Some of the key module technology improvements that players are prioritizing now are bifacial and half-cell. Bifacial promises all the advantages of glass-glass, such as lower LID, higher resistance, and higher tolerance for harsh environments. Moreover, bifacial can potentially generate 10-15% more electricity from the rear side, accompanied by only a limited increase in costs.
For its part, half-cell technology aims to reduce cell-to-module losses by optimizing ribbon thickness. This new module design allows more cells to be placed into a module of a given size and increasing power output by 5-10 watts, potentially at a lower cost per watt. For both technologies, the increased output from one single module will also contribute to system cost reductions (on a per-watt basis). This applies to balance-of-system components (BoS), land, and transportation, among other factors, compared to a standard module for a similar-sized project.
One of the biggest barriers for these “new technologies” is recognition from buyers. Another hurdle is the limit to the number of cells obtainable, imposed by the current method of glass production. Production volume remains small compared to that from mass production, which means slower development and higher costs for these new technologies.
In the last couple of years, most announcements on new wafer capacity have been on the monocrystalline side. The growing traction of monocrystalline does not mean the demise of multicrystalline, as multicrystalline suppliers are expected to keep up the battle and will continue to account for about 50% of the market in 2021. The main cause of the resurgence of multicrystalline is the implementation of diamond wire sawing. IHS Markit forecasts that the use of diamond wire saws for cutting multicrystalline wafers will reach significant penetration rates in 2018, with major players enter mass production.
Using diamond wire saws will increase wafer efficiency as well as reduce kerf and production costs, helping make multicrystalline costs competitive again in the next couple of years by reducing the cost of each multicrystalline wafer piece by up to 15%.
One business model that many suppliers have identified is to create a digital services platform that combines the core strength of suppliers in providing PV inverter hardware, with the addition of a software and cloud platform say the researchers. This allows suppliers to work with new partners in parallel industries, such as e-mobility, energy storage, lighting, heating, and cooling.
In the last few years, industrial PV inverter suppliers such as ABB, Schneider Electric, and GE have developed digital platforms, particularly for microgrid applications. These companies are rapidly expanding their capabilities to work with new customers and applications. Other companies are rapidly expanding their hardware portfolios and software/cloud capabilities so that they, too, can develop a digital services platform. These include PV inverter suppliers with a large market share in residential, such as Enphase, SolarEdge, and Panasonic; as well as suppliers that boast of a large installed base, such as SMA and Huawei.
The combination of solar together with batteries has long been recognized as a solution to this problem, smoothing the variations in a solar plant’s output and storing electricity during the day, allowing the system to provide power into the evening. In the past, the high cost of batteries prohibited these types of systems. However, the huge drop in the price of lithium-ion batteries—nearly 70% between 2012 and 2017— has now made utility-scale solar plus storage cost-effective and a reality in some places.
Parts of the United States, as well as Australia, that are planning large planned utility-scale PV plants are now adding storage to provide firm power supply, resulting in the building of a 2.1 GW pipeline in Australia. On a global level, utility-scale solar plus storage accounts for approximately 40% of the total utility-side-of-the-meter energy storage pipeline.