Dr. Jutta Trube: "Technology will continue to become more efficient". Dr. Jutta Trube, a member of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) working in the division for photovoltaic production equipment, responds to seven questions on future prospects for German PV plant manufacturers.
Ms. Trube, what’s the outlook for PV production system manufacturers in 2019?
We regularly publish quarterly results as well as a business climate index, for which we survey our members working in PV manufacturing. According to their responses, companies assume that their sales performance will remain the same this year.
What challenges does PV plant construction currently face in Germany?
The competition in Asia is growing. Something that certainly didn’t benefit machine and plant construction this past year was Solarworld becoming insolvent, meaning that Germany lost its last major manufacturer of solar cells. There are still German manufacturers producing modules, but our members’ customers for cell production are now located almost exclusively in Asia. In Germany, the production chain – from research and development to materials manufacturing and plant construction to the finished product – has been interrupted, so to speak. If companies wish to test their systems in production, they now have to turn to their customers abroad since they can no longer run these tests on site in Germany.
Photovoltaic systems are getting cheaper all the time. Which area of production saw the greatest savings in the past year and why?
Several developments are to thank for these cost savings. If we take a look at machine construction alone, the plants’ throughput has risen steadily. And a plant with twice the throughput does not cost twice as much. That’s a big factor in reducing costs. A second key factor is the increased efficiency on account of new and improved cell concepts. New processes and other cell structures have been developed which offer a higher rate of efficiency. This has an impact on the price, that is to say on the euros per watt peak.
This month you will be publishing the current issue of the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic. It describes the current state of PV production technologies and offers an outlook on what’s to come in the next ten years. What developments are you expecting to see a decade from now?
That’s easy. Technology will continue to become more efficient. Cells and modules are performing better and better and require less and less material, for instance silver, one of the most important and most expensive materials currently required in the manufacturing process. That, of course, has a positive effect on cost.
Half-cut cells are the new trend. What sorts of special requirements are involved in their production?
To make half-cut cells, whole cells are cut in half and then connected differently. We have asked our members about the limitations to wafer thickness and there is no difference to that of whole cells.
Thin-film technology is very important for the success of German plant manufacturers. However, crystalline technologies dominate the world market. What prospects do you see for thin-film photovoltaics in the coming years?
Right now there are two different technologies being produced which have established themselves on the market: copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe). There’s only really one large manufacturer of cadmium telluride technology. It has recently invested in larger substrate materials, drastically cutting costs and in turn making this technology a competitor. Thin-film modules perform better at high temperatures because they have a lower temperature coefficient, meaning there’s less of a drop in efficiency at high temperatures. As a result, they lend themselves particularly to installation in the Sunbelt, where some have even already been installed. Unlike crystalline technology, thin-film modules also offer a uniform surface, making them perfect for façade- and building-integrated solutions. This could open up another market for thin-film technology.
You are co-organizing the PV Production Forum with Intersolar Europe. What can participants expect from the forum?
VDMA has commissioned a study to find out if it’s really the case that cell production in Germany or Europe instead of in Asia would no longer pay off. We will present the results at the PV Production Forum and hold a panel discussion to explore the prospects for PV production in Europe. Further topics include new cell and module concepts as well as how far the automation of PV production has advanced with regard to digitalization – thinking about Production 4.0 – and big data.