Exclusive interview with Stephan Padlewski, Market & Program Leader at DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions. DuPont is a silver sponsor at the upcoming Clean Power Africa. A DuPont specialist will also address the solar conference session on: “Know What is in Your Modules – Materials Matter”.
What are you most excited about currently in terms of DuPont’s products and solutions?
Materials designed and proven to improve the power output and reliable lifetime of solar panels lower the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), making solar a better investment. There are three key materials that should be carefully considered: metallization pastes, encapsulation and backsheet materials.
- Photovoltaic metallization pastes boost the efficiency of solar cells to deliver significantly more power output from solar panels. Every 1% improvement in sunlight conversion efficiency could result in a 6% cut in the cost of the overall solar power generation system. DuPont is the leading supplier of these high-efficiency materials – Solamet® pastes have essentially doubled cell efficiency over the past twelve years.
- Encapsulation materials surround and protect solar cells and panel circuitry. While Ethylene vinyl-acetate (EVA) has been widely used, degradation in external environments has been increasingly observed. Many are now considering DuPont ionomer encapsulants, which were recently shown in independent testing to be at least 25 times more effective than standard EVA encapsulants in preventing Potential Induced Degradation (PID), an increasing cause of solar panel failure. Additionally, ionomer has almost two decades of field use as an encapsulant, and has demonstrated exceptional results in both reliability and durability, delivering excellent long term system performance.
- DuPont™ Tedlar® polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) film, used in the backsheet of solar panels, has set the standard in the industry because it provides critical, long-life protection to the panel. Tedlar® is the only product that has been field-proven to deliver high performance in all climates for more than 30 years. Alternatives to Tedlar® are all relatively new materials for use in SOLAR and are unproven in the field for long term (> 25 years) use. These backsheet materials are lab-tested in a way that artificially accelerates the effects of aging vs. field-tested over significant periods of time. Unfortunately, lab tests do not accurately predict lifetime performance. Backsheet failure can result in safety issues, power and investment loss.
What is on the calendar for DuPont in 2013?
In 2013, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions will continue to focus on developing advanced materials that improve the power output and lifetime of solar panels, lowering overall system costs and encouraging faster and broader adoption of solar energy.
We are also working to address a key issue of concern. There is a race for survival in the solar industry today, fueled by the drive to achieve grid parity, and exacerbated by industry overcapacity. As costs are being cut, some manufacturers are substituting unproven and inferior materials that threaten system durability and lifetime. Sacrificing quality for cost is a tradeoff that has the potential to create widespread system failures and to give the entire solar industry a black eye at a critical time in its growth.
DuPont therefore has a heavy focus this year on helping solar investors, project developers and EPCs understand the factors most critical to quality in solar panel selection. Materials are critical and those that are proven to deliver superior power output and extend the lifetime of panels will generate increased rates of return for solar projects.
We are beginning to see traditional thinking evolve. For example, solar investors, project developers and EPCs are shifting from a short term cost per watt focus to a more accurate measure of a system’s value based on the levelized cost of electricity, expressed as cost per kilowatt hour. This is a better measure of overall cost of ownership that takes system lifetime appropriately into account. We are also seeing increased specification for key materials such as polyvinyl fluoride films, which are the only backsheet materials field-proven to protect solar panels for more than 30 years.
What opportunities do you see in Africa?
We anticipate significant growth opportunities for solar energy in Africa. The market could grow from the current hundreds of megawatts to hundreds of gigawatts over the next decade.
Power supply is a major issue in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The conventional electrification approach involves large and centralized power sources such as nuclear or coal combined with the deployment of power grid systems that need to stretch over large territories. This approach implies very large up-front capital expenditures and very long lead times. By contrast, a decentralized and scalable power source such as solar can provide electricity to a large proportion of the population including rural areas, rapidly and cost effectively.
Diesel generators are widely used today to power mini grid systems for private and small communities. Solar panels could be plugged into these grids. Initially, that would lower the use of diesel generators, lower the cost of electricity and minimize environmental impacts. The LCOE from solar power today can be as low as USD $0.10 per kilowatt hour – about half or even a third the cost of conventional generators that require complex logistics for fuel supply, maintenance and involve high fuel costs. Longer term and as energy storage technology matures, solar and other intermittent sources such as wind could become primary electrical power sources, covering electricity needs over the entire day cycle.
Africa has the opportunity to bypass the conventional electrification infrastructure approach with its centralized, carbon-based power source combined with a complex distribution system. Africa can directly adopt a state-of- the-art electrification model involving clean and decentralized renewable power combined with smart grid systems and storage in the future without relying upon high capital cost distribution infrastructure.
The amount of sunlight Africa receives has the potential to meet and exceed the amount of energy that Africa will ever need. Solar energy systems can generate cost-effective electricity, and deliver it to even the most remote locations across the continent.
What do you think are the biggest challenges to the South African/African energy market?
The biggest challenges are in building and strengthening investor confidence, which is the key to a healthy solar industry in South Africa. And, well-defined regulatory and legislative frameworks are needed that allow for feed-in to the grid at all voltage levels. These frameworks will further allow the market to develop at a sound pace.
Why did you decide to sponsor at Clean Power Africa?
Africa has great potential for growth in solar, it’s a key emerging market for us. It also presents a great opportunity to connect and network with regional players, in particular downstream investors, project developers and EPCs.
What surprises you about this industry?
With the abundance of sun in Africa, and given the high cost, volatility, limitations and complexity of fossil fuels, we would expect solar energy to play a larger role in the current market.
The African continent is well suited for solar power, since it is mostly rural and there is a need for power in many areas. Solar energy can help address these issues in the short-term and also contribute to local economic development.
What will be your main message for the event delegate and visitor?
In the past, an investor, developer or system owner didn’t need to be an expert in materials technologies for solar panels. High quality, proven technologies were assumed. It’s still not necessary to be a materials expert, but now you need to be aware of what’s in your panel and what to ask for. In today’s market, industry consolidation and the efforts to maintain profitability throughout the value chain are driving short-term decisions with long-term implications.
We believe that the industry’s short-term focus is resulting in lower quality and lower performing materials being used in solar panels, which shifts more risk to system owners who may experience premature power degradation and decreased system lifetime. Warranties and ‘bankability’ status are no longer effective to mitigate risks. The panel manufacturer that supplied your system may not be around long-term. Becoming aware of your system’s bill of materials, component design and manufacturing processes is the key to ensure durability, reliability and long-term performance of a solar investment.
Anything you would like to add?
Please visit our website to learn more about the role of materials in powering solar.