The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.

A Rush to Innovate Silicon Solar Technology

It wasn't so long ago when some solar company executives – particularly those in the thin film business – dismissed the idea that innovation could still thrive in the world of crystalline silicon technology. The silicon technology was getting cheaper and factories were getting larger, and its dominance seemed unshakable, at least in the short-term. Why would anyone invest in new materials or production processes?

Turns out, a lot more can be done to chip away at the manufacturing cost. This is especially true when silicon technology companies are eager to set their products apart in a market that’s got way too many same-same solar panels.

“There is a real sense now that the crystalline silicon process flow, which has been fairly mature and undifferentiated, is headed for a change,” said Shyam Mehta, senior analyst at GTM Research, during a webinar on the photovoltaic market outlook on Tuesday.

Mehta rattled off some of the technologies that are being developed or employed: select emitters, cast monocrystalline ingot, backside passivation. Silicon wafers will become thinner than the 200-micron variety that is commonly used today. All these technologies are meant to reduce material costs and improve the amount of sunlight that solar cells can convert to electricity.

It’s not as if solar companies all of a sudden woke up and decided they needed to take risks and experiment. Some of these new materials and factory equipment have been under development for some years and are only now good enough to make their debut in the market. Others were technologies that weren’t developed as stand-alone products. Instead, their makers had intended to keep them in-house for making solar cells and panels for sale. Startups that have modified their business plans along the way included Twin Creeks Technologies (thin wafers), 1366 Technologies (low-cost wafers) and Calisolar (purified metallurgical silicon; the company changed its name to Silicor Materials).

Innovalight also morphed from a solar cell maker into silicon ink developer. It signed up a bunch of manufacturers that used the ink to improve their cells’ efficiencies.  DuPont bought Innovalight last year but didn’t’ disclose the purchase price.

The troubling imbalance of supply and demand that has plagued the PV business over the past year and a half is prompting PV companies to accelerate new technology development. Or they are trying. Solar cell and panel makers who in the past used standardized equipment are all looking for ways to boost the efficiencies of their products, whether through in-house R&D development or technology acquisitions. Suntech Power made a big deal about a process to create a hybrid wafer that produces more efficient cells. Canadian Solar boasts of a new technology that can collect more light, and its CEO is weighing whether to build a 700 MW factory to produce solar cells with the new technology.

With all these new technologies coming onto the market, we can expect cheaper and cheaper solar panels for many more years to come, right? The cost of making solar panels fell to around $0.96 per watt in 2011 for vertically-integrated factories in China, home to the heaviest concentration of silicon solar panel makers, GTM said. The cost will likely fall to $0.64 per watt before this year is over and reach $0.47 per watt in 2015. 

RELATED ARTICLES

Wind turbines

Why It's Time To Get Real About Energy Security

Hannah Smith, Contributor Energy is Europe’s quiet crisis. While the clamour of failing economies, desperate migrants and political clashes grabs the headlines, energy policy is rarely front-page news, but it should be — the statistics are shocking.

Largest Solar Farm in Virginia Just Commissioned by Amazon Web Services

Renewable Energy World Editors Back in 2012, Amazon received a failing grade from Greenpeace regarding its use of renewable energy to power its cloud centers. Skip a couple years and in 2014 Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a goal of achievi...

A Closer Look at Fossil and Renewable Energy Subsidies

Susan Kraemer, Contrubutor A new study by the International Monetary Fund puts the total cost of fossil fuel subsidies at approximately $10 million a minute globally, when health costs and environmental degradation are included, never mind the effect...

How to Win Planning Permission for Renewable Energy Projects (and Influence People)

Tildy Bayar, Contributor At Tuesday afternoon’s POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe conference session in Amsterdam, Paul Davison of PR firm Proteus discussed how to best communicate with the public regarding renewable ener...
Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 3
1505REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Microgrid Global Innovation Forum

Microgrid Global Innovation Forum  This event brings together thoug...

Grid Edge Live

Grid Edge Live 2015 The impressive two and a half day agenda addresses k...

2015 Solar Power International

Stop by and visit Canadian Solar at the 2015 SPI show!

COMPANY BLOGS

Signing a Solar Lease? Here are Five Things You Need to Know

Solar leases have grown in popularity, and they continue to be one of th...

DIY: Don’t Install Yourself

You finally made the choice to go solar. Seems like it might be pretty e...

Capturing Your Prospects' Attention In Three Sentences

You have about 15 seconds to capture your prospects’ attention, wh...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS