New Materials, Efficiency Upgrades Advancing Solar Technologies – POWER journal

The progress curve for solar power continues its upward trajectory, due to applied sciences similar to perovskites, heterojunction solar cells, and energy storage programs designed to enrich rooftop solar. New inverters and racking options are making solar installations extra environment friendly, serving to extract extra energy from the solar’s rays.


There is not any scarcity of technological developments within the solar power sector, contributing to renewed progress within the trade after the coronavirus pandemic paused a number of tasks. More nations are turning to solar as they set up decarbonization targets, extra corporations are setting sustainability targets, and the push for home enhancements—an offshoot of the pandemic—has supported residential rooftop solar.

Researchers have continued to develop more-efficient solar energy tools, and the market is supporting innovation. A two-year extension of the 26% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar power, handed by the U.S. Congress earlier this yr, has offered extra impetus for householders and companies eager about including solar.

And an essential issue within the progress of solar power might not be a greater solar panel or inverter, however fairly deployment of energy storage to assist solar improvement. “The most pressing technology issue for the solar industry at this time is securing safe, reliable, and low-cost storage,” stated Suvi Sharma, founding father of Solaria, a California-based solar expertise and set up firm. “Solar has become very economically viable in most parts of the country. It’s ramping up and getting installed in virtually every state. It’s competitive with the grid. But the one thing solar cannot do is produce energy at all times of the day. To get the maximum value out of solar, we need to store the power that solar systems generate, whether the system deployed is residential, commercial, or utility-scale.”

Extending the ITC additionally benefited energy storage programs. If these programs get at the least 75% of their cost from an onsite renewable energy system, they’re eligible for the tax credit score as effectively. And authorities officers are effectively conscious of the necessity to carry down prices to assist extra solar deployment; the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) earlier this yr set a goal of lowering the price of solar energy by 60% throughout the subsequent decade, and pledging thousands and thousands of {dollars} to assist new solar power applied sciences.

Collaborative Efforts

Partnerships and collaborations are supporting the speedy tempo of expertise developments within the solar sector. Researchers on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Colorado School of Mines in October introduced they’re making use of a brand new method to determine defects in silicon solar cells that scale back effectivity. The teams stated the teachings discovered from their analysis “could lead to improvements in the way manufacturers strengthen their products against what is known as light-induced degradation [LID].”

The teams stated LID reduces the effectivity of silicon solar cells by about 2%, including as much as a “significant drop in power output over the 30- to 40-year lifespan of the technology deployed in the field.” Silicon solar cells make up greater than 96% of the present world market. The most typical semiconductor used to fabricate these cells is constructed from boron-doped silicon, which is vulnerable to LID, so producers have appeared for methods to stabilize the solar modules. NREL researchers stated that with out an understanding of the defects on the atomic degree, it’s inconceivable to foretell the soundness of these modules.

“Some of the modules are stabilized completely. Some of them are only half-stabilized,” stated Abigail Meyer, a Ph.D. candidate at Mines and a researcher at NREL. Meyer is lead writer of a paper about efforts to find out the supply of the LID phenomenon. Her co-authors embody researchers from each Mines and NREL, amongst them Paul Stradins, a principal scientist and a mission chief in silicon photovoltaic analysis at NREL. Stradins stated the issue of LID has been studied for many years, however the precise microscopic nature of what causes the degradation has not been decided. Researchers have concluded, by way of oblique experimentation and principle, that the issue decreases when much less boron is used or when much less oxygen is current within the silicon.

The collaboration between NREL and Mines, with analysis funded by the Solar Energy Technologies Office throughout the DOE, relied on electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to determine defects answerable for the LID. The microscopic examination revealed a definite defect signature because the pattern solar cells grew to become extra degraded by mild. The defect signature disappeared when the scientists utilized the empirical “regeneration” course of to treatment the LID that trade has adopted. The researchers additionally discovered a second, “broad” EPR signature affected by mild publicity, involving many extra dopant atoms than there are LID defects. They hypothesized that not all atomic adjustments induced by mild result in the LID. The researchers stated the strategies developed to check LID may be prolonged to disclose different kinds of degrading defects in silicon solar cells, and in addition in different semiconductor supplies utilized in photovoltaics together with cadmium telluride and perovskites.

Maximizing Panel Efficiency

Solar cell and module builders proceed to search for methods to maximise photovoltaic (PV) panel effectivity. JinkoSolar and LONGi, two Chinese producers, have surpassed solar conversion efficiencies of 25% for his or her crystalline silicon applied sciences. Australian researchers have developed a bifacial silicon solar cell with an effectivity of 24.3% on the entrance and 23.4% on the rear, for an efficient output of about 29%. UK-based Oxford PV this previous yr introduced a brand new effectivity file for its perovskite solar cells at 29.52%. Oxford PV accomplished building of the manufacturing web site for its perovskite-on-silicon tandem solar cells in July, and expects to start full business manufacturing in 2022.

Solliance Solar Research, a consortium based mostly within the Netherlands, in late October stated researchers from three of its companions had achieved a 29.2% power conversion effectivity on a clear bifacial perovskite solar cell mixed with a crystalline silicon solar cell in a four-terminal tandem configuration. The group stated the cell is predicated on a extremely near-infrared clear perovskite cell constructed by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (higher often called TNO) and Belgian laboratory EnergyVille, together with an 11.4%-efficient c-Si interdigitated again contact silicon heterojunction cell developed by Panasonic. EnergyVille has touted its work on tandem configurations, saying, “By combining two (or more) different solar cells with carefully selected material properties on top of each other in so-called tandem configuration, we can convert a wider part of the light spectrum into electrical energy. In this way we surpass the physical limitations of single solar cells.” That is, by combining a perovskite prime cell on a silicon backside cell, EnergyVille is aiming at +30% tandem energy conversion effectivity, which is bigger than the theoretical most of silicon solar cells of about 28%.

Crystalline silicon expertise accounts for the overwhelming majority of the solar power market. In the U.S., although, provide chain points and commerce restrictions on imports from China—together with considerations concerning the manufacturing of polysilicon in Xinjiang—have opened doorways for thin-film producers. Arizona-based First Solar, which produces cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar modules and panels, this summer season stated it’s investing almost $700 million to construct a 3rd U.S. manufacturing plant, which is able to develop its home manufacturing capability by 3.3 GW. The firm additionally introduced building of an identical 3.3-GW plant in India.

Chinese producer China National Building Materials, which produces thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide panels, just lately stated it was increasing its manufacturing, including about 1 GW of capability for CdTe modules.

New Solar Cells

Sharma informed POWER, “The most important technology development for solar panels and systems is the emergence of n-type solar cells.” Sharma stated the 2 most typical n-type solar cells are TOPCon (passivated contact) and heterojunction. A hetereojunction solar cell combines two totally different applied sciences into one cell: a crystalline silicon cell set between two layers of amorphous thin-film silicon. The applied sciences used collectively permit extra energy to be harvested in comparison with utilizing both expertise alone.

“N-type solar cells are made from a different chemical composition of wafer,” stated Sharma. “There’s going to be a significant evolution over the next three to five years of cell manufacturing. What’s predominantly produced now is p-type mono PERC cells [monocrystalline silicon cells]… these will all start migrating to n-type TOPCon and heterojunction cells.”

Sharma stated, “Manufacturing of n-type cells is not made for a specific niche. It’s not a specific application; these new cells will improve the efficiency of all solar panels and all applications. This advancement is something that will have a significant impact on the entire industry and all solar deployments—by improving the energy efficiency of all different types of PV panels.”

Solaria is about to launch its new PowerXT 430R-PL (430 watt) solar panel in March 2022. The panel might be optimized for next-generation module degree power electronics (MLPE), that are units that may be integrated right into a solar PV system to enhance its efficiency in sure circumstances, similar to in shade. MLPE units embody microinverters and direct-current (DC) power optimizers—all designed to enhance the energy manufacturing of the solar power system.

Tracking the Sun

New racking programs are also growing the effectivity of solar arrays. Solar FlexRack in October introduced that its solar trackers have now been put in in additional than 80 solar tasks on California farms, together with at a 2.82-MW mission for Danell Brothers Dairy (Figure 1), south of Hanford. The array was put in by Renewable Solar Inc., which installs business and agricultural solar tasks in California.

1. Solar FlexRack has put in its solar monitoring programs at tasks throughout California, together with at agricultural websites, similar to this set up on the Danell Brothers Dairy. Courtesy: Solar FlexRack

More than 150 of California’s dairy farms at the moment are producing solar energy, as an increasing number of such energy-intensive operations are choosing solar energy to scale back operational prices. “We’re proud to have been able to partner with Renewable Solar Inc. to deliver high-quality clean energy systems and associated cost savings for California farm owners over the years,” stated Steve Daniel, govt vice chairman of Solar FlexRack. “We look forward to working together further with Renewable Solar Inc. on additional agricultural solar projects in support of California’s nation-leading renewable portfolio standard.”

Solar FlexRack’s Series G racking is obtainable in each panorama and portrait orientations, to maximise energy manufacturing relying on location. The rack options lateral bracing, to stabilize and sq. the racking system for simpler set up. The horizontal rail bracket permits the horizontal rail to be set in place with out the necessity for bolts, which reduces set up time. The rack can accommodate as much as a 20% east-west slope, once more to maximise energy manufacturing.

2. Solar power producers are consistently searching for methods to optimize energy manufacturing from their tools, together with trackers, which observe the solar and may allow greater output in each the early morning and late afternoon. Courtesy: Nextracker

California-based Nextracker in early November stated it was the primary solar tracker (Figure 2) tools and software program supplier to surpass 50 GW in world shipments. The firm stated its tools is utilized in main solar power vegetation in 40 nations.

Nextracker’s expertise developments embody its NX Horizon solar tracker, which encompasses a balanced mechanical design that delivers bifacial energy manufacturing. The firm’s signature TrueCapture sensible management software program helps utility-scale solar power vegetation mitigate drops in power output triggered by cloud cowl, or when one row of panels casts a shadow over panels in neighboring rows.

The firm stated its newest development is the Split Boost algorithm, which optimizes energy yield for split-cell silicon PV modules. Defne Gun, a technical gross sales engineer for the corporate, wrote on the corporate’s web site: “We model Split Boost with our internal raytracing-based backtracking software where the shade tolerance of the module, as well as Split Boost operating mode, are baked into our row-to-row energy gain algorithm, so we can accurately estimate gains. By using the algorithms in ‘simulation mode’ before deployment to a solar plant, we can estimate TrueCapture performance at a given site with that site’s specific energy model, tracker geometry, and terrain.”

Tigo Energy, identified for its Flex MLPE programs, in September stated its Energy Intelligence (EI) inverter and battery product traces have been now accessible to U.S. residential solar installers. The firm stated the brand new inverter and battery merchandise assist native integrations of the corporate’s solar and storage elements, and are an extension of the Tigo Enhanced business and industrial solar partnership program into the residential market.

“The new EI Battery and Inverter products provide a very simple installation and commissioning process as well as powerful fleet management features. The end customer, in turn, will benefit from access to an abundance of resilient, renewable, and safe energy with a system that can be precisely tailored for price and performance,” stated Zvi Alon, Tigo Energy CEO, in a information launch.

Storage Key to Growth

Sharma reiterated that creating storage options hand-in-hand with solar power might be key to supporting trade progress. “Energy storage is still relatively expensive,” Sharma informed POWER. “And it doesn’t make economic sense yet in many applications. [But] in residential applications, energy storage makes sense: for resiliency, for security, and for powering through blackouts. It’s playing a very important role, especially as we experience increases in incidences of extreme weather. But to really unlock the next phase of solar, we need lower-cost storage across all applications.”

Companies already are advertising merchandise designed to assist residential solar and storage. Tesla’s Powerwall is among the many finest identified; the Powerwall shops solar energy to offer backup power when the grid goes down. Generac Grid Services, a sponsor of POWER’s Distributed Energy Conference this previous October, just lately launched its PWRgenerator, a brand new kind of DC generator designed to quickly recharge Generac’s PWRcell Battery. The DC-coupled PWRgenerator can allow the PWRcell Battery to maintain a home powered for an extended time frame throughout outages.

The PWRgenerator connects on to the PWRcell inverter; Generac stated this “essentially creates a residential nano-grid allowing a home to be fully energy independent.” A home’s solar panels present power to the home through the day, with extra power charging the battery. At night time, the battery discharges, and if the state of cost reaches 30%, PWRgenerator—which may run on both pure fuel or propane—will activate and absolutely cost the battery in about an hour.

Other solar-plus-storage residential programs embody Panasonic’s EverVolt; LG’s Home Battery RESU (Residential Energy Storage Unit); and smaller programs similar to Jackery’s Solar Generator line, and Goal Zero’s 6000X moveable battery mannequin. And expertise developments for solar energy are making headway elsewhere, in areas similar to automotive and constructing utilized PV; a number of client electronics with solar-charging functionality; and wearable cellular power.

“Our industry is experiencing an acceleration in innovations that improve solar [performance],” stated Sharma, who added “there’s an increasingly greater focus” on effectivity and aesthetics. “That’s where we’re going to continue to see greater progress and advancements.” ■

Darrell Proctor is a senior affiliate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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