In recent years, the interest for renewable energy has grown dramatically, not only from the research and academic world and from the policy makers, but also from the industry, that has reckoned renewable energy as a new growth market. As a result, the PV industry has grown with more that 30% yearly over the last 10 years.
And even though the PV industry has now temporarily stabilized due to the worldwide economic crisis, the importance of PV in global energy production will only grow further, because renewable energy is contributing to a cleaner environment and countering global heating, but also because it is the founder of a whole new thriving industry. Already now, the PV industry is consuming more silicon than the semiconductor industry. And with Barack Obama as the new president of the US, they too will focus their attention on this new growth pole. Being neglected for the last 20 years, the production of renewable energy such as solar and wind energy is now considered as one of the ways to resuscitate the American industry and fight the economic crisis.
Nowadays, commercially available PV modules are still too expensive. For a real breakthrough, and to take over a significant part of the current energy production, the cost of producing electricity via solar cells should be reduced. Two important aspects in that are the cost of the PV modules that should be reduced with a factor 3 to 4, and the conversion efficiency of the solar cells that should further increase.
Towards low cost high yield silicon PV
Silicon solar cells represent around 85% of the current PV market. However, silicon is a relatively expensive base material and there is still a large growth margin on the conversion efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells. Although there is currently no shortage in silicon for PV and the silicon prices have stabilized, silicon PV R&D needs to focus on the increase of production yield and conversion efficiency together with the reduction of the amount of Si used per watt produced.