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Routes to increasing efficiency and reducing the cost of thin-film solar panels

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By Joop van Deelen, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Niels van Loon, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Marco Barink, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Marieke Burghoorn, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Zeger Vroon, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, The Netherlands; Pascal Buskens, TNO, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, Aachen, Germany

Most development work in the laboratory is dedicated to efficiency enhancements at the cell level; improvements in efficiency can lead to higher cost-competitiveness of PV. However, the cost of panel manufacturing is an important aspect as well. For CIGS panels the deposition of the active layer is an important part of the cost, and decreasing the layer thickness can reduce costs. Moreover, cost of ownership calculations can determine how much benefit can be expected from thinner absorber layers from a cost perspective; clearly, a thinner absorber will result in reduced absorption. To avoid losses, modelling can be used to predict the efficiency and viable light management strategies. Other efficiency-enhancing technology is related to the fact that most thin-film solar panels are monolithically interconnected. The area loss involved in this type of interconnection, and the trade-off between conductivity and transmittance of the front contact, impose limits on the maximum efficiency. The impact of improving both of these aspects is demonstrated in this paper. A viable way to improve the front contact is by supplementing the front contact with a metallic pattern. The benefit and the impact of different configurations and dimensions of the cell and metallic pattern are presented.

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In the past few issues of Photovoltaics International we have tracked in detail plans being implemented by the leading module manufacturers to expand production capacity. That process began tentatively last year as end-market demand began to catch up with the chronic overcapacity that had built up in the preceding years, prompting industry-wide upheaval. Our latest capacity expansion report (p.11), a unique resource in the industry, reveals that while that activity was maintained throughout much of 2014, spiking in a strong final quarter of 2014, announcements of new capacity slowed slightly in the opening quarter of this year. Nevertheless, all the signs point to the pace picking up again later this year as manufacturers look to take advantage of the surge in activity expected in the US at the back end of this year and into 2016, in anticipation of the cutting back of the solar investment tax credit at the end of that year.

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