Big PV manufacturers zero in on efficiency

The cost-cutting leaders — Chinese and Taiwanese PV suppliers — are now looking to increase photovoltaics efficiency. But will the high up-front costs be worth the incremental improvements in efficiency?

August 2, 2011 — Chinese and Taiwanese solar-cell manufacturers have mainly focused on driving down photovoltaic manufacturing costs to-date, but are now looking to drive up conversion efficiency — the amount of sunlight converted to electricity by a PV technology, according to PHOTON Consulting. Big upfront investments in new processes currently yield incremental improvements at the module level.

The group’s report, “The True Cost of Solar Power: The Pressure’s On,” notes a new push behind small, technology-driven increases in solar-cell conversion efficiencies. These efficiency gains can decrease supply chain costs.

New manufacturing techniques and turnkey equipment are facilitating this efficiency ramp: selective-emitter fabrication, heterojuntion cells, novel metallization inks, back/point-contact cells, and emitter-wrap-through architectures.

The increases may seem small — 0.1?0.5% — for the relatively high upfront investment, noted Chris Bolman, PHOTON Consulting consultant and study co-author, Chris Bolman, “but there are a few clear winners in the space.” Next-generation solar cell fabrication tools will really impact the manufacturing technology roadmap in coming years, added Bolman.

The study details the latest cost benchmarks at each step of the solar supply chain, from polysilicon production to solar project development. PHOTON Consulting is a dedicated solar energy research consultancy providing in-depth research, management and strategic consulting services. For more information, visit www.photonconsulting.com.

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