Top 10 PV-Tech Product Reviews of 2011

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This year should go down as the most innovative in the history of the PV industry – despite or perhaps because of the turmoil it has experienced – simply based on the number of new products the industry launched in 2011 across the entire supply chain. PV-Tech was able to review over 120 products in our ‘Product Review’ format this year, though many others were covered in detail as news stories, which poses a slight dilemma when trawling through Google Analytics to provide an accurate assessment of readers’ interest in new products!

However, in keeping with tradition and due to the immense interest each year in this review, we have contained the rankings to the Product Review format, but have given special mention to some that would have been included in the Top 10 were they not covered as news stories at the time they were announced.

As previously noted, unlike most news stories, product reviews tend to have a life of their own. Interest can often be highly consistent throughout the year, or flurries of interest can be sparked outside of the initial coverage time online.

This can result in products featured in previous years actually continuing in popularity or gaining completely new interest – as a result, the most popular products of 2011 do not necessarily always relate to products launched and reviewed in that same year, which perhaps provides an interesting insight into reader interest in certain products.

This is certainly true of the 10th most viewed product in 2011. Covered in January, 2010, two years after its launch and the most viewed product in 2010’s rankings is Kaneka’s ‘Hybrid’ microcrystalline thin-film module. As in previous years, the most popular product can gain a new lease of life and interest – a trait that is again evident in this case.

Just outside the 2011 Top 10 is another Top 10 product from 2010, which gained another spell of high readership interest after being linked on a very popular consumer tech-based website featured a blog explaining what a ‘Bernoulli Gripper’ was! Pretty bizarre, but surely Festo doesn’t mind the increased exposure?

The 9th ranked top product by pageviews was the Heraeus Photovoltaic Business Unit’s introduction of the SOL200 Series for back-side tabbing conductors for mono- and multicrystalline silicon solar cell wafers. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as other silver paste products we covered all received strong interest in 2011 as the industry met with the increasing cost of silver and an industry rushing to tackle the problem. Metallization innovations proved to be of significant interest all year as PV manufacturers pushed efficiencies to record new highs.

At numbers 8 and 4 are two products from a company that was widely regarded as having one of the most differentiated products within the overcrowded thin-film module space, Solyndra. The CIGS-based technology producer had introduced several new products before its demise and the one ranked 8th was related to its greenhouse offering. Launched and covered on PV-Tech before Intersolar Europe, it garnered much interest and we were prompted to carry out a video interview with the company, cleverly featuring the product in-shot in the outdoor section of the vast Messe München exhibition centre.

Ranked 7th was another CIGS thin-film module, this time from Honda Soltec. The company’s compact module form factor with 13% conversion efficiencies was covered online in January 2011, and benefited from the advantage of a full year’s exposure.

Moving slightly away from modules at number 6 was Centrosolar’s trapezoidal roofing solution for flexible thin-film mounting applications. This year was noteworthy for the numerous new mounting systems that were introduced. Key to this production shift would seem to be the growing concern that installation costs are not falling as fast as module prices and that mounting system designs needed more attention in this area. Though it would have been impossible to cover the myriad new mounting systems that were introduced in 2011, readers certainly seemed to like this particular trapezoidal roofing solution.

The 5th most popular product was TetraSun and RENA’s IPA-free ‘monoTEX’ wet chemical texturing solution, which claims to provide a quick route to 20% cell efficiencies. Once again, innovations in cell processing steps to boost efficiencies have been of key interest to readers in 2011.

As previously mentioned, a product from Solyndra was in 4th position in the Top 10 rankings of 2011. This time around saw the appearance of the now-defunct company’s 200 Series module, which was its second-generation mainstream product and one that would surely have become its high-volume product at its new manufacturing plant.

The 3rd most popular product and one that surprised most of us came from Schletter, which debuted its module cleaning system for commercial rooftop applications. The well-designed product could be benefiting from the shift in key established markets to increasing focus on the rooftop market and the need to optimize performance of the system as feed-in tariffs decline. A nice video demonstrating how the product works is available on Schletter’s website and YouTube – and certainly didn’t harm its popularity!

The final 2 top product reviews of 2011 were both high-efficiency modules, supporting the theme of innovation and serious drive seen this year in boosting efficiencies over the previous focus on capacity expansions – a trend expected to continue in 2012.

Known for its high-performance c-Si cells, the product that took 2nd spot in our Top 10 most viewed product reviews comes from Q-Cells. In March 2011, Q-Cells marked its major shift into offering modules against business reliance on cell manufacturing as it attempted to broaden its product portfolio and move downstream.  The module had a record efficiency rating of 17.84% (aperture area) and an output of 268W, according to the company. Q-Cells has continued the theme for the year by launching a series of high-efficiency modules.

But the product review that forged ahead of all others to 1st position came from Suntech. Launched in time for Intersolar Europe, the BlackPearl crystalline silicon cell-based module achieved up to 15.2% conversion efficiency and a 250W output. Based on Suntech’s ‘Pluto’ cell technology, the series was claimed to be aesthetically pleasing, something many conventional designs were often criticised for omitting from their product design.

However, another product launched at the same event that currently holds the word record for highest module efficiency levels was SunPower’s 96-cell E20 module.
PV-Tech covered the launch at the time as a video interview from Intersolar, which generated even higher page views than Suntech’s BlackPearl module.

Another product introduction that we covered in a news story that garnered significant interest was Applied Materials’ Baccini ‘Pegaso’ screen printer, which was launched at EU PVSEC.   

Below are the names and links to the Top 10 products by ranking, followed by those products that were covered in a medium other than a PV-Tech Product Review. 

1. Suntech’s 250W ‘BlackPearl’ module offers 10% more power than conventional modules


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