Premium modules: Players in the top league

Fri, 08/12/2017 - 15:08


This photovoltaics system on an office and residential block in Mainz-Gonsenheim consists of 76 HIT modules from Panasonic with a peak capacity of 18.62 kWp. (Photo: Panasonic /Heike Rost)

Premium modules are in the champions’ league when it comes to performance and reliability. SUN & WIND ENERGY has surveyed selected players in this top flight about their latest products – and their estimation of the market for these innovations.

Authoring Information
Martin Frey (sunwindenergy.com)

Although we know that there is no generally accepted definition of what counts as high-performance or premium modules, we all have a relatively clear idea of what is meant here. An important criterion is certainly that 20 – 30 % more yield should be generated from the same area. This is made possible by having module efficiencies of over 20 % and module capacities of over 210 W/m2.

High-performance modules in combination with own consumption solutions are being used privately more and more – as well as generally in building integration. Special cell and module technologies play a role in getting the increased performance, but also high manufacturing quality, highly automated production lines and ever-improving quality control techniques. Many suppliers have gone with PERC technology (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell), in which cells manufactured using p-type wafers are given an additional rear-side passivation. This increases the charge carrier density, leading to considerably higher cell performance and an increased yield of approx. 20 %.

The market is developing positively

The companies surveyed all consider the market for high-performance modules as being on an upward trend. Cost reduction potentials are recognised but not put into figures. The company AE Alternative Energy GmbH from Königsbrunn, Germany, which manufactures in China, sees great potential for the European market. It also hopes for an imminent end to the minimum import price, which is holding the company back considerably.

Astronergy Solarmodule GmbH from Frankfurt/Oder reports that as a result of the over-proportional price drop for PV modules, their share of the costs in a PV system is dropping and the higher costs for premium quality is having less and less of an impact. Overall there is a positive trend towards local products. The company’s high-performance modules use PERC cells, available as “PENTA+ Mono Premium” modules in silver or black.

The growing interest in premium modules is also thanks to the trend towards electric vehicles and electric heating, believes Bernhard Weilharter, head of CS-Wismar GmbH: “This is increasing the energy demand, and decentralised own-generation systems for electricity are becoming increasingly attractive.” The profitability of such systems is defined in terms of maximising the lifetime after the break-even point. Because of this, special glass-glass modules are becoming increasingly important. After taking over the Centrosolar module factory, the company entered the wholesale market for the first time at the start of 2017.

At LG Electronics they have seen a high demand and a “tense situation in the production chain until the end of the year“. They therefore started up four new production lines in Gumi, South Korea, in mid 2017, including the line for the high-performance module LG NeON R. All the lines are running at near full capacity, which means we can assume a continued high demand for LG premium series.

Also, according to Panasonic, the market for high-quality, high-yield modules will continue to grow as a result of the growing PV markets in Germany and Europe as a whole. Additionally, many PV systems are being put up on existing building stock, whose roofs can be very well utilised by the HIT modules.

Manufacturers are offering numerous new products

Higher yields, reliable operation and longer lifetimes: this is also promised by AE Alternative Energy with its latest module series AE-SMP and AE-SMM. In these “AE Smart hot-spot-free” products, the individual cells are connected using laminated bypass diodes. If an individual cell is shaded, this does not affect the whole cell string. Especially at sites with a lot of dust or snow, increased yields of up to 30 % should be possible.

At Astronergy, the PENTA+ Mono Premium modules (silver and “full black”) with PERC cell technology are listed as new products. Particularly high performance and yields are achieved thanks to “Light Redirecting Ribbons” and highly reflective rear sides. Here too it is reported that this sector is generally growing. In the first three quarters of 2017 the share of premium modules within the company, i.e. the Mono Black and Mono PERC high efficiency modules, has been approx. 15 %.

Since last spring, Solarwatt has had the especially robust and long-lasting in-roof “Easy In” module in its range in a glass-glass version (Photo: Solarwatt GmbH)

Axitec Energy will be supplying its “X series” as of January 2018, consisting of the monocrystalline Axipremium X and Axiblackpremium X modules. These are modules using PERC technology with seven busbars. The Axipremium X will be available in January as a 310 W module and the black version as a 300 W module.

At AxSun Solar GmbH & Co. KG they are presenting three new products using PERC technology. There is the “AxSun Performer monocrystalline (AX M-60 3.2 performer)” with a rated capacity of 305 W and also the “AX M-60 GGM 2.0² infinity” module from the glass-glass series with the same rated capacity of 305 W. Rounding off the new products is the in-roof Solrif module “AX M-60 3.2 premium sol” with a rated capacity of 300 W.

Connections moved to the rear side

In the last year LG Electronics has presented a rear-side contact module with 60 cells and up to 370 W with its high-performance NeON R module. The front side has no electrodes at all and according to the manufacturer this enables maximum absorption of the incident light. The module has an improved temperature coefficient and a higher efficiency. At 18 kg it is comparatively light and is especially suitable for small roofs or ones with limited loading capacities.

In the new year Panasonic aims, among other products, to bring a so-called all-black module onto the market for design lovers. The electronics company has gone with heterojunction technology on its HIT modules, in which a thin monocrystalline silicon wafer is enclosed by an ultra-thin amorphous silicon layer. This reduces the loss of electrons from the surface and the efficiency rises. Currently, the HIT N295 module has an efficiency of 19.1 %, the N245 19.4 % and the N330 19.7 %.

Longevity counts

At Solarwatt they have grouped their glass-glass modules together in 2017 under the brand name “Vision”. Compared to conventional glass-foil modules, they are supposed to be particularly long-lived and bring in higher yields. The product series also includes “style variations for especially aesthetic tastes”, such as monocrystalline modules with black frames.

The in-roof module ´Easy In´ introduced last spring as an “ultra-robust, long-lasting glass-glass version” comes with a product and performance warranty covering 30 years, as do all the company’s glass-glass products. Additionally, the transparent module “Vision 36 M Glass”, which has approval for overhead assembly, has been further improved.

At Solarworld Industries, where they have gone exclusively with manufacturing and selling monocrystalline PERC products, modules which take up light from both sides, so-called bifacial glass-glass modules, play an important role. They generate up to 25 % higher yields per installed capacity, whereby the cells are exclusively connected together using 5 busbar technology. As of January 2018 the “Sunmodule Bisun protect 290” will also be available. Generally Solarworld supplies the bifacial “Sunmodule Bisun protect” both with transparent rear-side glass and with an integrated white grid structure in the glass.

At Trina Solar the module series “Extra Power”, “Aesthetics” and “Reliability” are considered to be in the premium category. Also coming with added value compared to the standard poly modules are the modules certified for 1,500 V, such as the 72-celled “Tallmax”. These enable longer strings to be formed, which also lowers other system costs and electricity generation costs. The bifacial “Duomax Twin” modules, with their active rear side, are also clearly in the premium module league here. Also to climb onto the premium rung will be the 12-busbar and half-cell modules, which have already been exhibited at the Intersolar as prototypes.