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Squeezing more out of modules

Many industries have, not surprisingly, attempted to talk themselves out of the global downturn, but very few have the statistics to back up their optimism. Thankfully, the PV industry is one of this select few. And it seems as if module production is leading the charge…

Last year, PV panel makers and their suppliers were feeling the recession’s bite and wondering whether the industry could survive. But unexpectedly strong demand in Germany and the rest of Europe pulled solar manufacturers out of their decline. And according to research, global solar panel shipment in the second quarter of 2010 is up 92 per cent from a year ago.

Solar panel makers shipped 3.7 gigawatts of solar panels in the second quarter and generated $7.1 billion in revenue in the process, according to research institute IMS. And there is hope that 14.6 gigawatts of solar electricity generation capacities will be added worldwide this year, almost doubling the capacity added in 2009.

The dramatic increase in manufacturing over the past year is inevitably throwing up innovative and more efficient methods of module production. For example, new research from the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands, has found that using hydrogen in the production of amorphous silicon, or “thin film,” cells can increase their efficiency from the usual seven perc ent to roughly nine per cent.

Researcher Gijs van Elzakker simply diluted the silane gas already used to produce the solar cells with hydrogen to achieve the results, meaning that the improvement is essentially free. Elzakker has already taken his findings to the German company Inventux Technologies, where he works.

However, the basic process of PV module manufacture remains constant. To make solar cells, the raw materials-silicon dioxide of either quartzite gravel or crushed quartz-are placed into an electric arc furnace, where a carbon arc is applied to release the oxygen. The resulting pure silicon is then treated with with phosphorous and boron to produce an excess of electrons and a deficiency of electrons respectively to make a semiconductor capable of conducting electricity. The silicon disks are shiny and require an anti-reflective coating, usually titanium dioxide.


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