The photovoltaic industry has lived through an amazing decade in which it has grown from a small-size sector worth a few billion dollars to one with a turn-over reaching almost $100 billion and with thousands of jobs associated with it. It goes without saying that the sector is presently going through a consolidation process, but there is little doubt that PV is here to stay, given the fact that it is the renewable energy source with the largest potential, a track record of continuous cost reduction and with room for further improvements in terms of performance, reliability and costs.
Manufacturing the Solar Future: The 2013 Production Annual takes the form of a compilation of a number of articles from Photovoltaics International, which characterise this vibrant environment of new, cutting edge technology development. The review spans the full value chain, from material aspects and cell technology to module and system items.
A few remarkable elements come forward from the annual. On the level of materials (e.g. metal pastes), it is quite astonishing how far evolutionary development has brought us. It was difficult to imagine a few years ago that manufacturers would develop pastes to contact emitters with sheet resistances in the range of 100 ohms/square. Careful optimisation of solar polysilicon feedstock allowed strong reductions of cost and energy, adding to the possibilities of going to thinner Si wafers and foils. The costs associated with the sawing of wafers were drastically reduced thanks to the optimisation of slurry and new types of wire.
Cell technology development, meanwhile, has led to a significant acceleration of improvement in efficiency in solar cell production, stimulating thin-film PV producers to go for even more aggressive developments to catch up on the moving target of continuously decreasing cell and module prices.
The overview also highlights a number of developments in module materials and concepts, a topic often overlooked but essential if one wants to fully exploit the improvements in cell performance and module reliability. This requires new materials as well as fast methods to evaluate these materials. Last, but not least, a number of the papers outline module concepts in which cell and module manufacturing converge, even for crystalline Si.
Overall the content of this book provides the reader with an excellent overview of these evolutions and revolutions and illustrates that innovation has also accelerated over the last decade in line with the growth of the PV market.
–Jef Poortmans is director of PV technologies at IMEC in Belgium. For details on ordering a copy of the annual click here