The University of New South Wales holds the record for producing the highest efficiency solar energy cells and has had the privilege of holding this record for approximately 20 years, from the likes of Stanford University (USA). So when Stuart Wenham, the director of the UNSW program, recently gave his predictions on the future trends of the photovoltaics and solar energy industry one would imagine it was something to pay attention to.
Professor Wenham’s talk covered the following Industry trends:
1) Thin-film technology
Yes, thin-film is a great technological advancement and it has the potential to reduce material costs. However, the efficiencies of these cells are still pretty low and are not going to break the 20% mark anytime soon. Given it’s issues with degradation as well as the lower efficiency’s compared to the products out in the market it will take more technology breakthroughs for this to come through as the emerging winner amongst Multi and Monocrystalline silicon solar energy cells.
2) Multicrystalline vs Monocrystalline Silicon
The battle between Multi and Monocrystalline Silicon solar energy cells is one that will continue to happen as manufacturers understand that multicrystalline is cheaper however, monocrystalline can produce higher efficiencies. The low-risk attitude that manufacturers have towards changes in their production line and the 25 year warranty that they have to stand behind are the two key points that are not allowing the market to determine a clear direction of whether solar energy cells in the future will be primarily multi or monocrystalline. (Currently over 60% of the manufacturers producing solar energy panels are creating them using multicrystalline silicon solar cells)
3) Industrial lessons learned and distinguishing IC from PV
A lot of people talk about how they are surprised that the Integrated Circuits (IC) industry doubled in efficiency and halved in cost year-on-year, during the late 1990’s and early 2000, and how the Photovoltaics (PV) industry has been unable to produce similar results given the use of the same raw material (Silicon). The truth is, according to Professor Stuart Wenham, that there are no lessons to be learned from the IC industry for the PV industry because the wafers being used by the IC industry and the PV industry are completely different and PV industry is not able to invest in the change. (Whether it would end in higher efficiency cells is also something that is being debated amongst the scientific community)
So are UNSW standing behind their recommendations of high efficiency cells and turn-key design? Yes
There is a gap in high efficiency solar energy cells and what industry practices and produces today. It is this gap that the University is attempting to close through various efforts. One of which is the recent approval of a small scale research-based assembly line that would allow them to test what they know and potentially apply onto peoples roofs!
Written by Prateek Chourdia
MEngSc – Photovoltaics and Solar Energy, UNSW
Solar Energy Analyst
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