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EU PVSEC: a review of 2008's solar PV event


Paula Mints

For those that missed the photovoltaic (PV) industry's biggest event of the year in Valencia, Spain, Paula Mints offers a review of the event's major talking points…

Overview

NB: part of this article is an excerpt from a forthcoming article to be published in the October 31, 2008 issue (SO2008-5) of Solar Outlook, written by Paula Mints and published by Navigant Consulting.

A rousing crowd of over 4000 attendees from 87 countries packed the convention center in muy caliente Valencia, Spain from 1–5 September, for the 23rd European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition.

Conference highlights – in a nutshell

Dr. Heinz Ossenbrink, European Commission and conference technical program chair, presented conference highlights at the closing session. These included:

Advanced Photovoltaics

  • Proof of concept for Dr. Martin Green's tandem cells using quantum dots, primarily, SiO2;
  • Improved stability in organic structures.

Wafer-based PV Technology

  • SiGen wafering by proton beam, no kerf loss and ultra thin wafers;
  • Kyocera 17.2% module with back contact polycrystalline cells;
  • Sanyo 20.4% HIT cell;
  • IMEC 16.6% cell, thin wafer.

Thin-films

SoloPower, 11% roll-to-roll electroplated CIGS.

Components

ISE, Freiburg, performance of LEDs for small lanterns.

System

Matching very large scale PV to the grid, penetration limits with and without storage.

Deployment

  • Spain - 500-MWp, cap for 2009;
  • Greece - 2000-MWp waiting for installation, stalled;
  • Italy - 450-MWp expected in 2009;
  • Korea - 100,000 solar roofs (not, vert, similar300-MWp) by 2012;
  • Japan - bringing back programme.

NB: for an in depth look at the conference, see Paula Mints' article in Solar Outlook (October 31, 2008 issue (SO2008-5).

The programme at this year's event was balanced, and though not particularly groundbreaking, informative. Of particular interest was a session in which Applied Materials and Oerlikon presented an update on current progress.

In the exhibit hall over 600 exhibitors in four halls along with spillover booths outside of the halls made it impossible for attendees to do justice to both the conference and the exhibit. Numerous papers and visual presentations meant that there was too much to see, too much to do … and that a good time was had by all.

The most highly anticipated news at this year's conference was the final word on Spain's anticipated cap (finally set at 500-MWp), while the most interesting gossip surrounded the increasingly tense competition between Applied Solar and Oerlikon in the race to sell turnkey systems, along with who's customer would be first on the market with a tandem junction a-Si (micromorph) product or single junction a-Si. In this highly anticipated session, specific answers regarding deposition rates and the necessity to use expensive TCO material (instead of commercial materials) were addressed, but not in depth. These are important points as they go directly to efficiency and manufacturing cost.

The 24 EU PVSEC will be held in Hamburg, Germany, from 21–25 September 2009.

A view from the opening session

Dr. Daniel Lincot, research director at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and 23rd EU PVSEC conference chair, offered his personal view of the environmental crisis facing the world, and called for accelerated development of solar technologies, “so that the industry can reach the terawatt level of electricity delivery”.

Spain's regional minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Mario Flores Lanuza explained that Valencia is an important site for energy, and home to several important renewable energy events. With growing international concern and consensus for energy independence and rising energy costs, renewable energy technologies are making an important contribution to a global climate crisis.

15% of the solar installed in Spain is located in Valencia, with >100-MWp installed in the city by June 2008. Communities also benefit from supporting a strong solar community with jobs and revenues. The minister ended his address with a strong statement about the high price of solar in Europe: “During this period of reassessment of Spain's PV program, it is important to control prices and to ensure the future competitiveness of the technology.”

Technology focus: Schott Solar

Dr. Peter Lechner discussed Schott's progress in his paper, The Status of Performance of Thin Film Si Solar Cells and Modules.

For tandem junction a-Si, Schott has chosen the a-Si/a-Si pin/pin route, remarking that the technology has a thin and stable top cell, and no uniformity or shunt issues. Dr. Lechner noted that cell thickness of 250 to 350 nanometers is best for maximum efficiency.

Typically, light induced degradation (LID), the Staebler-Wronski effect, is 22% to 30%. (LID is sensitive to thickness variations.) Schott's a-Si/a-Si pin/pin 117-watt module is stable at 98-watts with not, vert, similar16% light induced degradation. The company's Gen 5 module has a potential efficiency of >7%. Schott believes that the a-Si/a-Si pin/pin route fills a gap between a-Si single junction and other micromorph pathways. Production for this method is not turnkey, so Schott is using different providers for its equipment.

Dr. Lechner noted that glass manufacturers have mentioned that glass availability could potentially provide a bottleneck. He also noted that low deposition rates in micromorph will increase deposition costs, a significant issue in micromorph production.

Alfonso Gonzalez Finat, Directorate General for Energy and Transport for the European Commission, spoke about the EC view of renewables and PV in Europe, especially in relation to the 20% by 2020 directive currently going through the decision-making process. As well as binding renewables targets for Member States, another important goal is to eliminate administrative roadblocks along with adding predictability and stability for the developers and manufacturers of renewable technologies. There is no lack of solutions to the global climate crisis, but there is a lack of time. Europe's Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET plan) is also extremely important to realising these goals, he said.

Giovanni de Santi, director, Institute for Energy at the European Commission's Joint Research Commission (JRC), agreed that time was of the essence. According to de Santi, the EU is not on a pathway to achieve its energy goals, does not have a common vision in this regard, has a lack of innovation drivers, and an insufficient research budget. Intrinsic weaknesses include the long development timeline necessary to commercialise PV technologies, the lack of a natural market, and little social awareness as to the problem. Unfortunately, people continue to want cheap energy, and this sometimes means polluting energy, he concluded.

Dr. Ernesto Macias, European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) president and communication and external affairs general manager at Isofoton spoke about the impact of climate change on people worldwide. Noting the lack of sensibility coming from politicians concerning the environment, he said that the world needs a dramatic change to make a difference. Unfortunately, renewable technologies, particularly PV, have a subsidy stigma. As an industry we need to develop appropriate educational messages and transmit these messages – the facts – to the public, he said.

Turning to Spain, Dr. Macias spoke of the explosion in demand in 2007 and 2008, and noted that the Government was set on a cap of 300-MWp for 2009. (Editor's note – the Spanish Government actually set the cap at 400-MWp for 2009, with 100-MWp as a bridge, a total of 500-MWp). Dr. Macias noted that Spain had >80% energy dependency on external sources.

And he concluded by calling for the development of other markets in other countries. The PV industry cannot continue to rely on Europe for >70% of demand, China, the USA and other world markets need to contribute, he concluded.

A view from the closing session

Dr. Wim Sinke, ECN, gave a brief overview of the EU PV technology platform at the closing session. The EU has four platform committees:

  • WG1 – Policy and Instruments;
  • WG2 – Market Deployment;
  • WG3 – Technology;
  • WG4 – Developing Countries.

Technology focus: Oerlikon

One of the conference sessions, Production and Performance of Large Area Thin Film Silicon Modules, proved exceptionally popular, with attendees eager to hear papers from Oerlikon and Applied Materials - on each company's status, progress, and expectations.

Efficiency update

Dr. Johannes Meier joined Oerlikon in 2003, and leads the company's R&D effort. He discussed TCO (transparent conductive oxide) as a key issue for light trapping. Oerlikon's LPCVD ZnO (single chamber process) offers stability, and efficiency of around 9.5% for single junction a-Si. Use of low temperature (≤200 degrees centigrade) allows for use on the back contact as well as the front contact. Results of using LPCVD ZnO included enhanced total and diffuse transmission (haze), which is significant. Results for Oerlikon for micromorph tandem junction amorphous with ASAHI, U type SnO are ≥12%, and with LPCVD ZnO, <12%.

Challenges faced by the European, and indeed, the global PV industry, that are being addressed by the WG3 (technology) are:

  • Reducing technology cost/price;
  • Becoming independent of subsidies;
  • Becoming “convincing”, and communicating the attributes of the technology and necessity to develop it;
  • Focus on a portfolio of technologies, no silver bullet.

Dr. Sinke also pointed out that the development of PV technology requires a balanced approach in technologies and applications. The EU Platform committee is teaming up with the EPIA on the development of the Solar Europe Initiative (SEI). As an industry, PV must prepare for gigawatt scale manufacturing. The industry must understand grid parity points for specific market segments and countries as a function of time to the addressable market.

Dr. Sinke concluded by saying that the new SEI objective is 12% of electricity production from PV by 2020.

Grid parity – a view from the exhibition hall

With 715 exhibitors filling four halls along with corridor overflow exhibitions, conference attendees found it difficult to choose between session attendance and visiting the exhibit hall. Despite strong conference attendance though, the aisles in the exhibit halls never seemed crowded, though there was a steady flow of visitors.

With the variety of exhibits, along with ad hoc workshops presented in (among others) the EPIA booth, a fruitful conference experience could be had in the exhibit hall alone.

Perhaps one of the more interesting workshops was one organised by the EPIA, on the topic of Grid Parity. The panel consisted of Winfried Hoffmann, Applied Solar, Stephan Hansen, First Solar, Bernard Dimmler, Wurth Solar, Kai Siemer, Solon, Anton Milner, Q-Cells, and Manfred Bachler, Phoenix Solar. The panel – and workshop attendees – had the task of defining Grid Parity in a business sense. (Editor's Note: Grid Parity is the price of solar electricity equal to the price of conventional electricity that the end user is paying. Grid parity levels the playing field, though it does not create a market or unlimited demand for solar electricity).

The panel agreed that market support for the PV industry will be necessary until 2015 to 2018, and will still be necessary after grid parity is achieved. To illustrate this last point, the panel offered this question: Why, in markets where grid parity has been reached, is demand still compromised?

Technology focus: Applied Materials

Efficiency update

Dr. Chae presented the current status of Applied Material's a-Si and tandem junction amorphous products. Applied is targeting a manufacturing cost of US$1.00/Wp by 2010. Applied has achieved a stable lab efficiency of 7.93% for its single junction a-Si. After initial degradation of 18% to 21% (depending on TCO materials) the company's single junction product stabilises at 6%. The highest quality (most expensive) TCO material is necessary for 18%, with commercially available TCO producing degradation of not, vert, similar21%.

Panel members noted that the market for remote systems (though much smaller than that of the grid connected market) is self sustaining and economically viable already.

Regarding grid parity, the panel members had the following comments:

  • Bernard Dimmler noted that grid parity is a matter of cost and lifetime;
  • Kai Siemer asked about the parameters for grid parity, and noted that it is all about cost/price;
  • Anton Milner said that grid parity is a necessary – but not sufficient condition – for self sufficiency. He noted that in the EU by 2040, 20% to 25% of the generation capacity needs to be replaced by renewables. The industry must continue bringing the cost of the technology down, however, grid parity is at the system level, not the component level. He added that Governments must create conditions for the market with appropriate policies;
  • Manfred Bachler offered an opposing view, noting that he did not believe that the price of PV generated electricity will ever drop to the level of conventionally generated electricity. However, he was quick to point out that he certainly hoped to be proven wrong.

 

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