More innovation needed to keep solar PV competitive

Solar energy developers need to keep driving down the cost of photovoltaic (PV) systems to compete with other technologies according to a new sector report.

Despite solar module prices falling from $5/W to $1/W between 2000 and 2012, partly due to technological advances, continued innovations are needed to keep moving the sector forward says report authors and energy analysts, GlobalData.

“While a 1 MW wind farm costs less than $1.4m to set up, and displays 30% efficiency,” they say, “a 1 MW solar plant costs around $3m and displays much lower efficiency.”

Noting that most solar research has focused either on increasing panel output or reducing costs, they argue that continuous innovation is the key to sustained success.

Thin film technology, for example, is highlighted as a vital solar energy innovation but also a development area facing significant plus and minus issues.

On the up-side, thin-film is viewed as a technology which has come a long way in the last decade, with companies such as First Solar reported as using Cadmium Telluride instead of silicon, and displaying efficiencies beyond 17%.

At the same time, silicon-based PV prices have fallen to an all time low, posing a serious threat to thin-film’s previous cost advantage.

“Some thin-film companies have already filed for bankruptcy and others have lost market position,” say GlobalData, adding that there’s an urgent need for thin-film companies to go back to drawing board.

The report also highlights a potential solar power advance involving the electronics giant, Sanyo, who are designing a bifacial c-Si solar panel to produce an extra 30% output from sunlight hitting the back of the panel.

Several projects are also reported to be underway to explore ways of capturing the infrared part of the spectrum, potentially increasing a cell’s absorption limit from the current 40% to 63%. There is a warning, however, that such developments could take a long time to reach the market.

edie staff

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