The solar PV module market so far has seen commendable growth, with numerous milestones having been achieved in terms of the number of installations, cost reductions, and technological breakthroughs. It is worth noting that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is currently the focal point of global efforts toward shifting to cleaner forms of energy. This factor, coupled with mounting concerns regarding climate change as well as the impact of air pollution on health has augmented the demand for solar photovoltaics across the globe.
According to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), solar PV installed capacity is expected to grow six times on a global level, reaching 2840 GW and 8519 GW by 2030 and 2050 respectively.
This industry vertical is already one of the fastest-growing ones out there, given that solar is currently the second most deployed clean energy technology across the globe by installed capacity, after wind energy. Given these trends, solar PV is expected to be one of the cheapest sources of energy available by 2050, especially in regions that have excellent solar radiation.
The World Economic Forum predicted that over 115 gigawatts of solar generation solutions were installed worldwide in 2020, which surpassed all other power generation technologies at that time. This can largely be credited to the availability of solar PV at affordable costs, especially in sunnier regions.
What are the major technological breakthroughs in the solar PV module market?
The solar PV module market has witnessed some transformative growth in the recent past, with technological innovations trending across the value chain. Even some of the major challenges, such as operations during nighttime, are being addressed using innovative solutions.
For instance, researchers at Stanford University in California have developed a modified solar panel that can operate under low-light conditions and generate enough power to run an LED light or charge a phone. The researchers essentially have added a thermoelectric generator to the solar panel, thus bypassing the need to store energy in batteries across off-grid locations.
It is worth noting that a major driver for such innovations in solar energy technology has been the drive for higher efficiency. Increasing cell efficiency in solar panels is one of the key aspects associated with competitive module manufacturing since it directly helps in decreasing the overall cell processing costs. Some of the major technological milestones have been summarized below –
- PERC Technology
The advent of new cell architectures has allowed for higher efficiency levels in solar PV modules. A PERC cell technology utilizes an advanced silicon cell architecture, although it is not much different than a monocrystalline PV cell in terms of construction.
The most important improvement here is the integration of the back-surface passivation layer that enhances the cell’s efficiency. PERC solar cells are also known for their robust compatibility with emerging technologies, such as half-cut cells.
Although PERC technology has recently started to enter the commercial arena, it has rapidly become the new industry benchmark for monocrystalline cells. This can be attributed to the growing demand for monocrystalline cells, significant improvement in reliability and output, along with increasing R&D activities among the major manufacturers that are actively participating in PERC production.
For instance, Japan-based electronics manufacturer Sharp has introduced a bifacial double-glass monocrystalline PREC device called the NB-JD540 solar panel. The new product is known to have around a 20.9% efficiency rating as well as 540W power output.
2. Bifacial Cells
With the widespread adoption of advanced cell architecture and a growing focus on improving system output levels, one of the most important technological shifts in the solar PV module industry is related to the emerging bifacial cells technology.
The technology can not only generate electricity from sunlight but also from the reflected sunlight that is received on the reverse side of the solar cell. Bifacial operations along with PERC can offer a near-term efficiency increase of around 20% by improving the energy output from a given module area.
Citing an instance, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis officially launched a USD 141.7 million worth solar farm in April 2022, which will soon be connected to the national power grid. The farm is estimated to produce 350 GWh of electricity through 500,000 bifacial panels that would potentially power nearly 75,000 homes annually.
It is also worth mentioning that this technology has already been under development for years, but its high costs, as well as the bulky weight, have been a major bottleneck in its deployment.
3. Half Cells
Half cells technology can improve the overall module performance as well as its durability. Cutting a fully processed cell into half using advanced laser machines is known as half cells. With the integration of PERC, the technology has achieved efficiencies of around 18% while power ratings of at least 300W.
The primary takeaway here is that consistent R&D investments and subsequent technological breakthroughs have allowed for the development of photovoltaics at affordable costs. This coupled with the worldwide shift towards renewable sources of energy will boost the global solar PV module industry size in the subsequent years.
How have policy deadlines led to a solar PV module boom?
Apart from fulfilling the 2015 Paris Agreement, renewable energy sources are known to be critical in reducing air pollution, offering affordable energy access, and improving general health and well-being. Solar photovoltaics technology has developed to be one of the most pioneering renewable solutions in the recent past, which in turn is favoring global solar PV module market trends.
According to IEA, solar energy accounts for 3.1% of global electricity generation, being the third-largest renewable power technology after hydropower and onshore wind. Power generation from solar PV was estimated to have grown by a record 156 TWh in 2020, which is a 23% increase from the previous year.
This record power generation growth was prompted by increasing investments from developers who are racing to take advantage of expiring support schemes in the United States, China, and Vietnam. In the United States, for instance, manufacturers rushed to complete their projects before the production tax credit expired, although it was extended for another year in the year 2020.
China, meanwhile, was responsible for a whopping 75% increase in annual solar PV installations between 2019 and 2020. This comes on the back of projects that were contracted under the former FIT scheme in China and were required to be connected to the grid by 2020 end. Even Vietnam saw an unprecedented rush in residential and commercial installations of solar PVs given the phaseout of the FIT scheme.
Such policies that promote renewable energy deployment in tandem with rapid technological breakthroughs have paved the way for global solar PV module market share growth. It would be interesting to see how this industry contributes to the transformation of the global energy landscape in the coming decade.