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The importance of materials in PV

Chris Haw,
12 September 2013 – The demand for energy in Africa is escalating, spurred on by population growth and expanding economies. It is estimated that 600 million people living on the African continent do not have access to electricity, and that on average the entire continent only produces enough electricity to power one 60 W light bulb per person for three hours a day. Because solar energy is a cost-effective solution to replace expensive diesel generators used to supplement electricity in many countries and enables the production of electricity close to where it is consumed, solar power is quickly gaining traction in this emerging market.

Of growing concern to the burgeoning solar industry in Africa is the increasing influx of very low cost solar panels and the lack of appropriate standards to ensure their quality, reliability and durability for their expected 25 year lifetime given the region’s challenging climate.

“Generating lower cost electricity can be achieved through higher performance and reliability of solar energy systems,” Chris Haw, spokesperson- South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), says. “Improved manufacturing processes and the use of components with a proven track record should go hand-in-hand with testing in the field, particularly in the type of harsh climatic conditions found in our region.”

Dr. Stephan Padlewski, Europe, Middle East and Africa marketing manager, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, says, “DuPont has an extensive field testing program that examines panels in various stages of use and in different climatic conditions to identify causes of premature aging. What we are finding indicates that materials choices are key to how well and how reliably panels perform over time.”

The backsheet material, for example, should protect the panel from the elements and provide electrical insulation for the 25 year expected lifetime of the panel, but not all backsheet materials will withstand the harsher temperatures, higher exposure to UV and thermal cycling of Africa. For the African solar energy industry to continue to grow, it is important for solar investors to understand what impact materials selection has and which materials will help ensure reliable panel performance.

DuPont provides recommendations on industry-standard bill of materials, and provides panel manufacturers with materials technology that will best match power output and expected lifetime goals of solar installations.