New plastics will improve modules

Simulation of solar irradiation in the testing laboratory (Photo: TÜV Rheinland)
Simulation of solar irradiation in the testing laboratory (Photo: TÜV Rheinland)

TÜV Rheinland's workshop 'Photovoltaik-Modultechnik' (Photovoltaic Module Technology), which takes place every year in Cologne in mid-November, not only focuses on the inner workings of modules; it also gives participants an opportunity to discuss current PV market topics.

In keeping with this, the workshop kicked off this time with a lecture on the subject of tendering solar parks. The industry's fears that small project developers and particularly citizens' energy cooperatives will be steamrolled are justified, according to Benjamin Hannig from Enerparc AG: "Large project developers are at an advantage because they can distribute expenses and risks over multiple solar park projects." In his view, a simple and transparent process for all groups of participants is not ensured. Even though the German federal government keeps emphasising the importance of diversity in the market, it is likely that only a handful of project developers will survive.

Significantly longer service life with low additional costs

Cost reduction continues to be the dominant topic in module technology. In this context, the length of a module's service life is increasingly coming into focus because the longer a module is able to generate power, the lower the electricity generation costs are. The slightly higher initial costs are acceptable if the service life can be increased significantly, according to Markus Putzer, head of the Elastomers Technology department at the silicone specialist company Momentive.

Silicon is more expensive than conventional encapsulation materials, but it is extremely durable. "If you only have to invest 10% more to increase the service life by 50%, then that is a good business decision," Markus Putzer said. However, the market does not seem to be ready for this because customers are still paying more attention to the price than the service life.

Gernot Wallner from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz voiced his support in Cologne for polyolefins as alternative module encapsulation materials. These plastics have significant advantages. They can be processed more quickly and are more durable. The thermo-mechanical, optical and electrical performance characteristics are better suited to the requirements of a PV module. Nevertheless, polyolefins are relatively expensive because production volumes are still low.

Jürgen Jung from Agfa Gevaert also expects the market share for silicones and polyolefins to grow, but he realises that EVA will continue to dominate the market until at least 2025. Reverse-side laminates (RSL) are expected to follow the trend towards alternative plastics because the demands on materials are increasing. "All-purpose RSL is going to be replaced by laminates that are specifically adapted to the system voltage, the climate as well as the customer's requirements," Jürgen Jung said. Increasing the system voltage from 1,000 to 1,500 volts will reduce costs, and this argument carries more weight than any other in the world of photovoltaics.

Detlef Koenemann

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