On the trail of solar cost leadership
Darren Brown, Alternative Energy Business Manager at DEK, discusses the drive towards greater efficiency in solar cell manufacturing, and asks how best to achieve cost leadership - and ultimately, competitive advantage.
Achieving the optimum level of production of anything requires any number of stars to be aligned. These range from the cost of the raw materials and the levels of process automation to line downtime and, of course, space. Too much of the latter and your yield per square metre is too low. Not enough and you have capacity challenges.
So it is with photovoltaic production. Optimising solar cell manufacturing is a hugely complex job. But get it right, become a cost leader, and the opportunities are significant - even in today's chronically over-supplied market.
Becoming a cost leader
I've heard it said that there's no excuse not to be the lowest cost provider. Such a position has particular merit in the PV space. It certainly doesn't require firms to be the lowest quality supplier, simply that they are able to deliver the required quality at the lowest cost. These financial efficiencies support price flexibility in the tough times, and increase margin in the good.
So how to become that cost leader? The first step is sourcing the materials. In the case of PV this means silicon and silver. The second, and our particular focus at DEK, is to ensure that the line capital and the processes are optimised to such a degree as to reduce consumption of these most precision commodities. That means eliminating breakages as wafers become ever thinner and reducing the amount of silver paste in the process.
Today's screen technologies and print platforms have already advanced to a point where silver consumption is significantly reduced by condensing the front side conductor width to 70 microns and lower. But newer processes are being adopted - print-on-print (PoP) and dual printing amoung them - that move the goal posts further.