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The status and future of industrial n-type silicon solar cells

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By Joris Libal, Research Engineer, ISC Konstanz; Radovan Kopecek, Leader of the Advanced Solar Cells Department, ISC Konstanz

According to the ITRPV (International Roadmap for PV), a large fraction of future solar cells will be n-type and rear-contact cells with the highest efficiencies and fabricated using low-cost processes. As the standard p-type silicon solar cell in mass production is completely optimized and has therefore reached its cost limit, it is currently very difficult for new solar cell concepts to be cost effective from the outset when introduced into production. Consequently, in the current market situation, the introduction of new solar cell concepts to the market is not straightforward. The only way to achieve this is to use the fully adapted standard processes employed in today's manufacturing lines and only upgrade them with a few industrially approved process steps – such as laser ablation and boron diffusion – in order to implement low-cost device structures with stable efficiencies well above 20%. This paper gives an overview of n-type cell concepts already present on the market and of promising technologies ready for pilot production; the latter were summarized and discussed at the 3rd nPV workshop in April 2013 in Chambéry, France. The consequences for module manufacturing, as well as for measurement techniques and for requirements in respect of new standardization for cell and module characterization, will also be discussed..

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There have been encouraging signs in recent months of changing fortunes for PV equipment suppliers after a difficult period of consolidation. Shipment figures, actual and forecast, have in many instances seen an upswing, as booming markets in Japan, China and the US continue to drive demand, even as some European markets continue to dwindle. It’s probably too early to call the beginnings of a new PV technology buy cycle, but it seems more a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if ’ now, and analysts have pointed to mid-2014 as the likely point when supply and demand will be in some kind of equilibrium. Clearly the implication of this is that if demand continues to rise beyond this point, supply will have to keep up, so manufacturers will have to invest in new capacity.

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