This is the new challenge of solar energy: a lifespan of 50 years for photovoltaic modules. These researchers hope to achieve this. The ultimate goal is to make solar energy the most efficient source of electricity in the world.

A team of solar energy researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has received $ 1.35 million from the Office of Solar Energy Technologies at the U.S. Department of Energy to continue their work to increase the ‘efficiency and useful life of photovoltaic modules, with the specific objective of increasing their useful life to 50 years.

The project is led by Roger French, Professor Kyocera in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Case School of Engineering and Director of the Center for SDLE Research at Case Western Reserve.

“This is the new challenge of solar power: a 50-year lifespan for photovoltaic modules,” said French, whose research team had received a similar grant of $ 1.47 million from the ministry. Energy in 2017 to test new commercial silicon solar cell technology. “Right now the lifespan of a solar panel is 25 to 30 years, so it’s a big step forward, but it can be done.”

Build a better solar panel.

Research at Case Western Reserve is expected to help determine the relative value of two different types of manufacturing modules to encapsulate photovoltaic cells: one double glass and the other known as glass / backsheet, where the backsheet is instead a multi-layered polymer laminate.

The birth of the new era of solar photovoltaic energy
Image: FenrisWolf Shutterstock

Each type of PV module manufacture has its advantages and disadvantages: double glazing better protects the structural integrity of the photovoltaic cells inside, but it can also trap other corrosive products inside; glass / backsheet, on the other hand, “breathes” better to allow corrosives to infiltrate, but offers less physical protection to interior components.

“I have a background in chemistry, so I am looking at the chemical degradation of polymers inside solar panels, especially in the manufacture of double glass, as many manufacturers are starting to use this method,” said Laura Bruckman, associate research professor at the center.

And while Bruckman studies the insides of the solar panel to observe chemical degradation, Jennifer Braid, postdoctoral fellow at SDLE Research Center, will examine the relative effect of this degradation on photovoltaic cells and their electrical performance.

“One of the big issues is corrosion,” Braid said. “In glass polymer construction, these corrosive materials can escape; while in the double glass module, not so much. “We will measure and compare the effects of corrosion and other degradation modes on the energy loss of the module.”

The team will also compare the mechanical durability of double glazing and glass / backsheet modules with Jennifer Carter, assistant professor specializing in information science.

French said testing will be conducted on lab-made photovoltaic modules that are equivalent to commercial-grade panels, but on a smaller scale. As with the 2017 research, testing will also be conducted under real conditions.

An earlier initiative by the Department of Energy in 2009 – known as the “SunShot Challenge” – was developed to encourage researchers and developers to reduce the cost of solar power to 6 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020 This threshold has been reached. in 2017, three years earlier.

“We are now focusing on extending the life of the solar panels and reducing the cost to 3 cents per kilowatt hour,” French said. “We may not do it as fast as the first SunShot, but the ultimate goal is to make (solar) the most efficient source of electricity in the world.”

The Department of Energy has announced that it will fund 53 innovative research projects aimed at lowering the costs of solar electricity and supporting a growing solar workforce. This includes $ 27.7 million for 31 projects focused on photovoltaic research and development, including Case Western Reserve research.