Dark times for PV may mean good things for Australian solar industry

Natcore Technology has taken one step towards enabling the commercial production of its low‑cost black silicon solar cells by conducting batch testing at one of the world’s largest photovoltaic manufacturers, in China’s Hunan province.

This marks the first time Natcore has tested its proprietary black silicon technology on a commercial production line. The black silicon cells demonstrated remarkable compatibility with current solar cell production techniques, fittingly seamlessly into the existing process at the Hunan site and further strengthening its case as a commercially viable technology. Said Dr. David Levy, Natcore’s Director of Research & Technology, “We put these cells through the Chinese manufacturer’s process with essentially no modification to the process itself.”

The Natcore black silicon cells reached an efficiency of 15.7%, compared to an efficiency of 17-19% for more established industrial solar cell designs. Despite the deficit, Chinese engineers at the Hunan site were impressed with the results and are well confident in pushing black silicon cell efficiencies towards the 19% mark.

Black silicon cells exhibit an incredibly low amount of reflection off the front surface of the solar – Natcore Technology has recently demonstrated a cell which absorbs 99.7% of all light that reaches its surface. And with more light absorption comes higher cell efficiencies. This technology has the potential to reduce solar cell costs by up to 23.5% by eliminating the need for the most expensive solar cell manufacturing steps – the deposition of a silicon nitride anti-reflection coating.

Such drastic reductions in solar cell manufacturing costs will push the price of photovoltaics even further down, having already plummeted to average figures of $1.5/kW Australia-wide for commercial systems and in some cases as low as $0.9/kW installed.

“I can’t overstate the importance of this development,” says Chuck Provini, Natcore’s president and CEO. “It demonstrates that our black silicon process is commercially viable in a real production line. It also shows that our process could be integrated into a production line without fear of contamination by the chemicals that our process uses. This is a huge step toward commercialization. It proves our earlier contention that our technology can easily be retrofitted into existing solar cell production lines and can just as easily be incorporated into a new line. Black silicon seems poised to become an important new approach for the industry.”

Mr Provini’s sentiments are justified, with another high-profile name championing the potential of black silicon. JA Solar, one of the biggest PV manufacturers in the world, recently launched a 270W high-performance solar module composed of black silicon cells at the recent PV Expo in Japan. This development may mark the start of black silicon solar modules reaching Australian shores in the near future.

Top Image Credit: Renewable Energy Technology

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

John Rodriguez

John regularly contributes original technology articles to Solar Choice News. He is a PhD candidate in solar PV engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), having graduated with First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Engineering (UNSW, specialising in PV). His knowledge of and passion for renewables technology led to him receiving the federally-funded Australian Postgraduate Award and Engineering Research Award for research excellence, in addition to being a Co-operative Program scholar during his undergraduate studies. John also works as an energy efficiency and process engineer and analyst.
John Rodriguez