New solar power breakthroughs may drastically reduce manufacturing cost of panels

A report from clean energy market analysis group Lux Research, Inc., published on July 17, suggests that several companies are developing new innovations in solar panel production that may drive down the costs by reducing the complexity of current manufacturing processes.

Under current practices, the procedure for making solar cells, known as metallization, involves the careful placement of energy-gathering electrodes within layers of silicon and silver. The increasing market price of the latter material, which as of today costs $27.51 per ounce, constitutes a large share of the manufacturing cost. According to Lux Research, however, advancements are being made in the industry that are aimed at changing the way solar panels are made.

"Tomorrow’s PV winners will be those companies that can reduce their production costs in $/W [dollars per watt] and maintain sustainable profit margins. Metallization is a key materials‚Äźdriven driver for higher efficiencies, reduced production costs and improved yields," Fatima Toor, the lead author of the report, said in Lux Research's press release.

A new technology currently being developed involves a double-printing machine that cuts down on silver consumption by approximately 30 percent. This new process, created by electrical tech company Applied Materials, also increases power absorption by 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent.

Researchers for Japan's national Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology are investigating ways to utilize copper as an alternative to silver in cell production. Copper, which is widely available on the global  market, has yet to be tested in a commercial-scale environment due to disappointing project results. Nickel phosphide is also being looked at as a new way of producing new solar panels, due to the compound's temperature resistance and conduction potential.

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