Suntech, DuPont to collab on solar backsheets, supply-chain improvements

A new partnership between Suntech and DuPont will focus on backsheet materials that protect solar panels, their construction and how that affects their longevity, and how backsheets might even improve the module’s power output.

February 3, 2012 – It’s easy to think about modules as singular units of power output, but the reality is that they are a collection of diverse components each with influence over the end system’s performance. For DuPont, its focus is of course on the materials side, from metallization pastes used to form contacts on the solar cell, to backsheet materials that protect the panels themselves.

The latter is the focus of a new expanded partnership between Suntech and DuPont, specifically on DuPont’s Tedlar polyvinyl fluoride film (though the deal also includes other materials supplies). The two will explore technology advancements in backsheets: their construction and how that affects their longevity, and how backsheets might even improve the module’s power output, according to Maria Boulden, global sales manager for Dupont Photovoltaics Solutions.

Being able to save a few pennies per watt in lower module costs is important, but improving a panel’s reliability across an entire system’s lifetime (typically 20-25 years) “is exponentially more,” she explained.

An interesting angle to this partnership is that DuPont is also lending a hand to help Suntech improve and optimize its supply chain. DuPont is a big proponent of Six Sigma and resulting efficiencies and cost savings, and has developed its own Center of Excellence in supply-chain optimization and “lean technology,” noted Boulden. Thus the company sees a competitive advantage to sharing its learnings about tightly coordinating manufacturing and inventories, something it can offer any module maker. The two firms already have been talking about such areas of improvements, she said.

The two companies also will pursue “comarketing” to help educate customers (and partners) down the value chain.

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