New Solar Wafer Technology
The last 5-10 years have seen a dramatic decline in the costs of silicon solar panel, mainly due to the improvement in manufacturing processes and increase in scale. The cost drop has been so fast and so steep that it has made solar energy competitive with major fossil fuels, such as coal and gas in most parts of the world.
Solar energy is not only being installed due to its cheap price and rapid installation, but also majorly because of its green attributes and environment friendly nature. However, the solar panel manufacturing process has more or less remained the same with most of the cost decline coming due improvement of existing processes. Though technology has played a role in improving the efficiency of silicon solar cells that has not been the major factor behind the decline in prices of solar panels from $4/watt in 2008, to around 45 cents/watt now.
Now a new startup plans to radically change the manufacturing of solar panels through a new technique. The firm 1366 Technologies which has been around for a long time is now starting to make commercial shipments of its uniquely manufactured solar wafers. These solar wafers are the main raw materials for the production of solar cells, which are an intermediate step to the production of solar panels. Solar wafer is the biggest cost component of a solar cell and a cost decline in solar cells will lead to a further sharp cut in the cost of solar panels.
Read more bout 1366 Technologies’ disrupting technology here.
1366 Technologies is producing solar wafers by molding of solar wafers, rather than following the traditional process of production of polysilicon ingots and then slicing them into wafers. 1366 claims that this process reduces the amount of polysilicon usage in wafers by 50%, which will allow almost 25% of the cost of the wafers to be saved in terms of raw material costs. These wafers can also be used in existing production lines, which will make it easy to adopt this product by solar cell companies.
Another USA company Evergreen Solar had got a fair bit of success by making wafers differently, but the company required that its wafer should be used in its own solar cell and module making processes, which limited its adaptability. Like many of the other solar startups Evergreen also folded up, as it was unable to compete with the large scale of the Chinese major solar panel companies.
1366 Technologies is also making further R&D to reduce the size of the wafers, by planning a wafer with differential thickness in different areas of the solar wafers. This will reduce the incidence of breakage of the thin wafers, which is the main impediment behind the further improvement of solar wafers going forward. Solar wafers which are already at the 180-200 um thickness, are now facing trouble in reducing the thickness as thin wafers break more easily.