With a global market share of 95%, crystalline silicon still forms the basis for most photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. But the potential for further improvements in performance and cost is huge. With a guaranteed lifespan of 25 years the reliability of PV panels is already excellent. For novel applications and under tough conditions, for example on sea, the requirements will be stricter. Besides, the already-favourable environmental profile can be further improved and PV systems can increasingly be integrated into the environment in socially acceptable manner.
TNO is exploring all kinds of new materials for PV applications and developing novel technologies for manufacturing solar cells and modules. In the development of all of these technologies, the emphasis is on performance, stability, cost-effectiveness and the ability to scale up quickly from the lab to concrete products.
Thin-film perovskite: new material with a high potential
The most eye-catching new PV material is perovskite, with which we have already achieved a great deal of success with our partners in the Solliancepartnership. Together, we have taken important steps in up-scaling and stability in order to make this an interesting prospect for future production by our industry.
Within a very short timeframe, conversion efficiencies of over 20% have been achieved in the lab. The world record for perovskite is as high as 25.5% and is approaching the 26.7% world record for silicon solar cells. TNO’s research is mainly aimed at scaling up the technology, i.e. from small to larger areas and eventually to roll-to-roll production. The first demonstrators have already been manufactured. In addition, thin-film perovskite has the potential to achieve much higher efficiencies within a stack of cells, including a stack of two solar cells which then form a tandem. Another interesting option is to make the modules or foils semi-transparent, for use in electricity-producing windows.
Installation field lab Oostvoorne to test PV under tough conditions
PV reliability under tough conditions
While lab tests with various materials continue unabated, TNO – in collaboration with knowledge partners and companies – is building test facilities at various locations in order to assess solar modules and structures under real operating conditions. Solar modules must continue to perform well under extreme conditions over a longer period of time regardless of the materials from which they are made. Building-integrated PV demands a lot in terms of thermo-mechanical behaviour while maintaining electrical performance. For floating solar, both inland and off-shore, there are additional requirements relating to mechanical stress (wave action) and corrosion (moisture and salt). We are developing test methods to ensure reliability under these tough conditions.
Recyclable solar panels
Current generations of solar panels are only partially recyclable. At the end of a solar panel’s lifespan, the glass is separated and reused, but many materials are left over and end up in an incinerator or are used as landfill. In various projects, TNO is investigating how solar panels can be constructed in such a way that all of the components and materials are fully reusable, thereby retaining their value. Together with a few innovative companies, we have already developed a concept for a panel in which all of the components will eventually start a new life. Following successful lab tests, we are now going to demonstrate this in practice. This solves a major problem: in the EU alone, around 4000 tonnes of solar panels are destroyed each year because they have reached the end of their useful lifespan, a figure which will even multiply in the future.
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