We hear of the MENA region's emergence as a major solar market, does this also apply to thin film modules?
I will definitely say yes. Due to the temperature coefficient, thin film and also CPV are adapted to very hot regions. The favorable solar irradiation in this region motivates several countries to invest in solar energy and we have to develop sustainable models including the efficient use of resources and particularly semiconductors.
Why do you think thin film modules are suited to the MENA region?
The significant drop of the photovoltaic modules price in the recent years brings us closer to grid parity. With the continuing improvement in the solar technology efficiency and optimization of its cost, it is most likely that thin film modules will be economically viable in the MENA Region because of two advantages: (i) On the one hand thin film modules are more adapted to high temperature levels; and (ii) on the other, we do not have the requirement to minimize the plant area. On the deserted regions, the land could be valorized with photovoltaic power plants.
What are the possibilities for thin film module production to be located in the MENA region?
MENA countries want to develop the local content, but still have a very small production capacity. Different countries in the MENA region offer several incentives to attract industries. In MENA countries, with float glass manufacturing, it would be very interesting to produce thin film locally. This could facilitate the transportation and logistics and optimize the costs. And it will also allow countries that want to invest in solar technology to have complete access to the whole value chain due to particularity of the industrial process of the thin film production.
Is domestic production preferred / encouraged in MENA countries? Which ones?
Some MENA countries deployed non-grid connected photovoltaic panels, particularly under rural electrification programs, and launched some specific time-limited programs. Tunisia, for example, embarked on the support for renewable power with a residential photovoltaic program between 2010 and 2012.
Thus, offering support mechanism, which comprises both a subsidy to the initial investment and a loan, which reimbursement is included in the monthly electricity bill. The vast majority of the Maghreb countries has prepared or is preparing the legal as well as the institutional framework to set off and develop this sector.
In the short- and medium-term, mainly the development of small size photovoltaic power plants and PV facilities on commercial scale are expected to grow favorably, because photovoltaics will achieve the grid parity with conventional energy sources in several MENA countries.
What would your advice be to thin film firms looking to become more established in the MENA region?
Existing market forces have attracted international photovoltaic players only to those markets with the highest feed-in tariff. This approach was suitable for the development of the photovoltaic market in the developed countries. Regarding the Power Purchasing Parity of MENA countries, a different approach has to be considered forcing investors to adapt a different business model. Especially that MENA countries have favorable climate conditions allowing for a strong and economically sustainable development of photovoltaic.
Thin film firms have to develop partnerships with local companies, which are very interested in different kind of partnerships. Even if it is a difficult time, they have to install small pilot projects to present the product and to convince the decision makers, who are not familiar with this technology.
What MENA photovoltaic applications (type of installation) are you most excited about or interested in?
I have to say that building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is a very interesting application for the MENA region. As you can see, our countries are in a period of strong development and new cities will be built. So, it would be easier to incorporate photovoltaic in buildings in harmony with the architecture. Another very important photovoltaic application will be the answer to the water-shortage in the MENA region with the integration of photovoltaic in desalination process.
Solarpraxis AG will host the Thin Film Industry Forum,
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