Solar modules with glass-enameled steel backs


From pv magazine USA

Toledo Solar, the first thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar panel manufacturer in the United States, has been given a $200,000 federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) for R&D on lighter solar panels.

Specifically, the company will develop modules with glass-enameled steel backs, rather than using a glass sheet to encapsulate the panel. Toledo Solar already had plans in the works to research glass-enameled, steel-backed modules, but the SBIR grant just expedited the process.

The research is also not being done to determine whether glass-enameled, steel-backed module technology is a possibility – more so to test that technology against traditional modules to see how they compare in energy production and degradation/failure rates when exposed to the elements.

The idea is that glass-enameled, steel-backed modules are lighter than their traditional counterparts, making them easier to install. But the steel backing also opens up different racking possibilities, beyond individual mounting clips. Durability, however, is the main concern of these potential modules, as steel has different heat-expansion properties than glass and may also have difficulty standing up to more extreme weather conditions, including prolonged snow coverage.

If the development of these panels is successful, Toledo Solar can then apply for a second-phase SBIR grant from the DoE. This second grant would provide much more operating capital, coming in at $1.6 million over a two-year period. This second grant could help Toledo Solar get closer to commercial-scale production of glass-enameled, steel-backed modules.

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Residential solar

So far, Toledo Solar’s entire manufacturing philosophy has been to zig where other manufacturers zag. Aaron Bates – chairman of the Atlas Venture Group, which owns Toledo Solar – said as much when the company began commercial operations.

“We recognize the void in the non-utility solar markets that have been underserved by silicon solar panels. Cad-Tel is clearly a better option,” Bates said. “We are excited to lead this investment in Toledo and continue to push Cad-Tel solar technology forward.”

Toledo Solar is looking to establish the company as the premier (and only) residential CdTe panel manufacturer. It’s also looking to be the first company to commercialize a glass-enameled, steel-backed solar module.

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