Solar R&D Heavyweights Join In Effort To Drive Down Thin-Film CIGS Costs

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Credit: PVMC
Credit: PVMC

The US Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are partnering to drive down the cost of manufacturing thin-film copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules. PVMC is aiming to reduce the total installed cost of solar energy systems by 75%, a goal set in its U.S. Thin-Films PV Roadmap.

The public–private partnership is the latest in a nationwide effort involving some of the highest-powered solar energy industry players and research and development (R&D) organizations, an effort led by the State University of New York-Albany’s (SUNY) College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) and Sematech, a consortium of leading semiconductor industry participants that represent 50% of the worldwide chip market. The partnership is a part of the Obama Administration’s SunShot Initiative.

The Search For Next-Generation Thin-Film PV

Cheaper to mass manufacture than conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV cells and modules, and available in both flexible and rigid form factors, use of thin-film solar PV cells and modules has been rising. Thin-film PV’s share of the worldwide solar PV market grew to more than 13.5% in 2010.

the-rise-of-cigs--finallyLeveraging 30-plus years of thin-film PV semiconductor R&D and advances in manufacturing processes, cadmium-telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si), and CIGS PV cells and modules are commercially available and producing clean, renewable power across a wide variety of applications, from utility-scale solar PV farms to consumer electronic devices with solar-charged batteries.

Efforts to realize further reductions in production costs have focused on finding PV semiconductor materials that are both readily available and have high energy conversion efficiencies.

The world’s leading provider of thin-film solar PV, Arizona-based First Solar has focused on CdTe PV cells and modules. Industry players and researchers believe CIGS thin-film PV cells and modules offer significant advantages, however.

First off, they’re based on more readily available materials. Secondly, CIGS PV cells can absorb more than 99% of sunlight spectrum and have the highest current density, which results in their having the highest conversion efficiency among all other thin-film alternatives, at least in lab samples, PVMC notes.

By joining forces, PVMC and NREL believe they can accelerate the pace of advances in thin-film PV efficiency and production, contributing to the development of the next generation of CIGS PV cells and modules.

Such efforts fall right in line with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative, as well as President Obama’s SunShot Initiative. Falling under his NY-Sun Initiative, Gov. Cuomo in January announced plans to establish a “Green Bank” with initial investment capital of $1 billion.

“In support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s innovative green energy strategy that is fueling New York’s emergence as a leader in the cleantech industry, PVMC is delighted to partner with NREL to help drive important advances in our nation’s solar future,” PVMC Chief Operating Officer and CNSE VP of Clean Energy Programs Dr. Pradeep Haldar was quoted in a press release.

“Through this initiative, we look forward to enhancing the manufacturability of thin film solar PV technologies, which is critical to enabling increased usage in residential, commercial and utility applications across the country.”

Added PVMC senior VP of business development and strategic alliances Joe Hudgins:

“This unique partnership between NREL and PVMC will leverage national resources, accelerate commercialization of next generation solar products, and boost interactions between U.S. research labs and industry manufacturing initiatives.

“Together we are leading the national effort to help facilitate the transfer and commercialization of future solar products, equipment, and manufacturing lines including thin film, advanced silicon, and future materials.”

Looking to leverage and expand on their work, PVMC and NREL will expand their partnership to include other US national labs so as to “accelerate deliverables and help overcome the gaps and challenges necessary to build a strong US solar industry,” they stated.

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