude of the Chilean Atacama desert causes high levels of UV radiation, which is not a situation applicable to Egypt, while Chile does not see the major sandstorms that are a feature of the terrain in Egypt.