The global consumption of solar energy continues to rise: since 2010 by about 40% per year. But for truly large-scale applications, the cost of solar power, usually generated by so-called silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells, needs to be reduced and lower production costs, higher efficiency and longer life expectancy of the modules are essential. To this end, ECN part of TNO works closely with Dutch and foreign partners.
With the development of silicon PV technology, our country has been at the forefront of the world for decades thanks to the combination of fundamental and applied science together with industry. For example, more than half of all solar panels installed worldwide incorporate technology developed by us. And the Dutch companies that manufacture equipment for the production of solar cells and panels, and materials and components for these panels, export their products all over the world. A major Chinese manufacturer of solar modules supplies so-called PANDA modules, based on technology developed by ECN part of TNO together with Dutch suppliers. Recently, a manufacturer announced that it would start producing solar panels in the Netherlands on the basis of our technology.
Development of new materials
More than 90% of solar panels contain silicon photovoltaic cells. In order to increase the efficiency of the panels and thus reduce costs, we mainly focus on the wafer-thin functional coatings that are applied to the cells using special techniques. These coatings result in a higher light capture and minimise losses at the surface of the cells, thus offering a higher efficiency. We also develop new concepts for solar panels and apply new materials in collaboration with partners in order to improve the lifespan as well as the aesthetics. In this way, we can develop attractive looking modules with a high level of efficiency at the same time. To this end, ECN part of TNO combines knowledge of technologies, processes and materials.
Collecting light on both sides
One possibility to increase the actual energy yield of PV cells is to use panels that can capture light on both sides of the cell and module. As a result, it is possible, without significant additional costs, to increase the energy yield by about 20% compared to the current cells and modules that can only collect light on one side.
By developing new technologies and processes, we enable Dutch industry to remain at the forefront of the highly competitive global market for solar energy. Mass production of solar panels is located in low-wage countries in Asia. Our country distinguishes itself here by providing smart innovations in the pre-production phase. The aim is to develop, together with Dutch companies, new technologies that they process into materials and components and into production equipment with the aim of exporting them worldwide. This way, we remain at the heart of cost-effective and reliable ways to generate highly efficient solar energy.