New materials and efficiency upgrades promote solar technology

2021-12-08 08:17:27 By : Ms. Alisa Peng

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Due to technologies such as perovskite, heterojunction solar cells, and energy storage systems designed to supplement rooftop solar energy, the growth curve of solar energy continues to show an upward trend. New inverter and rack solutions make solar installations more efficient and help extract more energy from the sun’s rays.

There is no shortage of technological advancements in the solar energy industry, which has facilitated the renewed growth of the industry after several projects were suspended after the coronavirus pandemic. More and more countries are turning to solar energy when setting decarbonization goals, more and more companies are setting sustainable development goals, and the promotion of residential improvements-a branch of the pandemic-supports residential rooftop solar.

Researchers continue to develop more efficient solar equipment, and the market supports innovation. Earlier this year, the US Congress passed the extension of the 26% investment tax credit (ITC) for solar energy for two years, providing more incentives for homeowners and businesses interested in increasing solar energy.

An important factor in the growth of solar energy may not be better solar panels or inverters, but the deployment of energy storage to support the development of solar energy. "The most pressing technical issue in the solar energy industry today is to ensure safe, reliable, and low-cost storage," said Suvi Sharma, founder of Solaria, a California solar technology and installation company. "Solar energy has become very economically viable in most parts of the country. It is increasing and installed in almost every state. It competes with the grid. But one thing solar energy cannot do is generate energy at any time of the day. In order to get the most value from solar energy, we need to store the electricity generated by solar energy systems, regardless of whether the deployed system is residential, commercial or utility scale."

Expanding ITC is also beneficial to energy storage systems. If these systems receive at least 75% of their costs from on-site renewable energy systems, they are also eligible for tax credits. Government officials are well aware of the need to reduce costs to support more solar deployments; earlier this year, the US Department of Energy (DOE) set a goal of reducing solar costs by 60% in the next ten years and pledged to invest millions of dollars in support New solar technology.

Partnerships and cooperation are supporting the rapid pace of technological progress in the solar field. Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Colorado School of Mines announced in October that they are applying a new technology to identify defects in silicon solar cells that reduce efficiency. These groups stated that the lessons learned from their research “may improve the way manufacturers strengthen their products to prevent so-called light-induced degradation [LID].”

The organization stated that LID reduced the efficiency of silicon solar cells by approximately 2%, adding up to "a significant drop in power output during the 30 to 40-year life cycle of the technology deployed in this field." Silicon solar cells account for more than 96% of the current global market. The most common semiconductor used to make these batteries is made of boron-doped silicon, which is very sensitive to LID, so manufacturers are always looking for ways to stabilize solar modules. NREL researchers stated that it is impossible to predict the stability of these modules without understanding the atomic-level defects.

"Some modules are completely stable. Some of them are only semi-stable," said Dr. Abigail Meyer. Candidate of Mines and researcher of NREL. Meyer is the lead author of a paper on efforts to determine the source of the LID phenomenon. Her co-authors include researchers from Mines and NREL, including Paul Stradins, the chief scientist and project leader of NREL's silicon photovoltaic research. Stradins said that the problem of LID has been studied for decades, but the exact microscopic nature of the degradation has not yet been determined. Researchers have concluded through indirect experiments and theories that when less boron is used or there is less oxygen in silicon, the problem will be reduced.

The collaboration between NREL and Mines, funded by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Solar Energy Technology, relies on electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to identify defects that cause LID. Microscopic examination revealed an obvious defect feature because the sample solar cell became more degraded due to light. When scientists applied the empirical "regeneration" process to cure the LID adopted by the industry, the defect characteristics disappeared. The researchers also discovered the second "wide" EPR feature affected by light, involving much more doping atoms than LID defects. They hypothesized that not all atomic changes caused by light will cause LID. The researchers said that the technology developed to study LID can be extended to reveal other types of degradation defects in silicon solar cells, as well as other semiconductor materials used in photovoltaics, including cadmium telluride and perovskite.

Solar cell and module developers continue to look for ways to maximize the efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) panels. The solar energy conversion efficiency of the crystalline silicon technology of the two Chinese manufacturers, JinkoSolar and Longi, has exceeded 25%. Australian researchers have developed a double-sided silicon solar cell with a front efficiency of 24.3%, a back efficiency of 23.4%, and an effective output of about 29%. Last year, Oxford PV, headquartered in the United Kingdom, announced that its perovskite solar cell efficiency had set a new record of 29.52%. Oxford PV completed the construction of its perovskite-on-silicon tandem solar cell manufacturing base in July, and is expected to start full commercial production in 2022.

Solliance Solar Research, a consortium based in the Netherlands, stated in late October that researchers from its three partners have achieved a power conversion efficiency of 29.2% on transparent double-sided perovskite solar cells and four-terminal series-configured crystalline silicon solar cells. The team stated that the battery is based on a highly near-infrared transparent perovskite battery built by the Netherlands Applied Scientific Research Organization (also known as TNO) and the Belgian laboratory EnergyVille, and a c-Si interdigital back contact silicon with an efficiency of 11.4% Heterojunction battery developed by Panasonic. EnergyVille touts its work in tandem configuration, saying: “By combining two (or more) different solar cells with carefully selected material properties in a so-called tandem configuration, we can combine a wider part of the spectrum. Converted into electricity. In this way, we surpassed the physical limitations of a single solar cell.” In other words, by combining perovskite top cells on silicon bottom cells, EnergyVille’s goal is +30% series energy conversion efficiency. This is approximately 28% higher than the theoretical maximum of silicon solar cells.

Crystalline silicon technology accounts for the vast majority of the solar market. However, in the United States, supply chain issues and trade restrictions on imports from China-including concerns about polysilicon production in Xinjiang-have opened the door for film producers. First Solar, headquartered in Arizona, produces cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar modules and panels. This summer it said it would invest nearly US$700 million to build a third manufacturing plant in the United States, which will expand its domestic production capacity by 3.3 gigawatts. The company also announced the construction of a similar 3.3 GW plant in India.

China National Building Materials, a Chinese manufacturer of thin-film copper-indium-gallium-selenium panels, recently stated that it is expanding production to add about 1 gigawatt of production capacity for CdTe modules.

Sharma told POWER, "The most important technological development for solar panels and systems is the emergence of n-type solar cells." According to Sharma, the two most common n-type solar cells are TOPCon (passivation contact) and heterojunction. Heterojunction solar cells combine two different technologies into one cell: The crystalline silicon cell is located between two layers of amorphous thin film silicon. Compared to using any technology alone, the technologies used together can collect more energy.

"N-type solar cells are made of wafers with different chemical compositions," Sharma said. "In the next three to five years, battery manufacturing will undergo major changes. Now the main production is p-type monocrystalline PERC cells [monocrystalline silicon cells]... These will begin to migrate to n-type TOPCon and heterojunction cells ."

Sharma said: "The manufacture of n-type cells is not made for a specific niche market. This is not a specific application; these new cells will increase the efficiency of all solar panels and all applications. By improving all different types of photovoltaic cells The energy efficiency of panels, this advancement will have a significant impact on the entire industry and all solar deployments."

Solaria will launch its new PowerXT 430R-PL (430 watt) solar panel in March 2022. The panel will be optimized for the next generation of module-level power electronic equipment (MLPE), which can be incorporated into solar photovoltaic systems to improve its performance under certain conditions, such as in the shade. MLPE equipment includes micro-inverters and direct current (DC) power optimizers-all of which are designed to increase the energy production of solar systems.

The new shelf system is also improving the efficiency of solar arrays. Solar FlexRack announced in October that its solar trackers have now been installed in more than 80 solar projects on California farms, including the 2.82 MW project at Danell Brothers Dairy, south of Hanford (Figure 1). The array was installed by Renewable Solar Inc., which installs commercial and agricultural solar projects in California.

1. Solar FlexRack has installed solar tracking systems in several projects in California, including agricultural land, such as the installation of Danell Brothers Dairy. Courtesy: Solar FlexRack

More than 150 dairy farms in California are now producing solar energy as more and more such energy-intensive companies choose to use solar energy to reduce operating costs. "For many years, we are proud to be able to work with Renewable Solar Inc. to provide California farmers with high-quality clean energy systems and related cost savings," said Steve Daniel, Executive Vice President of Solar FlexRack. "We look forward to further cooperation with Renewable Solar Inc. on more agricultural solar projects to support California's national leading renewable energy portfolio standards."

Solar FlexRack's G series racks are available in both horizontal and vertical directions to maximize energy production according to location. The rack has lateral supports to stabilize and align the rack system for easy installation. The horizontal rail bracket allows the horizontal rail to be set in place without the need for bolts, thereby reducing installation time. The rack can accommodate up to 20% east-west slope, which can also maximize energy production.

2. Solar power producers have been looking for ways to optimize equipment energy production, including trackers, which track the sun, which can achieve higher output in the early morning and evening. Courtesy: Nextracker

California-based Nextracker said in early November that it was the first solar tracker (Figure 2) equipment and software supplier with global shipments of more than 50 GW. The company said its equipment is used in major solar power plants in 40 countries.

Nextracker’s technological advancements include its NX Horizon solar tracker, which uses a balanced mechanical design to provide double-sided energy production. The company's iconic TrueCapture intelligent control software is helping utility-scale solar power plants to reduce power output drop caused by cloud cover or when a row of panels cast shadows on adjacent rows of panels.

The company said its latest development is the Split Boost algorithm, which optimizes the energy production of split-cell silicon photovoltaic modules. The company’s technical sales engineer Defne Gun wrote on the company’s website: “We use internal ray tracing-based backtracking software to model Split Boost, and the shade resistance of the module and the Split Boost operation mode are incorporated into our row. -to-row energy gain algorithm, so we can accurately estimate the gain. By using the algorithm in the'simulation mode' before deploying to the solar power plant, we can use the specific energy model, tracker geometry and terrain of the site to Estimate the TrueCapture performance of a given site."

Tigo Energy, known for its Flex MLPE system, said in September that its energy intelligence (EI) inverter and battery product lines are now available to US residential solar installers. The company said that the new inverter and battery products support the company's local integration of solar and storage components and are an extension of the Tigo Enhanced commercial and industrial solar cooperation program to the residential market.

"The new EI battery and inverter products provide a very simple installation and commissioning process as well as powerful fleet management functions. Tigo Energy CEO Zvi Alon stated in the press release that end customers will benefit from a wealth of flexibility and availability. Regenerative and safe energy, the system can be precisely customized according to price and performance.

Sharma reiterated that the development of storage solutions that keep pace with solar energy will be the key to supporting industry growth. "Energy storage is still relatively expensive," Sharma told POWER. "And it has no economic sense in many applications. [But] in residential applications, energy storage makes sense: for resilience, safety, and power supply through power outages. It plays a very important role, especially when we When experiencing an increase in the incidence of extreme weather. But to truly start the next phase of solar energy, we need to implement low-cost storage in all applications."

The company is already marketing products designed to support residential solar and storage. Tesla's Powerwall is the most famous of them. Powerwall stores solar energy to provide backup power in the event of a grid failure. Generac Grid Services was the sponsor of the POWER Distributed Energy Conference last October and recently launched PWRgenerator, a new type of DC generator designed to quickly charge Generac’s PWRcell batteries. The DC-coupled PWR generator can enable the PWRcell battery to power the home for a longer period of time during a power outage.

The PWRgenerator is directly connected to the PWRcell inverter; Generac said, this "basically creates a residential nano-grid that makes the home completely independent of energy." The solar panels of the home provide electricity to the home during the day, and the excess electricity charges the battery. At night, the battery will discharge. If the state of charge reaches 30%, the PWRgenerator (which can run on natural gas or propane) will turn on and fully charge the battery in about an hour.

Other solar + energy storage residential systems include Panasonic's EverVolt; LG's household battery RESU (Residential Energy Storage Unit); and smaller systems such as Jackery's solar generator series and Goal Zero's 6000X portable battery model. The technological advancement of solar energy is making progress in other fields, such as photovoltaic applications in automobiles and buildings; a large number of consumer electronic products with solar charging functions; and wearable mobile power supplies.

"Our industry is experiencing an acceleration of innovation to improve solar [performance]," Sharma said, adding that "people are paying more and more attention" to efficiency and aesthetics. "This is where we will continue to see greater progress and progress." ■

— Darrell Proctor is the senior associate editor of POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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