Future PV Forum brings close-to-commercialization technologies into focus

The first Future PV forum was kicked off by German silver paste supplier Heraeus’ Andreas Liebheit. In introducing the speakers, Liebheit remarked that the timing for a commercially-focused technology forum was right given more healthy margins are now being achieved by some large PV module producers and discussions about “next generation” solar technologies are becoming more commonplace.

“Existing players need to be ready to invest in technology,” said Liebheit, “and there is another group of players new to PV who may be ready to invest. The good news is that companies are thinking about how to invest and into what platforms to secure their future.” Liebheit is the senior vice president and global management of the PV business unit of Heraeus.

The Future PV forum featured short presentations from a mix of technology-focused solar companies, from startups raising “B” round financing, to equipment suppliers, materials companies, research bodies and manufacturers. Die sensitized technology pioneer Michael Grätzel delivered a presentation on the progress being made with die sensitized PV and the rapidly growing perovskite field.

“PV will invade the indoor space,” said Grätzel as he showcased the range of semi-transparent and colored applications of die sensitized PV modules, from building facades to office furniture. “The market asks for blue and green colors,” said Grätzel, “especially in the MENA region.” He noted that dye sensitized PV and perovskite applications use vastly less material than crystalline silicon.

Perovskite on the agenda

Oxford PV’s Christopher Case advocated for perovskite PV in his presentation, highlighting the rapid conversion efficiency gains that have been made by perovskite researchers since it was applied to the PV field since 2009. He noted how the number of academic papers on perovskite had increased from a handful three years ago to thousands today. Case set out how Oxford plans to roll out its technology in a c-Si tandem application in its initial stage, but that a wide array of applications could follow.

“It looks and it is inexpensive,” said the Oxford PV CTO while holding up a vial of the company’s perovskite liquid. “In the thin film sector First Solar with CdTe is clearly dominant and there was literally decades of development to it to make it into volume production. Perovskite is driven by material not by equipment.”

On the equipment front, Singulus CEO Stefan Rinck noted that it was a decade ago that Unviersity of New South Wales researcher Martin Green outlined the potential for PERC technology, and that it is only now become deployed at significant volumes in production. He said that he hoped the same was not the case for the technologies on display at the Future PV event.

“PERC now being more widely introduced,” said Rinck. “Singulus is now delivering the PERC machines and we just introduced a turnkey line in Lithuania. On this equipment 21.2% mono PERC cells can be produced. This is the evolutionary development of solar.”

Evolutionary or revolutionary development was one of the themes running through the Future PV discussions. Laser 3D printing technology for the silver paste application was showcased by Israel’s Utilight CEO Giora Dishon, who said the technology has the potential to reduce silver past use and increase cell efficiencies by between 0.25% and 0.4%.

Researchers from Holland’s ECN and Germany’s Helmholz-Zentrum Berlin presented on cell and module technologies being developed by the bodies. Belectric OPV’s Ralph Pätzold made the case for OPV, in the face of the perovskite hype. Markus Fischer, the director of R&D and processes from Hanwha Q CELLS provided the perspective of a GW-scale manufacturer.

“It was a very good mix of development technologies for the standard p-type and then some interesting highlights from ‘new and revolutionary’ technologies, like from Michael Grätzel and Oxford PV,” said Smart Solar Consultings’s Götz Fischbeck. “Featured were things you can expect to see in commercialization within 6 months and others in around three to four years. Both time horizons are very relevant.”

The Future PV Forum was moderated by Helmholz-Zentrum Berlin’s Rutger Schlatmann.