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Outlook

Ranging from the wafer to the module production, processing and production processes are becoming more efficient and cheaper. This has been achieved as a result of using processes that work with less problematic chemicals, run at lower temperatures and are able to dispense with vacuums. Continuous manufacturing processes are also being developed in which solar cells are produced “off the roll” like in printing plants.

The high scientific productivity of the researchers and the rapid technological development become evident when you see the breathtaking speed with which powerful solar cells are being surpassed by newly developed cells that are even more powerful. For the rapid development of renewable energies it is essential that research and development are driven forward – and publicly funded – in close collaboration with scientific institutes and industry.

Developers and manufacturers are concerned with optimising both the output of solar cells and the production processes: it is becoming increasingly important to produce the entire module as cheaply and durably as possible. For example, in addition to achieving solar cells that are as thin as possible, frames and glass savings also improve the ecological and energy balance.

Test and trial production lines at the large-scale production level, such as those provided by PV-TEC in Freiburg, can help integrate new processes more quickly and securely into mass production. Independent tests of components and modules help to establish and secure transparent quality standards.

In addition to innovations aimed at achieving increasingly powerful solar cells, the production and processing will change considerably as a result of new processes. Wafers will be cleaved from blocks instead of being sawn, and large-scale solar cells will be sputtered or printed. It remains to be seen which technologies will ultimately prevail, but it is already becoming evident that thin-film technology is taking up an increasingly large share. Third generation solar cells that can be produced more cheaply than the first and second generations will replace them in some areas, particularly when they are lighter and more flexible, or enable more creative use of colours in facades. For cheaper modules – including with lower efficiencies – new potential applications are opening up, whether on facades, open spaces, vehicles or clothing. And it will also be possible to supply areas remote from the grid (e.g. in developing countries) with reliable and affordable electricity.

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