TaiyangNews Event Discusses Status, Challenges & Potential Of Non-Traditional Solar Applications

As Land Prices Rise & Module Prices Drop, Solar PV’s Integration For Various Applications Like Agri-PV, Floating Solar And BIPV Is Set To Grow, But Focus On Reliability
TaiyangNews’ Shravan Chunduri moderated the executive panel discussion with Fraunhofer ISE’s Anna Heimsath, AE Solar’s Dr. Hamed Hanifi and JA Solar’s Ignacio Espinosa. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)
TaiyangNews’ Shravan Chunduri moderated the executive panel discussion with Fraunhofer ISE’s Anna Heimsath, AE Solar’s Dr. Hamed Hanifi and JA Solar’s Ignacio Espinosa. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)
  • TaiyangNews brought together leading solar companies and experts for its Virtual Conference on Advanced Solar Module Applications  
  • Agrivoltaics, floating PV, BIPV, balcony solar were some of the innovative integration applications explored 
  • While challenges still exist in technical and economic terms, participants stressed on standards and norms to ensure the industry does not lose sight of reliability and environmental protection  

Solar PV is definitely the fastest growing power generation technology, having already established itself in utility-scale, commercial and industrial (C&I), and residential segments. What makes it all the more special is its versatility that ensures it can be installed innovatively coupled with agriculture, water bodies including offshore, building-integrated PV (BIPV) and even on balconies.  

These innovative PV applications were the subject of deliberation during TaiyangNews Virtual Conference on Advanced Solar Module Applications on September 26, 2023.  

<em>Fraunhofer ISE's Anna Heimsath says the theoretical technical potential of integrated PV in Germany alone goes beyond 3 TW. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
Fraunhofer ISE's Anna Heimsath says the theoretical technical potential of integrated PV in Germany alone goes beyond 3 TW. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

In her keynote address, Fraunhofer ISE's Head of Department Analysis, Modules and PV Power Plants Anna Heimsath presented a wide spectrum of applications including agriculture, buildings, parking lots, artificial lakes, roads and vehicles for solar PV integration.  

There is also an interesting trend of moor-PV application, especially in the European Union (EU), where solar panels are installed to rewet peat soils and reduce their carbon emissions. It should spur innovation in the PV industry, as anchoring and corrosion are big challenges for such installations. 

All of these applications together offer a theoretical 3.16 TW of technical potential in Germany alone, assuming an average module efficiency of 20%. However, in practical terms, there is still a lot to take care of in terms of devising a legal framework, cost, infrastructure, acceptance, competition and ecological care.  

Heimsath believes there is a strong need to devise norms and standards at the international level, along with legislations, to ensure these diverse integrated PV applications are designed for positive environmental impact and climate resilience. 

<em>LONGi's Dr. Song Zhang said that along with being high on power generation, BIPV modules also need to factor in construction compatibility. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
LONGi's Dr. Song Zhang said that along with being high on power generation, BIPV modules also need to factor in construction compatibility. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

One of the most widely known integrated PV applications is BIPV, and it is on the radar of one of the world's largest solar PV manufacturers, LONGi. The R&D Director of BIPV Centre at LONGi, Dr. Song Zhang, delved into the company's BIPV domain and discussed how to evaluate its reliability and characteristics.  

BIPV applications are now not just limited to building facades, but are also being installed for various civil installation platforms, as curtain walls, rainy platform, industrial roof testing platform, among others. 

Higher power generation is the foremost criteria while designing such modules so these can work in low light conditions as well, yet that's not the only aspect LONGi worries about. Zhang said the focus of the manufacturer is also on construction compatibility. For instance, for a factory rooftop installation, the wind speed needs to be factored in to secure the modules. 

Similarly, advanced maintenance of the structure is significant too in the scheme of things to make it convenient for customers to manage their energy consumption on their own. All of these factors, Zhang pointed out, help lower labor costs eventually, thus boosting project returns. 

Zhang also shared the technical aspects of LONGi's BIPV portfolio for which the manufacturer offers long-term product guarantee. The company recently launched its newest HPBC technology based BIPV module called ROOF 4.0 with 22.6% efficiency (see LONGi Launches New Generation BIPV Product).  

<em>Trina Solar's Lukas Ye discussed the benefits of the company's i-TOPCon advanced Vertex high efficiency series and tracker products for utility-scale applications. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
Trina Solar's Lukas Ye discussed the benefits of the company's i-TOPCon advanced Vertex high efficiency series and tracker products for utility-scale applications. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

Trina Solar's Product Manager Lukas Ye presented the company's n-type i-TOPCon modules, pointing to the bifacial gains and financial benefits these modules present when installed with trackers for utility-scale applications.  

Ye said Trina's modules and tracker products cater to diverse project locations that warrant different module sizes and complementing trackers, pointing at the company's i-TOPCon advanced Vertex high efficiencies series. Vanguard 1P, Vanguard 2P and Agile 1P are the 3 tracker variants for utility requirements in Trina's portfolio. 

While the company is a proponent of cells based on the 210 mm wafer size, it has also commercialized products based on 210R, which is used to build the 2,384 mm x 1,134 mm modules, a standard size for mid-sized modules that it agreed along with other leading manufactures. The standardization of module dimensions is aimed at easing the supply chain, thereby lowering the production costs, and the specific size also enables M10 players to join in making of such a module size.  

Under its manufacturing roadmap, by the end of 2023 Trina aims for 95 GW cumulative solar module production capacity, 75 GW cell capacity including 40 GW i-TOPCon cells, along with 50 GW silicon ingot capacity. 

<em>JA Solar's Ignacio Espinosa listed the company's TOPCon and PERC product offerings for floating PV and agrivoltaics segments. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
JA Solar's Ignacio Espinosa listed the company's TOPCon and PERC product offerings for floating PV and agrivoltaics segments. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

Talking about the future of floating systems and agrivoltaics in terms of maximizing sustainability and efficiency, JA Solar's Senior Technical Manager Ignacio Espinosa listed the benefits and challenges of these innovative PV applications.  

For instance, modules required for floating solar systems need to be resistant against salt mist and high corrosion environment, with high reliability and high bifacial performance. For agrivoltaics, these need to offer ammonia resistance, should be lead-free and have transparency. 

Depending on the type of installation and application, JA Solar produces n-type TOPCon modules for these PV applications with power outputs ranging between 445 W and 620 W. There is also a PERC module with 565 W and 21.4% efficiency in the list. 

Espinosa said that while both these applications offer plenty of advantages, restriction of materials for modules due to ecological reasons is among challenges for manufacturers. 

<em>AESolar's Dr. Hamed Hanifi batted for shade-resistant solar modules from the company for the rooftop PV application. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
AESolar's Dr. Hamed Hanifi batted for shade-resistant solar modules from the company for the rooftop PV application. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

For the already established PV application of rooftop solar, shading is a major challenge for optimal power generation, according to the Head of Research and Development at AESolar, Dr. Hamed Hanifi. Talking about the company's Hot Spot Free (HSF) or shade-resistant module, he said it can generate a higher energy yield than a standard module. 

AESolar's HSF module uses a single bypass diode for every individual cell with integrated bypass diode technology. Relaying test results of indoor partial shading, Hanifi said HSF was found to be operating at 97% efficiency compared to a standard module operating at 65%.  

Under an outdoor test conducted, the HSF module generated 2.5 times more power relatively, compared to its standard module. 

The company is now getting ready to launch HSF 2.0 wherein half-cells will replace full-size cells. 

<em>DAH Solar's Roger Cai said that the company's SolarUnit for the residential rooftop and balcony PV application can generate up to 97.55% efficiency. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
DAH Solar's Roger Cai said that the company's SolarUnit for the residential rooftop and balcony PV application can generate up to 97.55% efficiency. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

DAH Solar's Sales Director Europe Roger Cai talked about integrated module solutions for balcony solar systems and residential applications. Calling its SolarUnit the world's 1st integrated mini PV residential system, Cai said it comprises factory integrated full-screen solar modules and 800 W microinverters developed by the company in-house. 

The system offers up to 97.55% maximum conversion efficiency. The plug-and-play system is easier to deploy for residential rooftop as well as for balcony solar applications. Interest in balcony solar, which Cai also referred to as Super Micro or Plug In PV system, is on the rise, especially in the European Union.  

DAH Solar has a capacity to roll out 300,000 SolarUnit sets annually. Currently it operates 5 GW PV module production capacity, including 3 GW TOPCon capacity. The company's TOPCon cell capacity of 3 GW contributes to its overall 5.5 GW cell capacity, while it also produces 2 GW of silicon wafers. The manufacturer is also planning to launch its initial public offering (IPO) in 2024.   

<em>Sungrow FPV's Julia Wang called out mooring and anchoring as the main challenges for floating solar installations. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)</em>
Sungrow FPV's Julia Wang called out mooring and anchoring as the main challenges for floating solar installations. (Photo Credit: TaiyangNews)

Chinese solar inverter manufacturer Sungrow's subsidiary Sungrow FPV's Country Manager Julia Wang talked about the recent techno-commercial developments in the FPV segment and the company's FPV's full scenario solution. 

Along with helping avoid land conflict, Wang listed the benefits of FPV installations in terms of 'technical economy' with no need for site preparation, reduction in panel soiling and cooling effect these offer. The applications are also growing fast with reservoirs, inland river, fishing ponds, lakes, industrial ponds, cold areas and offshore spaces providing ample opportunities.  

Sungrow FPV builds floating structures for such projects whose design is verified by DNV. However, main challenges for this growing application exist in mooring and anchoring, according to Wang. 

In terms of the type of solar modules preferred, Wang said that companies prefer glass-glass bifacial panels as they work better against humidity. 

Executive Panel 

Moderated by TaiyangNews Head of Technology Shravan Chunduri, the executive panel discussion revolved around the status, potential and challenges for innovative module applications. 

AESolar's Dr. Hamed Hanifi believes the non-existence of specific standards aligned with environmental protection is one of the biggest challenges for these applications to flourish. For the same reason, reliability is another stumbling block.  

JA Solar's Ignacio Espinosa is hopeful for these applications to grow further and faster as awareness grows and government incentives pour in. He believes the key motivation for their growth is driven by the need to achieve carbon neutrality. 

Fraunhofer ISE's Anna Heimsath sees BIPV as a much more established PV application segment compared to agrivoltaics where a lot more needs to be done to achieve significant traction. She stressed that in the future, other avenues for PV integration will be seen, all of which will have a significant impact on the electrical grid, for instance rewetting land for carbon capture by installing solar modules.    

Answering Chunduri's query about what's cooking in the PV labs, Heimsath said the future may see bigger utility-scale modules being rolled out along with medium voltage inverters. 

The panelists unanimously agreed to the point that solar PV's integration with various applications is set to grow as module prices go down and land prices go up, but it is important for the industry as well as policymakers to ensure reliability is not lost in the excitement. 

Going forward, in exactly a month's time on October 26, 2023, TaiyangNews will host our Reliable PV Module Design Conference How to Ensure a Solar Panel's High Performance for Decades. Registrations to the virtual conference are free and can be done on our website 

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