Solar Wafers: Cost Effective Solution to Solar Power

Suntech Power, the Chinese solar-panel manufacturer, has discovered a new process for preparing silicon wafers for solar cells. This will help to cut the cost of solar power by 10 to 20 %. The manufacturer remarked that most efficient silicon cells consisting of wafers contain a single crystal of silicon. If cells are manufactured by the new process, the high-quality “monocrystalline” wafers require the same value as lower-quality multi-crystalline wafers. However, their production costs half of the value of the investment as required to make monocrystalline wafers by conventional processes.

This notion was patented more than 20 years ago although it was not commercially widened by the patent owners. After the expiry of the patents about three years ago, many companies such as JA Solar, LDK Solar, and Renesola along with Suntech declared that they have become successful in fixing the process. Moreover, Stuart Wenham, Suntech’s CTO on a solar conference organized at Seattle said that the company has started selling solar panels consisting of solar wafers.

The market scenario shows that this news can affect businesses in the United States as well others will have to commercialize new thin-film solar technologies. Theoretically, silicon technology is more costly per watt than thin-film technology. However, the competitors believe that it is far difficult to compete with Chinese makers of conventional silicon panels.  They are introducing new manufacturing techniques to reduce the cost of solar panels. Also, the government has permitted them to enhance solar panels production consisting of solar wafers.

According to the newsletter, Suntech has discovered a new way to make monocrystalline material by utilizing an advanced version of the multi-crystalline process. The process involves seed crystals instead of using silicon. These seed crystals are slowly arranged at the bottom of a crucible and completely covered with melted silicon. At last, the heat is being extracted through the crucible bottom ensuring the seed stays at the bottom.

The process was being made a patent a few decades ago. However, Suntech has broken several challenges that were involved in employing the process. One big challenge was the formation of different seeds as a result of interaction between the molten silicon in contact with the edge of the container. Hence, the final slab so obtained is a mixture of monocrystalline on the inside and multi-crystalline toward the outside.

Suntech succeeds in reducing the effect of the multi-crystalline area by manufacturing an ingot which is 70% monocrystalline. Studies say that an ingot is manufactured by placing pure monocrystalline at the centre. The materials which accumulate at the edges are also utilized. The final cells obtained by this process are up to 10% more effective than any ordinary multi-crystalline cells.

Wenham said that the process will have a crucial role and it can become a game-changer in the photovoltaic sector. This is because of great performance at cost-effective prices. Wenham also stressed that Suntech is also looking forward to patent technologies which can help to enhance solar panels by using new materials.

Leave a Reply