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Research and development — accelerating large-scale solar growth in Australia Nick Morley, First Solar Project Engineer for Asia Pacific

As part of an accelerating trend in sustainable development, the world now adds more renewable energy capacity than fossil fuel generation annually. With solar photovoltaics (PV) solutions leading the charge, the primary drivers of this transformation have been positive policy conditions in key markets and dramatic reductions in the installed cost per unit energy of PV technologies.

I

n Australia, successful solar

expectations across the industry.

the same amount of nominal power. Collec-

PV project deployment,

First Solar invests approximately US$130

tively, module efficiency and energy yield can

supported by co-investment

million annually in R&D, which has resulted

be considered as energy density, essentially

from the Australian Re-

in recent advancements of cadmium telluride

the energy generated per unit area, which is

newable Energy Agency

(CdTe) module technology. Through constant

a crucial performance metric for comparing

(ARENA) and state govern-

development, mass production line efficiency

the cost-competitiveness of PV technologies.

ments, has contributed to radical declines in

has reached nearly 17%, and CdTe laboratory

This is of particular importance to First Solar

the cost per MWh of large-scale solar. As a

cells — which achieved a record efficiency

thin-film modules in Australia where higher

result, we are approaching cost levels seen in

of 22.1% in February this year — are rap-

temperatures across the country result in

mature markets around the world — despite

idly surpassing silicon at significantly lower

additional energy from the improved module

the first large-scale solar PV project being

manufacturing costs, unlocking unrecognised

temperature coefficient, and regions with higher

built in Australia just four years ago.

potential for the solar industry.

humidity produce a relative energy gain due

Although many factors influence the lev-

Higher module efficiencies — provided

elised cost of electricity (LCOE) for solar PV

they are achieved without impacting cost and

— including PV modules, balance-of-system

reliability — are a powerful tool for increasing

Reducing risk

(BOS), development, financing and operating

the cost-competitiveness of large-scale solar

Looking beyond module efficiency and BOS

costs — research and development (R&D) is

because they also reduce balance of system

costs, another cost component to consider

the key fuel feeding a virtuous circle of in-

(BOS) costs by allowing more nominal power

is debt and equity financing, which can be as

novations that continue to reduce the cost of

of PV to be installed in the same area. The

much as one-third of the total system costs.

large-scale solar and increase its impact on

recent commercialisation of PERC (Passivated

In determining the cost of financing, lenders

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Emitter Rear Contact) technology is also driving

and investors will take into account the various

efficiency improvements in crystalline silicon

factors which pose a risk to their returns —

Increasing efficiencies

cells, which will ensure healthy competition

again, R&D plays a key role in reducing costs

R&D provides opportunities for technological

and lower overall costs for large-scale solar.

by helping to reduce and quantify risk.

advancement that help maintain momentum

Similarly, continued investment into re-

Demonstrations of PV module reliability

for large-scale solar around the world. In

search that improves module energy yield,

both through long-term field performance as

recent years, higher module efficiencies and

which determines how a module performs in

well as accelerated stress tests, combined

declining manufacturing costs have been at the

the varying climates in which it is installed,

with improvements in the accuracy of energy

forefront of these advancements, surpassing

will allow more energy to be generated from

prediction analysis, will help a project to attract

12 Sustainability Matters - Oct/Nov 2016

to changes in the solar spectrum.

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Sustainability Matters Oct/Nov 2016  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...

Sustainability Matters Oct/Nov 2016  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...