SolarWorld unveils record-setting test module

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SolarWorld on Monday unveiled a record-setting 306 W test module at its research and development facility in Freiberg, Germany, that utilizes a number of new technologies, including second-generation Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) innovations.

"TÜV Rheinland has certified the second-generation modules with a power output of 306 W. This sets a world record for PERC modules in standard 60-cell format," said Dr. Holger Neuhaus, head of SolarWorld Innovations GmbH, the group’s research and development facility.

SolarWorld oversaw the three-year development of the module while working with more than a dozen companies and research institutions as part of Germany’s Photovoltaics Innovation Alliance Sonne research project, which is supported by the German government.

The companies joined forces in 2011 to develop highly efficient and low-cost solar cells and modules. The team managed to increase the performance of the test module from the standard 240-260 W to up to 300 W thanks to the new PERC technology.

SolarWorld currently produces 265-275 W first-generation PERC modules, which the company says dramatically reduces system costs for customers by producing the same amount of energy in smaller areas and thus reducing area-based costs for installations.

However, the best technologies can prove worthless if they are not economically feasible. SolarWorld therefore strives to use new technology to increase efficiency without raising costs, according to Neuhaus. The approach would not necessarily affect the final price of the product, however, as that is determined by the market.

In addition to the better efficiency, the durability of the new modules also adds to the economic advantages. The two-millimeter glass that covers both front and rear better protect the cells and make the modules more durable than the simple back sheets used in standard panels.

Although other module manufacturers, including Solarwatt, Centrosolar and some Asian producers, are developing similar technology, it remains unclear which specific companies are using it in actual production rather than just in company brochures. Neuhaus also remained tight-lipped about SolarWorld’s production figures.

SolarWorld nevertheless boasts top marks for its new module: it has increased its performance guarantee to 30 years and says test results show a much smaller rate of annual degradation – only 0.35% per kilowatt hour compared to 0.7% among standard modules.

According to Neuhaus, if one takes into account the higher efficiency and longer life of the new modules, electricity production costs for small rooftop installations in Germany would be about €0.15 cents per kilowatt hour.

Yet a closer assessment is not possible since the manufacturer will not provide absolute prices.

To what extent SolarWorld’s new module will increase the company’s global competitiveness remains to be seen and cannot be determined based on the basis of the test results and data presented at the press conference.