High-efficiency crystalline silicon designs – high efficiency meets “ease” in 2011
By Guest Blogger, Shalom Goffri, Managing Consultant, Energy, Navigant
During fast and heated growth in 2010, the solar market has seen its share of technology shake-ups as well. In July, Applied Materials made headlines by discontinuing new sales of it SunFab thin-film silicon line after production had fallen woefully behind cost and efficiency expectations of the market.
And more recently, Solyndra announced a production hiatus at its Fab1 production site citing market pricing and competition for its tube-shape cells. Meanwhile, high efficiency crystalline silicon developments such as Yingli Green Energy’s Panda or Suntech Power’s Pluto have limped toward commercialization, with plans to run at approximately 10 MW and 6 MW per month, respectively, in late 2010.
However, technology improvements are set to grow in 2011. A handful of crystalline silicon technology developers have made significant headway towards integrating high efficiency designs into commercial production.
Innovalight’s “hybrid” silicon-ink-on-crystalline-silicon design has garnered partnerships with Yingli Green Energy, JA Solar, and Solarfun. According to Innovalight, this selective emitter option enables efficiencies of 19% using p-type mono-crystalline silicon wafers. Production for these commercial designs is expected to have an impact among early adopters in the coming year.
At the same time, AMAT is far from down and out heading into 2011. Expectations are high for its back-contact emitter wrap through (EWT) production, which the firm reports can achieve at least 18.4% cell efficiencies using p-type mono-crystalline silicon wafers.
The EWT cells utilize a matrix of through-holes to direct photo-generated electrons to the back surface of the cell using n-doped emitters. The elimination of the busbar and gridline enable the EWT cells to produce higher currents, partly due to lower shading and partly due to higher charge collection efficiencies. In addition, AMAT claims both lower cell-to-module efficiency losses and a more accurate, automated module assembly process. The timeline for AMAT’s turnkey lines is unannounced, but sales are expected to begin as early as 1H 2011.
What’s key about these higher efficiency technologies and tools? First, they offer high performance to the “masses” of standard efficiency, Asian producers that are looking for a step-up in performance to differentiate themselves moving forward.
Second, both Innovalight’s and AMAT’s solutions enable firms to utilized p-type wafers to push the 19% efficiency performance limit. The highest efficiency players – SunPower and Sanyo – still require the more expensive n-type wafers for their designs.
Third, the availability of licensed and turn-key systems marginalizes the internal efforts of firms like Yingli and Suntech, that have pursued their own higher efficiency designs for several years with little success.
The question remains, however, how cheaply can it be done?
Advent Solar, the source of AMAT’s IP in EWT through an opportunistic acquisitions in Q4 2009, was unable to convert the EWT performance into a cost-effective product. So too, metalized wrap through designs such as those at Solland Solar (now partnered with Schott Solar), have offered high performance but poor costs, stagnating growth for years.
The EWT design – which requires localized doping through the cross-section of the crystalline silicon wafer – is no straightforward task compared with standard H-cells. This risk – combined with AMAT’s previous abandonment of its SunFab line – may offput some investors.
Look for undiversified, low-cost crystalline silicon firms to use this opportunity as a risky jump to take on new solutions to move to the head of the pack in efficiency.
Posted 15/11/2010 by Paula Mints
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