The Canadian PV panel maker Silfab Solar hopes to beat standard module output by almost a third through a partnership with Dutch materials firm DSM.
A strategic alliance between the two companies, announced this week, will see Silfab incorporating DSM’s conductive backsheet technology into modules for the North American market.
"When you combine DSM's innovative technology and material science capabilities with Silfab's proven designs, we are able to realize a nearly 30 percent increase in output over conventional modules," said Paolo Maccario, COO of Silfab, in a press release.
The conductive backsheets eliminate the need for electrical connections on the front of solar modules, increasing the surface area available for energy generation and cutting losses to deliver a 3 percent boost in power output compared to panels made from standard cells.
When combined with back-contact cell technology into a finished module, the improvement in power output could be close to 30 percent more than a mainstream 280-watt product, Silfab executive adviser Geoff Atkins told GTM.
Silfab’s 60-cell modules already have a higher output than the industry standard, at 320 watts, he said. With the addition of conductive backsheets the company hopes to take output up to 350 or even 360 watts, “but we are waiting until our first generation is produced,” Atkins said.
DSM launched its conductive backsheet tech in May and has not announced any customers until now. Atkins did not confirm whether the alliance with Silfab was an exclusive one in the North American market.
But Silfab and its U.S. customers “will be the first to enjoy the results of the cooperation,” Atkins said. “The materials will be commercially available in Q1 2019 and sold exclusively to North American Silfab partners,” he said.
He would not disclose how much Silfab plans to spend on the integration of conductive backsheets into its manufacturing process. In a press release, Silfab said it can "easily incorporate the latest designs and advancements for just-in-time deliveries.”
The company, which makes 60- and 72-cell monocrystalline PV modules, is reportedly planning two 150-megawatt production lines, one in Ontario, Canada, and one in the U.S.
Back-contact solar cells improve PV efficiency by maximizing the workable surface of the cell, but have so far failed to catch on for lack of an efficient, cost-effective backsheet, said DSM in May.
DSM claims to have solved this challenge by creating a patterning system that is 100 times faster than before. This is a pivotal part of the manufacturing process for conductive backsheets, according to DSM.
The conductive backsheets result in zero power loss from cell to module and are compatible with metal wrap-through, interdigitated back-contact and back-contact heterojunction cells, said the company.
In June, the U.K. PV technology developer Oxford PV claimed a new efficiency record as part of moves to create a 30+ percent efficient solar cell by 2020.
The company hit a 27.3 percent conversion efficiency with a perovskite-silicon tandem solar cell, certified by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems.
And in April, GTM reported on moves to use passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC) technology to increase energy yields across North American solar plants, potentially to a level that could erase the price hike inflicted by U.S. tariffs.
According to GTM Research, PERC cell capacity rose from a few pilot lines just five years ago to more than 35 gigawatts in 2017, or nearly one-third of total global cell capacity.
Plants built with PERC cells can require up to 12 percent fewer high-efficiency modules because they are up to 12 percent more efficient.
At the same time, balance-of-system costs for cables, racking, labor and land are also proportionally reduced because fewer modules can produce the same amount of energy.