The mood of “cautious optimism” that kicked off the week in Lisbon continues. Speakers and exhibitors appear more confident than ever that solar cell and module performance will continue to improve, and that reliability and system lifetimes will increase.
The practical matters of rolling out these technology improvements at scale and integrating them into landscapes and electricity grids around the world are emerging as a new set of key concerns for solar experts in every specialty, and topics related to these take a prominent position at this year’s conference.
Topping the agenda since day one has been the geopolitics of manufacturing. The risk of continuing to rely on a single region for supply is becoming an essential component in energy systems. And there is a clear consensus that the solar industry wants to see action from the European Union and member state governments to support the establishment of a domestic supply chain for solar energy products via incentives.
Grid and landscape
Beyond that headline, several sessions have delved into the grid constraints that threaten to slow down solar installations in some otherwise leading markets – a topic that SolarPower Europe CEO Walburga Hemetsberger called for researchers to address in the opening panel discussion on Monday. Solutions to these constraints are grid upgrades, energy storage and increased interconnection. Here as well, regulation seems to be a major hold up, and consensus is that allowing more private investment in grid infrastructure would be an effective way to speed up the required changes to energy infrastructure.
Integrating solar into landscapes and built environments has also been a key topic, as land constraints begin to be felt. Tuesday afternoon saw a session dedicated to ensuring the reliability of PV systems in tough climates such as deserts and water surfaces, and introduced the possibility of accelerated testing specifically designed to simulate these environments – a presentation by Bengt Jäckel of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Photovoltaics introduced the idea of “mission profiles” to test PV equipment under the combined stresses of different environmental conditions. And the extra capacity that could be opened up by improvements in building-integrated PV products, agrivoltaics and also by simple efficiency improvements getting more energy out of the same amount of space.
Impressive progress in PV module recycling is also on show at this year’s conference, with high technology approaches to shred modules using light pulses or high pressure water jets on show, and new processes focused on extracting the most valuable materials for reuse. And it’s clear from those presenting and in the audience during this session that an industry is forming around these processes, with both new startup companies and those already established in glass recycling all looking at setting up factories able to handle several thousand tons of module waste per year.
Wednesday morning’s session covering the latest in silicon PV technologies also illustrated the industry’s growing focus on sustainability – with a presentation from Longi Solar’s Chunxui Li detailing potential problems with the supply of indium for heterojunction modules, and a neat way to get around this, achieving better than 26% cell efficiency.
This session later moved on to the high efficiency cell technologies now making their way from laboratories toward manufacturing.
Offering a comprehensive update on tandem cell technologies, Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin’s Rutger Schlatmann stated that the progress made and the number of companies pursuing the technology mean that the solar industry is now committed to bringing perovskite technology to the market. This was underlined in the following presentation by Oxford PV’s Laura Miranda and has been reflected in many other presentations on the topic of perovskites – which have focused on the development of testing and characterization techniques, as well as large-scale manufacturing processes, with few presentations demonstrating new lab-made cells.
Finally, on the technology front, First Solar’s Matthew Merfert revealed some impressive results and an ambitious roadmap for the US-based thin-film giant. The company hopes to increase its efficiency to 25% over the next few years, and has also successfully demonstrated an approach to replace its metal back contacting structure with a transparent conductive oxide, potentially opening doors to bifacial cadmium-telluride modules, and the uses of this technology in a tandem or multijunction cell stack.
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