Thin film solar manufacturing breakthrough
May 26, 2008 Germany is again making news in the solar field with the announcement of the industry’s first ever Gen 8.5 (5.7 m^2 ) silicon thin film solar PV module at Signet Solar’s new factory near Dresden. The accomplishment at the company's 200,000 square foot production facility and is another step towards lowering the cost of renewable solar energy through thin film technology.
Signet Solar says it has lowered the production cost of photovoltaic (PV) modules by combining silicon thin film technology with very large area manufacturing and an industry standard equipment set. The initial modules from the new manufacturing line met the specification of the product and were confirmed by independent testing by Fraunhofer Institute. Signet will start prototype production in early June and will showcase the Gen 8.5 module product line at the Intersolar Conference in Munich. Commercial production will start in the third quarter of 2008, with capacity expansion to over 100MW at the same site expected by 2009.
Thin-film cells use a manufacturing process which involves applying multiple thin layers of a sunlight reactive substance onto a base material. The major benefit of thin film technology is that it can cover larger spaces, whilst the cells require less than 1% of raw materials compared to other manufacturing methods making it cheaper to produce. Additionally, the flexibility of modules and the ability to deposit the cells on all kinds of substances means thin-film solar panels can be integrated into roof tiles and other architectural materials.
Like all solar cells, the thin-film production process is still energy intensive and requires the use of limited resources such as silicon, copper and cadmium. However, when this cost it weighed up against the use of fossil fuels for ongoing residential and commercial energy consumption, investing in production in the short term definitely provides long term benefits.
Signet Solar will commence commercial production of the modules in Q3 2008 with plans to expand capacity to more than 100MW by 2009. The company says it has existing customer commitments of over $400M.
“We now have demonstrated the capability to produce ultra-large modules on a fully integrated line,” said Dr. Rajeeva Lahri, CEO and Founder of Signet Solar Inc. “This is a very important milestone for us as it sets the stage for a model manufacturing line which will be replicated globally to expand capacity.”