What’s the State of Solar Modules?

State Of Solar Modules

How Standard Solar Modules Work

Standard solar modules are just another term for solar panels. They are single photovoltaic (PV) panels that contain an assembly of typically 6×10 solar cells connected to each other. These solar cells work by absorbing energy from the sun to generate electricity. The wattage output and efficiency can vary somewhat depending on the quality and type of solar cells used, and a number of modules put together can supply electrical power to buildings.

Energy Produced By Solar Modules

One solar panel can produce energy in the range of 100 Watts to 365 Watts DC. The higher the wattage output is, the more energy each solar module will produce. Therefore, a large array of solar modules that consist of higher energy-producing solar cells will produce more electrical power in less space than a large array of lower energy-producing modules. However, the more energy a solar module produces, the higher the cost. Solar PV modules can be connected to boost the PV cell’s power output. 

Why Solar PV Panels Are Getting Bigger

In recent years, solar PV panel’s power ratings have climbed steadily and solar modules have been getting bigger. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.

Innovative New Processing Techniques

While improvements to panel assembly technology played a role, in large part, this has been driven by innovative new processing methods for cells themselves. From 2010 to 2020, expectations were raised each year for higher power by module panel manufacturer customers. If a panel had a 320Wp rating, then it generated 14% more energy per one square meter space than a module with a 280Wp rating.

Solar Panel ManufacturingSqueezing more Watt-peaks (WP) of power into the same imprint would tend to drive the cost down of an installed unit per rated power ($/Wp). This was because the price of frame, glass, and other components required for the module, stood the same. The relentless rise of the available cells in power density played a major role in helping the industry accomplish the incredible reductions in costs within the last decade.

In addition, new techniques squeeze every bit of performance from the solar module cells. This has only contributed to small gains. Bus bars are similar to conduction wires, only with a slenderer width on top of the cell’s face. Power loss from the shading of cells uses more bus bars, which reduces electrical resistance loss. Cutting cells into thirds, quarters, or halves, and wiring the fragments into parallel circuits together also reduces loss of resistance and reduces module sensitivity to shading.

Improved Cell Powers

Over the years, the efficiency gap among measuring cells in isolation, in comparison to assembled panels, was reduced. Therefore the move to improve cell powers has reached a plateau. Manufacturers have been looking for new ways to make modules even more powerful at reduced costs per Wp and were excited to have found a solution. Simply make bigger cells and panels. But, it was evident that the panels may be getting bigger but they are not really getting any better.

We always knew where we stood when it came to the solar PV modules or panels. All the 60 cells in a solar PV panel were 156mm square, 1.65m long, and just under 1m wide. This standard de facto for PV panels began in around 2010, which manufacturers stuck to. However, historic web pages show there was an increase in module power from 230Wp to 315Wp from 2009 to 2018. In addition, the corresponding power density of modules was also boosted from 141Wp to 192Wp. Yet, their size is still the same.

Solar Modules Today

Today, solar modules are offered with much larger dimensions. After the 2019 switch to bigger wafers, basically, all the top PV manufacturers began developing new modules that were more than 2-meters with power ratings of over 500Wp. In fact, some had power ratings up to 800Wp. Because larger quantities of these PV modules are rolling off production lines, it’s a good idea to start looking at the opportunities and challenges these modules create. PV module manufacturers are making the switch to larger formats due to the benefits of the cost structure. By adapting the equipment, 600Wp modules can be produced in the same amount of time it takes to produce a 400Wp module.

A lot of hard work has gone into finding new interconnection strategies for larger formats. The half-cut cells innovation was the most promising as opposed to filling the gaps between cells. However, new cell technologies have emerged that move closer to the passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) cells, which lowers the cost per watt. Not only could this strategy be used to develop larger formats, but it would also reduce the Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) at the project level. While the search for new ways to boost efficiency continues, we are excited to find out what the future holds for solar modules. 

Cutting Costs of Generating Power

The solar industry has been trying to cut costs of generating electricity from the sun for decades. Now its focus is on making solar panels even more powerful. Equipment manufacturing savings has reached an all-time high, while the recent prices of raw materials are rising. This caused producers to step up their game on advances in technology by employing increasingly sophisticated designs and building better components to generate more power from same-sized solar farms. 

Solar Panel Manufacturing

“The first 20 years of the 21st century saw massive module prices reduced, but the reduction speed noticeably began leveling off in the past couple of years. “The good thing is that new technologies will produce further reductions in the cost of electricity”, said the leader of Wood Mackenzie and global solar researcher, Xiaojing Sun.

Photovoltaic panels cost has seen a reduction in recent years. Pushing to make solar equipment more powerful underscores how additional cost reductions continue to be essential. This will help our energy sources to further move away from fossil fuels.

Lowering The Cost Of Solar Farms

Moreover, grid-sized solar farms currently cost less than even the most technologically advanced gas-fired or coal plants. Additional savings will be needed to put together clean energy sources. This is due to the costly storage technology required for carbon-free, around-the-clock power. Within larger factories, automation and efficient production methods deliver lower labor costs. Additionally, they achieve economies of scale and less material waste from the solar sector. From 2010 to 2020, there was a 90% drop in the average cost of solar panels.

Developers can deliver an equal amount of electricity from smaller-sized operations by boosting power generation for each panel. That’s potentially vital as costs of engineering, construction, land, and other equipment have maintained the same prices, unlike the changes we have seen in panel prices. It even makes more sense to pay premium prices for more advanced technology. According to Bloomberg NEF lead solar researcher Jenny Chase, people are willing to pay more for higher wattage module panels so they can make more money by producing more power on their land.

Systems with higher powers are already arriving. For the past decade, most solar panels produced around 400-watts of electricity. Until 2020, then companies started selling 500-watt solar panels and China introduced a 700-watt model. According to notes posted recently by Fitch Solutions analysts, throughout the solar value chain project, over the next decade, more highly efficient and powerful solar panels will reduce costs, supporting the outlook for a more significant growth sector.

Some of the Ways Solar Companies Super Charge Solar Panels

While most of the recent developments tweak existing technologies, Perovskite is promising a genuine breakthrough. Traditionally used perovskite material is more transparent and thinner than poly-silicon. However, by integrating it with glass, building windows could generate power. Also, it could soon be layered above existing solar panels to increase efficiency. According to a principal perovskite researcher at Korea Power Corp., Kim Bohyung, we will soon take solar power to a whole new level. This new technology will ultimately allow us to make a large contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Perovskite Solar ModuleAdopting perovskite has been challenged in the past by technical issues and costs that prevented commercial-scale production. However, recent signs show that is now changing. Wuxi UtmoLight Technology announced plans to begin a pilot line in 2023 with mass production. A company called 1366 Technologies Inc., which makes solar cells wafers and is based in Massachusetts, recently said it will soon merge with Hunt Perovskite Technologies LLC. The new company will be called CubicPV. It combines the two complementary technologies. This will offer the possibility to produce more efficient panels. It plans to create photovoltaic products using Hunt’s perovskite technology. The photovoltaic product will be layered on top of a silicon wafer that was developed by 1366.

Looking Ahead

Of course, manufacturers will focus on the most important markets. Solar farms rush to produce bigger formats to reduce other costs, such as clamps and installation. This trend could very well extend beyond diverse panel sizes to specialized designed panels for various applications. Maybe in the future, we will see different panels from those used for flat roof installations. Maybe we will see corrugated metal roofs that have special features, which will make installation easier. Or perhaps the industry will settle for a few standardized sizes that could work for different applications. Only time will tell.