Calyxo increases its thin-film module output by 20 percent (what’s next?)

Calyxo thin film

TS Solar Calyxo GmbH has again significantly increased the efficiency of its thin-film solar modules. The European market leader from Bitterfeld-Wolfen improved the output of its modules by around 20 percent from an average of 90 watts to 111 watts per module. The efficiency of the modules reads now 15.4 percent instead of 13 percent previously. Production has already started.

Together with its parent company TS Group, Calyxo brought the new generation of modules to market maturity in just six months of development. The performance of the new modules has been independently confirmed by Coburg Univercity of Applied Sciences and Arts. Calyxo is the world’s number two manufacturer of cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar modules.

“This further increase brings us for the first time within range of the efficiency of polycrystalline modules, which have so far been ahead in terms of performance,” emphasized Stephan Koehne, CEO of the TS Group. Compared to thin-film solar modules, polycrystalline modules have the disadvantage that they are less robust and less performant in low light conditions.

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Köhne continued: “Our next goal is to close the gap to monocrystalline cells in the near future. These are currently even more efficient, but much more expensive.” With the help of patented process improvements and further investments, Calyxo intends to achieve an efficiency of 18 percent in the near future to become the market leader.

Calyxo is among the few glass-glass module manufacturers in the market and based on this their modules are extremely robust and long-term stable. The conventional crystalline modules usually have a plastic film on the back instead of glass, which can make these modules less reliable, especially in climates with hot temperatures and high humidity. In addition to their longer service life, thin-film solar cells also cope better with shading and achieve higher yields in poor lighting conditions. In addition, the efficiency is less sensitive to high temperatures. In electricity generation, this can lead to an overall advantage of up to 20 percent per year compared to comparable crystalline solar modules.

“The efficiency improvement of crystalline solar modules is somewhat levelling out in the near future,” adds Dr.-Ing. Michael Bauer, Managing Director of TS Solar Calyxo GmbH. “The potential of thin-film solar cells, on the other hand, is enormously high. In research, it is assumed that the relatively new thin-film technology can achieve efficiencies of up to 30 percent.” Bauer added further “In TS Group, we have found a technology
company that knows and understands the market. I am convinced that together we will be able to further increase the overall performance of the modules.”

— Solar Builder magazine

This study says Midsummer’s thin-film PV production is one-tenth the global warming potential of silicon module production

CIGS module midsummer

A new study commissioned by thin-film solar provider Midsummer shows that its proprietary flexible CIGS thin film solar module manufacturing process might be more environmentally friendly than other solar module production processes.

The recent study by Swerea IVF, a Swedish industrial research institute, claims that Midsummer’s rapid sputtering production process for thin film solar modules can result in a global warming potential (GWP) that’s one-tenth that of the silicon modules.

Midsummer´s flexible CIGS solar modules do not consist of any glass or aluminium materials, reducing material consumption significantly. One reason for the low carbon footprint is the extremely thin light absorbing CIGS layer. Midsummer uses less than 1um (one micrometer, 0.001 mm) of CIGS materials in its production process and this enables not only a fast production process, but also low energy consumption.

The objective of Swerea IVF’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study was to understand the environmental impact of Midsummer’s production method for flexible CIGS solar module in a life cycle perspective. The results showed much lower CO2 emission compared not only with similar modules made of silicon but also with other thin film technologies.

The study has been reviewed and approved by a Swedish independent third-party institute; Miljögiraff AB.

— Solar Builder magazine

NREL argues for value of ‘watts per kilogram’ in emerging thin-film, flexible solar technology

NREL lightweight CIGS

This lightweight CIGS photovoltaic cell, on flexible stainless steel, was made by Matthew Reese and his team at NREL. Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Rigid silicon solar panels dominate the utility and residential markets, but opportunity exists for thin-film photovoltaic and emerging technologies notable for being lightweight and flexible, according to scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Thin films such as cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), along with perovskites and other new technologies, could be ideal for generating the electricity needed for unmanned drones, portable chargers, and building facades. The opportunities and challenges inherent in widespread adoption of these ideas appear in the new Nature Energy paper, “Increasing Markets and Decreasing Package Weight for High Specific Power Photovoltaics.

“We explore the limits behind power-to-weight ratios and how this can generate value for emerging players in photovoltaics to enable them to reach gigawatt scale without having to directly compete with silicon solar panels,” said Matthew Reese, an NREL researcher and lead author of the paper. The paper was co-authored by Stephen Glynn, Michael Kempe, Deborah McGott, Matthew Dabney, Teresa Barnes, Samuel Booth, David Feldman, and Nancy Haegel, all from NREL.

The market opportunity

Silicon panels constitute 95 percent of the global solar market, generating electricity for utilities, residences, and businesses, but the researchers identified applications that must consider value propositions beyond the standard value triad of cost, efficiency, and reliability used for conventional photovoltaic (PV) panels. Flexibility and portability will be important factors, with the performance of the technology quantified in terms of watts per kilogram.

The researchers identified three high-value markets, each with a potential to cumulatively generate a gigawatt (GW) of electricity—at a price above $1 a watt—over the next 10 years:

Aerospace and unmanned aerial vehicles – Powering satellites is driven by extremely high launch costs; whereas, there is an increasing desire to keep drones aloft for very long periods. For both of these applications, limited space makes efficiency and weight critical and cost secondary. A key player in this market is III-V PV, but while highly efficient it’s also too expensive for many applications.

Portable charging – Making it easy for one person to install or move a portable charger is driving the need for PV technology that’s efficient and flexible. Finding the correct balance between those requirements and cost could put millions of units into service by the military, disaster relief workers, and recreational users.

Ground transportation – The integration of PV in electric vehicles will compete with electricity coming from the grid, but the addition could extend the driving range. The PV would have to use smaller panels and be flexible enough to conform the contours of the roof.

The researchers identified these markets as smaller but significant and ones that will pay a premium for the added value of the technology being lightweight to support initial, low-scale production. As production increases, lower costs will follow.

The NREL team determined the lower limit for a lightweight PV device is between 300 and 500 grams per square meter. Below that would reduce reliability, durability, and safety. A lightweight module on the lower side of that range could generate more than a kilowatt of electricity from something that weighs as little as a six pack of soda. Conventional modules, even without the additional weight from the mounting equipment, might require 150–200 pounds to generate this much power.

— Solar Builder magazine

Ascent Solar Technologies nets DOE funding for thin-film, CIGS solar cell development

Ascent Solar Technologies

Thin-film photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer Ascent Solar Technologies has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for two exclusive development projects. As part of the awards, worth up to $100,000 each, Ascent Solar is to work toward commercialization of sputtered Zn(O,S) buffers in flexible CIGS solar cells and also development of next-generation, high-efficiency Perovskite/CIGS Tandems cell. These projects are part of Ascent Solar’s plans for next-generation lightweight and flexible solar cells.

The first project will utilize sputtered Zn(O,S) buffers, which will help reduce costs and would further improve the environmental friendliness of our CIGS manufacturing process. The Perovskite/CIGS tandem junction project is designed to significantly improve efficiencies and drive further cost reduction by enabling a more complete conversion of the solar spectral energy into electricity.

RELATED: Lux Research: Thin-film solar modules could challenge silicon in the coming years

“These are challenging yet exciting projects,” says Dr. Lawrence Woods, Director and Head of Research & Development for Ascent Solar. “While there are challenges to be overcome with the use of perovskite based devices, with already proven high-efficiencies, we believe that Ascent Solar is well positioned to incorporate these materials into our large-scale roll-to-roll processing.”

“We are honored to be the only PV developer and manufacturer to have been selected for the TCF projects, let alone two projects selected at the same time. This is a strong testament to the DOE’s faith in our ability to once again demonstrate our ‘lab-to-fab’ expertise,” says Dr. Joseph Armstrong, Chief Technology Officer and founding member of Ascent Solar Ascent Solar. “In both cases, we are leveraging our significant intellectual property with flexible monolithically integrated CIGS and teaming with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to inject their substantial knowledge in novel advanced materials to create a potentially substantial leap in the advancement of our product.”

The Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) and Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to promote promising energy technologies. The TCF selections announced on August 23, 2018, will expand the DOE’s efforts to catalyze the commercial impact of the Department’s portfolio of research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities. TCF funds require a 50 percent match of non-federal funds from private partners.

— Solar Builder magazine

Hanergy working to develop more thin-film PV applications at ‘Green China’ conference


Hanergy Thin Film Power Group signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Beijing Electric Vehicle at the “Green China – Hanergy Ecological City Comprehensive Solution Plan Conference” held at the Hanergy general headquarters. Working together within the framework of “Smart Transportation, Green Journey,” the two companies pledged to drive forward thin film applications for the car & household, including roofs and charging stations as well as projects to construct distributed energy industrial parks, and to use solar technology to alleviate poverty in agricultural areas.

As part of the agreement, BAIC BJEV will work with Hanergy to integrate Hanergy’s thin film solar solutions into the roofs of vehicles, providing auxiliary power and even functioning as the main power source. BAIC BJEV and Hanergy will also work together to use thin film solar technology to provide smart battery charging at electric vehicle charging stations. In terms of shared electric vehicles, the two companies will collaborate on using thin film solar to power automotive GPS and electronic locks.

Furthermore, BAIC BJEV and Hanergy plan to deploy thin film solar technology in BAIC BJEV’s automobile manufacturing plants, constructing a distributed green energy system to support factory operations. Finally, the two companies will begin to build small model villages incorporating the aforementioned technology, including thin film solar roofs, car charging stations and new energy vehicles. As part of this initiative the companies will also explore application of thin film solar for agriculture and poverty alleviation.

Lux Research: Thin-film solar modules could challenge silicon in the coming years

At the signing ceremony, Hanergy CEO Si Haijian said, “Hanergy’s partnership with BAIC BJEV stands as a model for cooperation between the thin film solar and the new energy vehicle industries, reflecting the push within Chinese industry to transform energy production and consumption.”

Aside from BAIC BJEV, the Green China Conference was attended by Haier, Zhong Yuan and other Chinese giants of industry. The conference was devoted to discussion of Hanergy’s Ecological City Comprehensive Solution, an effort under China’s new energy development strategy to lower urban energy consumption. This will be accomplished through reforms in macro level planning, program design, infrastructure construction and transportation services aimed at improving urban energy use. China’s efforts in this area follow similar programs undertaken in France, the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries. Similar to these countries, China has prioritized its plan to phase out gasoline powered cars.

— Solar Builder magazine