Group 5 metals improve First Solar panels
Company replaces copper to counter photovoltaic degradation Metal Tech News – April 14, 2021
Last updated 4/13/2021 at 4:16pm
First Solar Inc. is leveraging the power of Group 5 elements to nearly eliminate the degradation of its newest generation of photovoltaic solar panels.
Group 5 refers to vanadium, niobium, tantalum, and dubnium that are in the fifth vertical row from the right on the periodic table. Only the first three are naturally occurring refractory metals – dubnium has been produced in laboratories but has only a short half-life.
Scientists at First Solar's labs in Silicon Valley and Ohio research and development centers have been investigating a proprietary semiconductor platform that replaces copper with atoms of the three stable Group 5 elements in order to enhance PV performance and deliver long-term stability.
This copper replacement program, known as CuRe, has resulted in the Series 6 CuRe PV, which has a warranted degradation rate of 0.2% per year, the lowest rate for any known commercially available photovoltaic product.
First Solar says this unprecedented degradation rate is up to 60% lower than conventional crystalline silicon products and ensures that the module will retain at least 92% of its original performance at the end of its 30-year warranty.
"We invested in our understanding of copper's dynamics in order to turn what had been a cause of degradation into an opportunity to virtually eliminate it," said First Solar Chief Technology Officer Markus Gloeckler. "Armed with this knowledge, we researched a range of alternatives and found that Group V elements could effectively replace copper, acting as a stable dopant and furthering our goal of zero degradation. CuRe is the deployment-ready result of that research, and the world's most technologically advanced thin film solar module."
Series 6 CuRe builds on the success of First Solar's Series 6 technology, the world's only large-format thin film solar module.
The company says this near-zero degradation rate of Series 6 CuRe, combined with a superior temperature coefficient, spectral response, and shading behavior advances this new platform's competitiveness in all markets.
"This truly is a product that delivers more in every respect," said First Solar Chief Commercial Officer Georges Antoun. "Series 6 CuRe is built with our customers' needs in mind. It delivers not just more performance, but fast installation with lower structural costs, industry-leading quality, reliability, and durability, and unparalleled levels of traceability and transparency."
First Solar's cadmium telluride semiconductor technology, the result of over $1.4 billion in cumulative investments, already has one of the industry's longest proven track records in module degradation. Its early-generation modules, pre-dating most of the world's largest crystalline silicon manufacturers, were installed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Outdoor Test Facility in Colorado and recently completed 25-years of continuous monitoring. The long-term study revealed a degradation rate of these early generation First Solar panels at just 0.48% a year.
In addition to significantly improving the degradation rate, Series 6 CuRe is immune to many issues that the company believes continue to plague crystalline silicon panels, including cell-cracking due to mishandling during installation or extreme weather events, such as high winds or hailstorms.
As such, Series 6 CuRe comes with the industry's first and only cell-cracking warranty. First Solar says Series 6 CuRe is also immune to light induced degradation, and light and elevated temperature-induced degradation mechanisms that affect crystalline silicon modules.
"Series 6 CuRe represents innovation in its truest form," said First Solar CEO Mark Widmar. "From engineering the atoms in the semiconductor to its ability to withstand extreme weather events such as hailstorms, and from the social license that comes built-in to being able to recycle over 90% of each module, this responsibly-produced technology is packed with innovation designed to address many of our customers' biggest challenges."