Solar Is Everywhere!

The Chronology Of Module Technology Development, As Discussed In Taiyangnews Report Solar Module Innovations 2022

Solar Is Everywhere!

Silent but omnipresent: A bird's eye view shows the extent of PV's integration into our day-to-day lives, sitting there on rooftops silently producing power. Here's a project example by Risen. (source: Risen Energy)

  • Improving power and efficiency, enhancing reliability, and reducing the costs have been are still the main topics of developments at module making MBB, half cell, less/no gap technologies and larger wafer formats enabled to improve module performance independent from cell level
  • Employing larger wafer formats enabled the module power to take frog leap of above 100 W from 2019 to 2020
  • Module products are increasingly becoming applications centric

Solar power’s unmatched versatility enables the technology to address segments no other power generation source is capable of – from very small distributed applications requiring only few watts up to very large, centralized utility-scale power plants in the GW-scale. PV can be added on residential rooftop or big warehouses, it can be integrated into buildings, cars and many other  products, and used for manifold applications. To simply put, solar is everywhere. With solar now being usually the cost leader, all these new fields of applications are beginning to open up – even more the further solar cost’s continue to decreases. This is happening, in particular along the   silicon value chain of solar modules.

Since a solar module is the final product of the PV, the scope for improvements is relatively wide — improving power and efficiency, enhancing reliability, and reducing the costs. While it is no secret that any development across the whole PV value chain is focused on reducing costs, improving efficiency, power and reliability are specific to modules. However, module making was hardly the focus until 5 or 6 years ago, with the manufacturers often solely relying on cell-level innovations. It is not the case anymore, with innovations in module making taking the fast track over the last half decade. Half cells, higher number of busbars, multibusbar (MBB), bifacial, glass-glass and no/reduced gap technologies are some of the approaches that have enabled module makers to improve the performance attributes independent from the cell level. In fact, there has been remarkable progress both in terms of power as well as efficiency. TaiyangNews has been covering module-level innovations through annual reports on Advanced Module Technologies starting from 2017. And while the progress since then has indeed been impressive on both fronts, developments in terms of power took a revolutionary turn in 2020. While the benchmark power for a 72-cell module was set at 375 W in 2018 and 400 in 2019, the criterion was increased to 500+ W in 2020 as a result of employing larger wafers. Indeed, achieving ultra-high module powers using larger wafers was the most dominant trend in 2020, extending into 2021.

In terms of technology, our first Advanced Module Technologies Report covered approaches such as half cells, higher number of busbars, MBB, bifacial, glass-glass and shingling as the main developments. And by the time we published our 2nd edition in 2018, all these technologies were fully commercialized. In our 3rd edition published in 2019, apart from observing that the above mentioned technologies had become more mature, we also noted that modules were no longer using one of these advanced features to stand out. Manufacturers, under pressure to both cut costs and achieve higher power ratings, had started combining as many advanced features as possible into one module product.

The practice had evolved as state of the art, at least for top products of the leading companies, by as of the time of our 4th edition in the beginning of 2021. For example, most flagship modules of leading companies feature a combination of glass-glass, bifacial, half cell, MBB and reduced gap. In the 4th edition, we only listed the top products from leading module manufacturers featuring at least a combination of half-cell and MBB and their bifacial variants. Since back contact modules and zero gap also require a higher degree of technology orientation at the module level, such products also earn their place among the advanced module technologies in our view.

Another trend we observed while poring over the different module products from leading PV panel suppliers is that the products are becoming application centric. So instead of sorting them based on a specific module technology, which had stopped being meaningful already, the 4th edition categorized the products according to the 5 main applications:

  • Residential
  • C&I
  • Utility
  • Residential and C&I
  • C&I and Utility

The boundary conditions and qualification criteria have remained the same for the current TaiyangNews Report on Solar Module Innovations report, except that we now are only including the commercially available modules. What we have also observed, both in general and also through our technical conferences, is that PV is growing stronger in the breadth and depth of its applications. Floating PV is evolving as a strong branch of the utility segment. The residential and C&I segment, which used to exclusively mean roof attached previously, now has a growing subsection — building integrated PV (BIPV). Though BIPV is not new, it is evolving stronger than in the past as several leading module makers have started developing specific module products. There is also an increased interest in Agri PV. While there is renewed interest, these new applications are still niche. Thus, the edition of Solar Module Innovations, while providing an overview of these new applications, will only include product information for the 5 applications listed above. TaiyangNews will publish a series of articles summarizing the important chapters of the TaiyangNews Report on Solar Module Innovations 2022.

The Text is an excerpt from TaiyangNews’ recent solar module innovations report 2022, which can be downloaded for free here.

TaiyangNews organized 2 days conference on solar module innovations covering  Buildings & Utility-Scale Power Plant Applications on Nov. 15-16, 2021. To learn more about the conference and view the presentations click here.

About The Author

Shravan Chunduri

Shravan Chunduri is Head of Technology at TaiyangNews.

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