So far, 2020 has seen plenty of buzz and optimism regarding PV manufacturing’s return to the European continent. Multiple projects are in various stages of development, promising to bring gigawatts of PV module making capacity, as well as cells and other components, to Europe over the coming years.
With an announcement yesterday stating it plans to begin large-scale production by the end of this year, the IconIQ-Greenfab consortium could be among the first to get off the ground. The consortium comprises Dutch module manufacturer Energyra, working alongside research institutes TNO and ISC Konstanz.
Energyra has previously struggled to get manufacturing up and running at its 100 MW facility in Zaandam. The company declared insolvency in April 2019, citing delayed delivery of factory equipment and a shortage of working capital. However, with renewed interest in European manufacturing this year, alongside a unique ‘high end’ product offering the company is convinced it can be successful this time around. “The IconIQ solar panel combines two high-quality technologies, and offers many advantages, such as lead-free, solder-free contacting and greatly improved robustness,” says Energyra Europe’s Daniël Kuijk. “Our panel is not only lead-free but also free of fluorine and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which is not the case for mainstream solar panels. To achieve something like this, you need the entire value chain.”
The consortium hopes to see a rapid scale-up of manufacturing activities in Europe, estimating that an annual volume of 5 GW would be needed to make the industry cost-competitive with modules imported from Asia. They further note that such an expansion could create 15,000 jobs in PV and related industries, as well as significantly lowering the carbon footprint of the modules by reducing long-distance transport in the supply chain.
“This unique solar panel by Energyra and its partners offers a massive opportunity to the EU’s advanced manufacturing industry and its suppliers,” commented Gaëtan Masson, co-chair of the European Solar Manufacturing Council, who spoke at the launch event in Zaandam. “It will also lessen the dependence of the EU on Asian imports, which has suffered significantly in the COVID crisis.”
The IconIQ module is based on ZEBRA interdigitated back contact (IBC) cells, a concept developed by ISC Konstanz aimed at reducing production cost for high efficiency back contact technologies. The cells have been shown to reach 24% in production, and while they still likely cost a little more than standard silicon PERC modules they offer further advantages in operation.
“Back-contact technology could become mainstream for rooftop, building integration as well as for product integration, as there are several advantages that clearly overcompensate the past draw-backs,” commented ISC Konstanz’s Radovan Kopecek. “One of the major draw-backs has been the higher cost of IBC technology, which we have addressed now with our highly efficient, low-cost ZEBRA cell technology. Let´s start high volume PV production in the EU with combining the best technologies of EU´s leading institutes in the future.”