Panasonic lays out ground rules of record module efficiency ‘game’

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A Panasonic representative has said the company refuses to back down in the latest “record PV module efficiency” race, which has pitted it against a similar recent claim from SolarCity.

Daniel Roca, a senior business developer for the Japan-headquartered electronics group’s solar division, said Panasonic did not intend the timing of a record PV module efficiency claim of 22.5% to clash with SolarCity’s 22.04% record that came just a few days before it.

Speaking to PV Tech at this week’s Solar Energy UK show in England, Roca, who is based in Germany and represents Panasonic in a number of markets including Britain, said however that his company was willing to back up its claim and challenged SolarCity to lay its cards on the table.

Panasonic is currently touting its latest 330W module across Europe and included it in its offering at the show in England this week. The latest HIT heterojunction model, N330, features 96 PV cells per panel, and has an efficiency of 19.7%. Manufactured in Malaysia, it joins the company’s N245 and N285 modules in the HIT range.

SolarCity is still in the early stages of adding its own module manufacturing capabilities to its levels of vertical integration. The Tesla-affiliated installer and leasing company is constructing its own 1GW factory in New York State, having acquired cell maker Silevo. SolarCity’s own “record efficiency” cell is understood to only be intended to start production in “small quantities” this month. The company has however stated that the facility in the town of Buffalo will produce modules at low cost when it is up and running. PV Tech analysed SolarCity’s plans in a blog in March this year.

Meanwhile, as for the record efficiency arms race, the run of claims and counter claims coming from the laboratory and pilot lines rather than mass production may not amount to much more than marketing one-upmanship. SunPower hit back recently on its company blog, pointing out that its X-Series X21 panel has been commercially available for some time, unlike those of its two rivals.

Daniel Roca conceded both points when put to him by PV Tech but said there was still meaning to the open competitiveness, and said it showed about the possibilities for future improvements.

“Put it this way, in R&D, if I’m a car manufacturer and I go to a show with a 500 mile range prototype EV, I’m not going to sell it at that trade show but I will still show it off!”

“So it is a game, but we are all playing fair. The SunPower one that got the record was also not the same size as the commercial module. But of course SunPower has the highest efficiency module in commercial mass production, we never said any different.”

‘No cheating’ in efficiency challenge

Panasonic’s representative laid out the challenge to SolarCity as it stood. Roca defended Panasonic’s use of aperture area efficiency of the module as its key metric.

“There is no cheating here, the way to measure the efficiency in a laboratory is to take the aperture area, the area of the module minus the frame profile.

“The frame profile thickness is pretty much equivalent on any module. The only thing is that Panasonic is not willing to disclose the actual total area of the module – there are reasons for that. On the one hand, there are some changes on the technology of the prototype, and it’s not a back-contacted cell as we said in the statement, it’s a cell made with the same kind of structure as mass production cells today, because we have implemented some changes which we don’t want to disclose yet, we don’t say how big the actual total module is, and we say what a laboratory takes as a reference which is the aperture area.”

So if SolarCity wants to publish their aperture area efficiency we can compare it, and if they are above us we will withdraw our statement.

But I am confident, that their aperture area efficiency is below ours.”

Company breaks tradition to comment on UK policy

The Japan-headquartered company also recently spoke out against proposed cuts to financial support for renewables in the UK. While it is not usual for the company to comment on policy or to engage in lobbying – a trait shared by the vast majority of Japanese companies – Roca said it would respectfully implore Britain’s government to rethink reductions of as much as 87% in the generation tariff portion of the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme.

Industry groups and other sources on the Solar Energy UK exhibition floor told PV Tech that broad industry consensus had been to prepare for a subsidy-free future within a short number of years even though there are fears the industry would struggle to sustain itself in the remaining period before the attainment of grid parity with other sources of energy.

The cuts could also threaten 35,000 jobs in the country, in which the public health effects of air pollution have become a serious issue for environmental groups and medical professionals.

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