Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advancing Technologies, Decreasing Costs

Between the Paris climate talks and the extension of the federal investment tax credit (ITC), the solar industry has been making headlines in recent weeks. Whether advancing the technologies we have or developing new ones, bringing down costs and increasing efficiencies will ultimately determine the success in the adoption of solar innovation.

Solar technology has long been regarded as expensive to install and maintain, which is why initiatives have been devised in order to encourage widespread adoption. Recently the industry’s collective emphasis has been on how to lower the costs of installation and maintenance, which are considered “soft costs.” Labor, permitting, and customer acquisition do come with a hefty price tag, and indeed, improvements are being made to help lower these costs.

However, to effectively lower the barriers to market entry within the solar industry, we must also advance innovations that can reduce hard costs – expenses directly related to the photovoltaic (PV) cells and other solar equipment. Solar cells currently cost 100 times less than in 1977. That is a significant cost reduction to be accomplished in less than 40 years. With new technologies, there is even more room for hard cost reduction.

In the manufacturing of solar cells, current methods often lead to breakage of the cells when they come in contact with the screen printing mechanics. This breakage is a waste of silicon, which makes up about 75 percent of the cost of the cell. Additionally, with the risk of breakage already looming, the thickness of the solar cells cannot be decreased as this would make breakage even more prevalent.

So what can be done to solve this? A transition to digital inkjet printing can help solve the breakage problem. In digital inkjet printing, the mechanics never come in contact with the solar cell, decreasing breakage and also allowing for thinner cells to be developed.

The hurdle that made digital inkjet printing previously not possible was the availability of conductive inks that are both suitable for the process and cost effective to produce. Our Sicrys™ inks are the response to this gap in the market. These single-crystal nanometric conductive inks enable the mass production of digital inkjet printing.  The inks also allow for narrower conductive patterns, which not only increase cost effectiveness in that less silver is required but also increase the cell’s active area and decrease shading. Such an advancement increases efficiency by up to a percentage point when comparing to traditional screen-printed conductive inks. In addition to silver inks, we produce these inks in copper – a more economical metal than silver – decreasing costs even further.

COP21 left industry experts exploring ways to achieve the goals set by our world leaders. Banding together and bringing our collective efforts to the conversation to increase the widespread adoption of clean energy is critical. Technologies to decrease solar hard costs and increase efficiencies will be critical in the long-term implementation of renewable energy.

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