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Solar Production Technology
Solar Companies Increase the Speed of Innovations
Subsidy cut-backs are slowing down the development of photovoltaics and forcing manufacturers to seek cost-cutting new developments. Increases in efficiency are being focussed on here. To do this, companies are improving the quality of their semiconductors, changing the architecture of their cells and using state-of-the-art production technology.
Photo gallery to the topic Solar Companies Increase the Speed of Innovations
Efficiency in focusshow photos
To reduce costs, solar manufacturers are increasing the efficiency of their cells.
(Photo: Schott Solar)
Special treatmentshow photos
Selective emitters are among the latest achievements of solar research. Phosphorus layers varying in thickness are “burned into” the wafer surface.
Blue chaosshow photos
Multi-crystalline wafers have an irregular structure. The latest production procedures reduce structural defects in the crystal.
(Photo: PV Crystalox)
Gentle and quickshow photos
Efficiency increases are one way to reduce costs; more speed in production is another. In the meantime, mechanical engineers now offer a plethora of automation solutions.
Once again, the innovation comes from Asia. Chinese company Ja Solar has developed a solar cell made of multi-crystalline silicon, which converts almost one percentage point more light into electricity than the previously conventional multi-crystalline cells, thanks to an improved purity of the semiconductor. A special procedure to manufacture silicon ingots reduces damaging structural defects in the crystal. As a result, the efficiency increases from 16.6 to up to 17.5 percent.
“We combine the advantages of multi-crystalline and mono-crystalline silicon,” explains Philipp Matter, vice director of Ja Solar Germany. Mono-crystalline cells achieve higher efficiencies than multi-crystalline, but they are more expensive due to the laborious ingot manufacturing process. In order to compensate for the deficits of multi-crystalline silicon, Ja Solar combines the advantages of the two ingot processes into one procedure. “This produces higher-quality material with almost unchanging production costs,” says Matter. The hybrid cells produced from this should be available on the market by this summer under the name “Maple”.
With the new technology, Ja Solar is increasing the speed in the innovation competition of photovoltaic manufacturers. The companies are under massive pressure to reduce costs: Almost all European countries with feed-in compensation for solar energy have reduced the subsidy tariffs because the intensive photovoltaic development has careered out of control. For this reason, the European solar industry association Epia believes a decrease in new installations of about 20 percent to 13300 megawatts (MW) is possible in 2011.
For the solar industry, a serious problem emerges from this. In the belief of long-term growth, many manufacturers made the decisions to invest in new factories last year. Now, when the capacity development is well underway or the decisions to invest can no longer be changed, the demand for photovoltaics is sinking. This means many factories are not working at full capacity. According to the US market researcher iSuppli, the production capacity of this year will grow to 30000 MW – with a requirement of just 21700 MW. “A market adjustment is imminent, which only a few companies will survive unscathed,” says iSuppli analyst Stefan deHaan.