Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by Ellen R Delisio0
Thin-Film Module achieves world Record Efficiency
The creation by Solibro, a 100 percent subsidiary of Q-Cells SE, of a Copper Indium Gallium Selenid (CIGS) thin-film technology for Q.SMART modules with world-record breaking solar module efficiency of 17.4 percent, is a big step toward CIGS technology capturing some of the market from the crystalline segment. The development has been made at Solibro’s R&D center in Uppsala, Sweden.
“It’s about gaining market share over time,” said Lars Stolt, Solibro’s head of technology. “It’s very important to show that you have products in research and development as well as in production that are efficient and that you are reducing production costs.” According to information from Solibro’s parent company, Q-Cells SE in Germany, “The record test module, with size 16 cm2, was fabricated using processes fully scalable to cost-effective mass production.”
Thin-film technologies subtantially decrease the amount of costly material needed to create the active material of a solar cell. The active cell is 3-to-4 micrometers thick, as compared to silicon solar cells, which have a thickness of about 200 micrometers. A module is created when thin film solar cells are placed between two panes of glass. Silicon solar panels, though, only require one pane of glass, so thin film panels are nearly twice as heavy as crystalline silicon panels. Most thin-film panels have significantly lower efficiency rates than silicon.
Solibro’s latest thin cell, however, shows CIGS can hold their own.
“This [breakthrough] is very important as far as project partners are concerned,” noted Stolt. “It shows that efficiency-wise, we can compete with others.”
Both technologies have their advantages. The main advantage of the CIGS thin-film technology is the combination of a high-efficiency rate with a low-level production cost. Other key advantages of CIGS are the good low-light behavior and solid performance, even in hot climates.
The CIGS technology behindQ.SMART was developed in the 1990s by the Ångström Solar Center at Uppsala University, Sweden, and then commercialized by Solibro when it spun off from the solar center in 2003. A joint venture was formed with Q-Cells in 2006 and since 2009, Solibro has operated as a 100 percent subsidiary of Q-Cells, showing leadership in both CIGS technology and production. The largest solar park in the world based on CIGS technology was built in lower Saxony, Germany in 2011, with Q.SMART solar modules.
“When we made the original deal with Q-Cells, there was some disappointment in Sweden, because some had hoped that these products would lead to commercial and industrial products in Sweden,” Stolt said. “But no company was ready to bring this to commercial success in Sweden. Realizing this, we had no other option than to find an international partner to realize production.”
The partnership has turned out to be “extremely successful,” Stolt added “We have proven in production that this technology works – we can safely say that we are in the lead in terms of CIGS. We still have the potential to be more efficient, but we need to develop a larger production facility – that will be the next step.”
Lars Stolt, Solibro’s head of technology