Printed PV: Nanosolar unveils 640MW utility-scale panel fab, high-efficiency CIGS cell production

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Reddit
Email

After staying relatively quiet for much of the past year, thin-film PV manufacturer Nanosolar has come out with a full docket of announcements: the completion of its 640MW panel-assembly factory near Berlin celebrated during an event attended by the German Minister of the Environment and other dignitaries; the start of serial roll-to-roll production of its flexible copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide cells in the company’s San Jose facility; $4.1 billion in panel purchases from customers–including some of the world’s largest utility companies; NREL-verified cell efficiencies up to 16.4%; and new technical details of both its printed CIGS cell technology and utility-scale panels.

The panel-making facility, located in Luckenwalde  (about 60 kilometers south of Berlin), can operate at a production rate of one panel every 10 seconds and is capable of reaching a peak capacity of 640MW when operated around the clock, according to Nanosolar. Called by TUV Rheinland inspectors “a factory unlike any we've ever seen,” the plant incorporates a fully automated, robotic line (pictured at left) integrated with a sophisticated in-line quality control measurement system to string and assemble the individually sorted and tested cells into panels. One innovative part of the production line is a high-throughput stack lamination technique developed with a “leading provider of lamination equipment.”

The German panel factory is supplied with flexible aluminum-foil cells produced at the venture-backed company’s fab in San Jose. Nanosolar, which prints its cells using a proprietary CIGS ink in a mostly nonvacuum, low-cost process sequence, says it began serial production on its R2R processing line earlier this year.

“Getting to the point of serial production with the unusual extent of innovation and leapfrog cost reduction involved in our technology and delivering a product that out of the gate meets and exceeds the high bar set by the industry's existing volume manufacturers on performance and reliability is an accomplishment due to the incredibly hard work and perseverance of our team,” says Nanosolar president/CEO Martin Roscheisen.

Although the facility is calibrated for rapid growth, current production is running at a subcapacity baseload rate of about 1MW per month, according to Nanosolar. Web widths run up to 1500mm on the cell line, while certain process steps can attain throughputs as high as 40m/min, he told PV Tech. A full roll of processed, unsingulated PV foil is equivalent to 100KW. 

The San Jose plant will be ramped in sync with the company's market-introduction plan, which it says focuses on achieving “product bankability” with commercial banks and delivering on the company's $4.1 billion in contractual customer commitments.

“With almost all large solar installations credit financed, broad-based product bankability is our key next commercial goal,” states the company CEO (pictured at left). “We have long prepared for this, including through the technology choices we have made, the strong balance sheet we have maintained, the quality of customers we have secured, and the local production we have built.”

The product coming off those automated assembly lines is Nanosolar’s first offering, the Utility Panel—what it calls the industry’s first solar electricity module specifically designed as well as electrically and mechanically optimized for utility-scale solar power systems.

Featuring an innovative design scheme, the company says the IEC 61646-certified panel effectively eliminates the “balance-of-system penalty” that medium-efficient thin panels from First Solar and others have conventionally carried relative to higher-efficiency, more-expensive crystalline-silicon panels.

The Utility Panel is the industry’s highest-current thin module, by up to a factor of six, according to Nanosolar, and is also the first PV module certified by TUV for a system voltage of 1500V–about 50% higher than the next highest certified device. The combination of enhanced current and voltage enables utility-scale panel array lengths and results in a host of substantial balance-of-system cost savings, the company says.

On the mechanical side, the panel package employs a dual-tempered glass/glass design housing the flex cells, which is distinctly stronger than that of conventional thin-film-on-glass modules, achieving about 70% greater mounting span, thus facilitating substantially lower mounting costs, the company says.

The full panels as well as their components and materials have been put through a wide range of rigorous indoor and outdoor reliability and performance testing, done internally and with third-party firms, in a variety of geographic and climate conditions, and are certified under various IEC, UL, and other standards, according to Nanosolar.

“We have a huge effort on testing and are in fact expanding this even further,” Roscheisen told PV Tech. “We believe the standard tests are limited in some ways.  We are interested in looking at combinations of stresses as well as various forms of dynamic behavior.”

On the cell side, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has independently verified that the company’s metal-wrap-through back-contact, printed-CIGS-on-metal-foil devices produced on its Gen 3 line have reached active-area conversion efficiencies as high as 16.4% during tests conducted earlier this year. “Our lab and production teams have managed to make more progress on efficiency than we had planned on in any of our business plans,” says Roscheisen.

Noting that “we print CIGS onto inexpensive metal foil, something that some have been skeptical can work while others have been wondering whether it can deliver cells better than 6% efficient,” he explains that the latest efficiency numbers for the foil cells actually  “represent two world records in one: It's the most efficient printed solar cell of any kind (all semiconductor and device technologies) as well as the most efficient cell on a truly low-cost metal foil (with a material cost of only a cent or two per square foot and mil thickness).”

Going beyond the champion cell results, Roscheisen reveals that “in terms of our current baseline production process, our best production rolls now achieve higher than 11% median efficiency measured as equivalent to panel efficiency, with very tight cross- and down-web uniformity.”

NREL’s Miguel Contreras, the senior scientist who supervises the CIGS group at the national lab, told PV Tech that his team has supported Nanosolar “with official measurements, characterization, transferring the know-how we have in making 20% solar cells in the labs. We showed them what the [film] structures look like, what they should shoot for, to improve their own processes and materials—that was our strongest contribution to them.”

But he gives full credit to Nanosolar, saying “truly, it’s to their merit on most or all of the work that’s been done. We just helped a little bit in their success, and I’m proud and honored to be part of that effort.”

(More info on Nanosolar's cell technology and the design and innovation behind its Utility Scale panel can be found in white papers and elsewhere on the company's relaunched website. Also check out the Chip Shots blog for an exclusive unfiltered interview with Nanosolar chairman/CEO, Martin Roscheisen.)

PHOTOS BY WILHELM BREUER, COURTESY OF NANOSOLAR

23 August 2022
Intersolar South America, South America’s largest exhibition and conference for the solar industry, takes place at the Expo Center Norte in São Paulo, Brazil, on August 23–25, 2022, and has a focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production and solar thermal technologies. At the accompanying Intersolar South America Conference, renowned experts shed light on hot topics in the solar industry. In 2021 – despite the Covid-19 pandemic – Intersolar South America welcomed more than 28,000 visitors and over 1,000 conference attendees over 3 days. 200+ providers showcased their products. Combining local and international expertise, Intersolar South America brings together the PV and solar thermal sector to discuss the current status and strategic trends for Latin American PV markets, as well as technology innovations and new business opportunities. Overall, distributed generation is still driving momentum in the Brazilian market. Get 10% off with code 38LCF6KN
6 September 2022
Intersolar Mexico sits at the cross-section of photovoltaics, solar heating & cooling technologies, and energy storage. The event serves as the industry’s go-to source for invaluable technology trends and premier B2B contacts in the promising Mexican solar market. From September 6–8, 2022 Intersolar Mexico together with the co-located The GREEN Expo® and Aquatech Mexico will take place in Centro Citibanamex, Mexico City.
7 September 2022
The demand for rooftop solar PV is soaring, driven by falling costs of the technology against energy crises that are gripping countries globally. But while an increasing number of households turn to solar to generate their own electricity, there is now a need for more specialist equipment, technologies and services to ensure the solar transition can reach as many customers as possible. Delivering these is now a major challenge for rooftop solar installers. This webinar will analyse the characteristics of the rooftop solar market, discussing how the products, logistics, installation and servicing of solar systems has evolved in line with consumer demands.
14 September 2022
Join us in London for 2 days as we look at the UK’s new landscape for utility & rooftop solar. Understand the new opportunities within this GW-plus annual market!
15 September 2022
Bifacial PV modules will be the dominant solar PV technology globally within one or two years; in the utility-scale sector, their market share is already above 70%. This webinar will provide a clear view on the successful implementation of bifacial technology, maximizing system performance and minimising LCoE.
19 September 2022
RE+ 2022 is the umbrella event that includes SPI, ESI, RE+ Power, and RE+ Infrastructure. As North America's largest renewable energy event, it's a catalyst for industry innovation that's supercharging business growth in the clean energy economy.

Read Next

August 12, 2022
REC Solar and its parent company, Reliance Industries, have ramped up recruitment of staff for its India solar manufacturing plant.
August 12, 2022
Yingkou Jinchen Machinery has an agreement with Indian module maker Waaree to supply it with a 2.5GW high-efficiency module production line
August 12, 2022
Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker has signed on Thursday a climate bill that will bolster the growth of renewables project.
August 12, 2022
ACWA Power posted strong H1 2022 results as it continues to divert its portfolio to renewables and low-carbon technologies.
August 11, 2022
The US government Department of Energy is looking for public input into how US$675 million of funding for R&D into Critical Materials should be best directed.
August 11, 2022
German project developer Energiequelle has entered the Polish renewables market with an eye on 30 projects with more than 1GW of capacity.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
September 7, 2022
15:30 AEST (UTC +10)
Solar Media Events
September 14, 2022
London
Solar Media Events
October 4, 2022
New York, USA
Solar Media Events
October 11, 2022
Virtual event