Circular solar modules and mass customization

Solar modules and mass customization

In 2022, global installed Solar PV capacity will reach more than 1 TW, with the ability to supply almost 5% of world electricity demand. This marks a historic milestone for research, development, and deployment of solar PV.

Historically, the goal of Solar PV Module research has been to achieve higher performance at lower cost. This work will continue as solar becomes ever more mainstream. But at TNO, we also focus on PV for the next generation, with 3 main topics:

  1. circularity of solar technology
  2. new methods of manufacturing and customised applications
  3. improving solar panel reliability, safety, and performance.

Circular solar technology

As more solar is installed globally, we must consider the full life cycle of a PV panel to make sure it contributes positively and optimally to meeting the challenges of climate change and the energy transition. This means research into more efficient resource use, including reuse, recycling, and re-purposing of the materials used to make solar panels as well as the panels themselves. TNO is studying novel, low-cost ways to extract valuable materials at the end of life and use materials that might otherwise be scrapped to make new panels.

New solar panel manufacturing methods for customised applications

TNO has made a large investment to develop a new and flexible set of tools to make customised PV panels for new applications. Architects, city planners, car designers, or building owners will be able to choose the shape, size, colour, and electrical characteristics of a solar panel for their applications. Our goal is to make sure these products can be manufactured in a low-cost, high-yield and smart way that makes both economic and environmental sense. This will make solar a product for everyone that can be installed on almost any surface exposed to sunlight.


Improving reliability and performance

In addition to these new areas of research, TNO is continuing work to increase the amount of energy that solar modules produce and ensure a long service life. We’re developing new materials and structures, such as tandem modules with much higher power output potential, bifacial modules that generate power from the light falling on both the front and the back, and technology to increase the performance of lightweight, flexible solar panels on foils. We also work with a large number of companies and suppliers in the global solar supply chain to ensure their materials and products will have long lifetimes and produce safe renewable electricity.

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