Off-grid module manufacturer OPES Solutions expands smart manufacturing


Combining flexibility and automation

Requirements for module shapes and sizes have become much more diverse because of a rise in the number of fields of application for solar solutions. OPES Solutions CEO Robert Händel said: “While energy access and smart city projects require customized solar modules, standardized and automated production is the key to quality and cost-effectiveness. The smart manufacturing approach provides the cost advantages of automation but still keeps us flexible.”

To implement the smart manufacturing principle, OPES has introduced a management approach integrating manual production islands, where required, into its largely automated manufacturing process. Combining manual and automated production steps allows a swift switch from one module type to another several times a day.

Trend towards growth, diversification and pay-as-you-go

OPES developed its approach as an answer to markets that are both growing and changing: In the off-grid solar energy sector, market researchers are expecting double-digit annual growth rates with especially high growth being forecast for energy access applications. For solar lamps, which make up the largest part of this segment, an annual growth rate of more than 15% is expected until 2024, when the market should reach a volume of $10.8 billion.

In this context, pay-as-you-go solutions are becoming a more and more popular choice. This means that users do not have to buy a product outright but that they pay for using it. According to a member survey by the Gogla industry association, the pay-as-you-go share of the solar lamp market reached around 57% in 2018 with other off-grid solar applications achieving a pay-as-you-go share of 92%.

At the same time, there is a constant stream of new developments. Examples include modules being integrated into vehicles or infrastructure components or being used to provide power for sensors. And the emergence of smart cities has been reinforcing this trend. The combination of more diverse requirements and increasing pay-as-you-go distribution is raising demands on bandwidth and module durability. “Outages affecting pay-as-you-go devices can jeopardize the entire business model. Product quality is key for solution providers and, by extension, for us as their suppliers.”