When a top notch solar cell equipment supplier starts actually making solar cells, anything can happen. If all goes according to plan, another next-generation photovoltaic breakthrough is in the works and the cost of solar power will keep going down, down, down.
Wait, Who Is Meyer Burger And What Is Kerf Loss?
The solar power supplier in question is Switzerland-based Meyer Burger Technology Ltd., which lays claim to setting the standard for equipment used by many of the world’s PV manufacturers.
“A large proportion of the solar modules produced world-wide today are based on technologies developed by Meyer Burger,” the company states. The laundry list of high tech equipment includes a diamond-wire saw for solar wafers, which hit the market back in 2014.
Meyer Burger tailored the saw specifically for brittle materials like crystalline silicon. The high-precision saw enables manufacturer to push out high quality wafers with fewer rejects at faster speeds, which is a good thing in terms of pushing costs down.
That’s where the thing about kerf loss comes in. Kerf is the extra material you lose when you cut or saw something. Think sawdust and you’re on the right track. Generally speaking, wire saws produce less kerf than other methods, and the diamond-wire version gilds the lily.
Solar Power Never Sleeps
Meyer Burger is also credited with introducing efficiency-boosting PERC architecture into the solar market and building it into an industry standard. PERC stands for passivated emitter rear cell, in which a couple of extra efficiency-boosting layers are deposited onto the solar cell. That is a whole story unto itself.
No, those are not stage names. They are the building blocks for the modular deposition system. For those of you keeping score at home, according to Meyer Burger more than 35 gigawatts in PERC capacity have been installed around the world.
However, Meyer Burger is already fomenting a next-generation solar power revolution. Stating that the current PERC technology is “largely exhausted,” the company is shifting gears into a new technology and it is not about to let other manufacturers skim the cream off the top.
What Is Meyer Burger’s Big PV Breakthrough?
What changed? Well, now that solar costs have come down, Meyer Burger is probably counting on a far more robust market than in past years.
“By selling its production equipment, however, Meyer Burger relinquished control of its technology and largely left the realization of the added value creation to its customers,” explains the company.
The COVID-19 crisis is also spurring the EU in the direction of a green recovery. Renewable energy targets in the EU are already fairly ambitious and indications are that the COVID-19 outbreak is motivating policy makers to adopt an even more aggressive schedule.
That would enable Meyer Burger to take full advantage of its new, next-generation heterojunction/SmartWire® manufacturing process, which the company plans to keep all to itself instead of selling to others.
As described by Meyer Burger, the SmartWire process is a new, speedier way to connect solar cells and modules. Think of the difference between 4G and 5G cell phone technology, and you’re on the right track.
The process also requires less silver, which contributes to lower manufacturing costs, and it boosts solar cell efficiency, too. Last year Meyer Burger demonstrated proof of concept for mass production deploying the new process, and apparently all went according to plan.
“In comparison to conventional 3-busbar technology, [SmartWire Connection Technology] delivers an increased performance yield of 6% for solar cells thanks to encapsulation in the module,” the company states, adding that “Bificial modules with SmartWire Connection Technology show an increased energy yield in terms of kWh/Wp under real outdoor conditions.”
Meyer Burger cites a confirmed efficiency record of 25.4% for heterojunction solar cells produced through the new process, which is covered with 45 patents by the way.
Low Cost Solar Power For A Green COVID-19 Recovery In The US
Got all that? Good! The company initially plans to focus on rooftop solar power with an initial production capacity of 400 megawatts, eventually building up to a minimum of 5 gigawatts.
As for a green recovery here in the US, Meyer Burger does not plan on manufacturing its solar cells on these shores, but you can get all excited anyways, because it does plan on manufacturing the cells at a central location and then shipping them to North America for module production.
They better move fast if they want a piece of the US solar power market.
Just last week, the firm Wood Mackenzie ran the rooftop solar numbers and found that PERC solar PV systems in the US are taking a steep dive, at a rate faster than anticipated.
In the residential sector, WoodMac cites reductions in the cost of solar modules as a driver of the overall trend.
That means a chunk of the US rooftop solar market could lock into the old PERC technology before Meyer Burger comes in with its new process.
Hard Costs + Soft Costs = No Soft Landing For Fossil Fuels
Moving forward, though, the WoodMac report may not fully account for the potential impact of Meyer Burger’s new technology on solar costs.
The report foresees that “hard” costs — meaning the solar modules, wiring, and other equipment — will not fall as quickly in the coming years. Depending on how quickly Meyer Burger can ramp up, WoodMac may have to revise that forecast.
Meanwhile, the report does advise that the industry needs to focus more attention on driving down “soft” costs, including labor and marketing. In combination with lower module costs, solving the soft cost problem would keep the cost of solar power spiraling downward at a quick pace.
Here in the US, the Department of Energy has been all over both hard and soft costs through the Obama-era SunShot initiative, including utility-scale and rooftop solar, as well as thin film solar and other cutting edge technologies.
In its latest push for solar power, the Energy Department is targeting the underdeveloped commercial-scale solar market for exploitation, and that could be right in Meyer Burger’s sweet spot.