Solar

The quest for grid parity

The general consensus is that Sicily, Italy, will be the first place in the world to reach grid parity, defined as the cross-even point where energy from photovoltaic-produced solar power costs the same as that delivered by the local utility.

The general consensus is that Sicily, Italy, will be the first place in the world to reach grid parity, defined as the cross-even point where energy from photovoltaic-produced solar power costs the same as that delivered by the local utility. This is because Italy has some of the highest electricity costs in the world, yet is also quite sunny. California and other parts of Europe will not be far behind, as the cost of electricity generated by conventional techniques (which still typically use coal as the fuel source) rises 3-4% per year, while the cost of solar-generated power drops due to increases in cell efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs.

Making solar power more affordable is the focus of a growing army of people and manufacturers around the world. Plants are cranking out solar cells made of silicon and other materials at an amazing rate (3000 substrates per hour is not uncommon). The solar cells and modules produced by these plants, which are running 24/7, are destined for rooftops and for huge solar farms. The statistics are readily available so I will not present those here, but what’s interesting is that the size of these factories is rapidly growing. In 2005, a typical photovoltaic cell manufacturing plant was designed to produce about 60 MW of power per year. In 2008, that number has grown to 510 MW. There are some major differences in terms of the technologies employed; crystalline silicon (cSi) is now by far the leader, but thin film technology is catching up. This, of course, determines the toolsets and materials used and the factory size.

What we will be covering in Photovoltaics World is the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells and modules, including various cells designs and technology types: cSi, thin-film and concentrated photovoltaics. We’ll be looking at advances in various process steps, such as laser scribing, substrate cleaning and texturing, automation, waste treatment and recycling, reliability and testing, and other key aspects of a high volume PV manufacturing. We’ll also, at times, get into issues further down the supply chain, including ?balance of system? components.

Enjoy our inaugural issue, and check out our new website at www.pvworld.com. If you’d like to contribute, please let me know.

Pete Singer
Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]