Keys to commercial success for renewable energy technologies – pv magazine International
The researchers studied the journey of clean energy technology from the lab to the market, including First Solar’s thin-film cadmium telluride solar module.
According to pv magazine USA
Research and development is essential for the development of new technologies. However there are many other hurdles to overcome to move from the lab to the market.
Analysts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA), and the United States Department of Energy (DoE) studied the commercialization of four clean energy technologies. They looked at the case of thin-film solar panels, wind turbines, dual-flow evaporators for cooling as well as fuel cells for handling equipment.
The conclusions of these reviews, published in the article Frontiers in Energy Research, found three common elements in successful progress toward commercialization: (1) a good match between public-private partnerships, the R&D infrastructure and the technology itself; (2) favorable alignment of government regulations, R&D priorities and market trends; and (3) the right timing between technology availability and market opportunity.
“These findings can help inform clean energy investment, maximize returns from R&D, and advance the transition to a productive low-carbon future.2 said Wyatt Merrill, chief technology officer at the DoE and co-author of the study.
The thin-film solar case study focuses on First Solar, a US manufacturer that benefited from photovoltaic research conducted by the Department of Energy (DoE) and received direct DoE funding for research between the 1980s and 2000s. The researchers attribute First Solar’s early success to the company’s ability to meet the regulatory requirements of the first major market for thin-film PV technology and deliver a proven, one-price and on-time market-ready .
In the early stages of thin film research, a notable breakthrough showed a record (at the time) 15.8% efficiency for a cell using a cadmium chloride (CdCl) heat treatment process. .2). Solar first developed a high-level vapor transport deposition technique to produce CdTe-based modules on a larger scale, providing an alternative to the slower and more expensive manufacturing process of enclosed space sublimation.
Once the correct device efficiency and scalable scale manufacturing procedures are in place, R&D can focus on testing and validating product reliability. First Solar used test standards, product quality certifications, and outdoor test facilities funded by the DoE and operated by Arizona State University and NREL to prove in 2003 that its modules were ready to enter the solar market.
First Solar entered the established German solar market in the 2000s. But first, its modules have to meet certain energy performance and regulatory requirements, especially in terms of electronic waste and restrictions on the use of certain toxic substances such as cadmium. In 2004, efforts were made to address concerns about emissions and recyclability of CdTe PV modules through independent peer-reviewed studies.
Then in 2004, First Solar signed its first contract for its thin compound semiconductor modules in the German market, which was a commercial turning point for CdTe-based PV. In 2005, First Solar announced a module take-back and recycling program in response to changes in European directives. These actions signaled First Solar’s response to regulatory issues and addressed public risk perception sufficiently to open the doors to key markets.
Although CdTe-based modules are less efficient than silicon-based modules, they are cheaper to manufacture and have the lowest price per watt between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s. In PV products with Europe oversupplied, First Solar was able to capitalize on its technology.
“The thin-film PV case study highlights the importance of meeting regulatory requirements in the technology’s first major market,” said Marie Mapes, CTO and co-author of the study. Moreover, the first successes are possible thanks to the proposal of a proven product, at a price and at a time for which the market is ready.
The main findings from the thin-film PV case study identified the successful use of three main commercialization strategies: developing a technology with multiple elements of commercial interest, through public/private; the alignment between the goals set in terms of technological costs and the development of the product that allows them to be achieved; and the right timing between technology availability and market opportunity.
First Solar’s thin-film development has benefited from decades of government funding, which enables basic materials research and meets testing standards. The company came out well prepared and was able to offer the right product at the right time. CdTe photovoltaics with proven reliability are a lower cost alternative in the clean energy market and have opened the door to many opportunities, allowing this solar technology to register its first commercial successes.
Four case studies highlight how a good balance between technology, R&D and public-private partnership (not to mention alignment between regulation, market trends and appropriate timing) can lead to a successful first commercialization of clean energy technologies.
Translation provided by Christelle Taureau.
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