When Less is More: New Lightweight Modules Can Provide Significant Cost Savings

Silicon Valley-based ‘Giga Solar’ have released commercially-sized solar PV modules weighing as low as 2.3 kg.

The Giga Solar composite structure eliminates the use of industry‑standard glass for module encapsulation. This innovation has significant potential to reduce overall systems costs as well as increase the likelihood of further PV adoption by reducing weight restrictions. The cost reductions are enabled all the way along the supply chain by significantly reducing transportation costs for modules and components, reducing the complexity solar PV mounting structures and increasing the safety and time-efficiency of installations.

The largest module in the Giga Solar ‘High Mobility’ (M-Series) range produces 157 W of power but is feather-light and razor-thin at a weight of 2.3 kg and thickness of 4.4 mm. The M-Series modules are intended for mobile applications such as emergency relief deployment, military expeditions and airborne applications.

In comparison to standard glass PV modules which produce approx. 265 W and weigh 18–22 kg, an equivalent module in the Giga Solar ‘High Durability’ (D-Series) range tips the scales at a measly 7.3 kg. The remaining modules in the D‑series, which are designed for standard residential and commercial rooftop installations and 20‑plus year operating lives, range between 105–476 W and weigh in at 3.2–13.5 kg. These are clearly significant improvements and when certified will surpass the efforts of BenQ in supplying the lightest crystalline silicon modules on the market.

The biggest question mark at this point is the durability of the modules, which Giga Solar is looking to address by gaining International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) certification for their products, divulged in a recent interview with Chief Business Development Officer, Sicco Westra. The odds seem to be in favour of Giga Solar as the composite materials used in the production of their modules are existing materials that have been proven to last in PV, wind-energy, automotive, aviation and boating applications.

Lightweight modules open the door to applications beyond heavy roof-mounted solar PV. Tom Hood, CEO and Founder of Giga Solar puts it best: “Our innovative module technology opens up new applications where module weight has previously been a limiting factor in the adoption of solar PV solutions. In addition, the availability of high-performance, lightweight modules create opportunities for new hardware designs and installation methods, which can lower the cost of PV solar electricity. As an example, lightweight modules allow for an increase in the total size of a rooftop PV installation without compromising the structural integrity of the roof.”

Only time will tell if Giga Solar modules can withstand the rigors of solar energy production. But regardless of such considerations, this is one technology that is not to be taken lightly.

Top Image Credit: Giga Solar

© 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