Prospects for Solar Photovoltaic Installations in 2019

Participants on a past renewable energy course.

2019 provides many opportunities to advance your career in the Renewable Energy industry.  The intensive 2-day Solar Photovoltaic course at the REI provides expert teaching on technology and trends regarding solar power, and qualifies you to sit the exam for a key industry qualification. The Expert Lecturer for the Solar Photovoltaic course shares their outlook for the sector in 2019: Solar panels are now firmly established as an option for electricity generation in many countries, and it is timely to take a short overview of progress in 2018 and what further changes there may be in 2019.

International Overview

Deployment of solar PV arrays continues to increase, particularly for large scale utility plants, which are increasingly being financed by Power Purchase Agreements. China is still the biggest market with already over 105GW of installed PV capacity, which has led to an increased target perhaps to double by 2020. Several countries have ambitious plans for expanding their solar electricity generation, including India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, but Europe also foresees greater use of PV. Germany generated over 40% of its electricity by renewables in 2018, of which over 8% was from PV. Indeed, on July 2nd 2018, PV momentarily generated 39% of Germany’s electricity. Even in the UK, solar PV electricity generation continues to grow but is topped by that from on-shore wind farms. Despite this world-wide progress there does not appear to be sufficient action by governments to reduce carbon emissions to the level required to halt global warming and the ensuing effects of climate change (COP24).

Market Trends in Silicon Panels

As the cost of PV cells and panels has fallen, manufacturers have come and gone, but technology has advanced to meet competition within the sector. The cost and availability of silicon wafers influences the take-up of new cell structures with their concomitant fabrication demands. This is true for single crystal (monocrystalline) silicon and polycrystal (multicrystalline) silicon cells: wafer availability and quality impact on wafer price, and PV performance over the longer term. Mono-PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) cells using p-type silicon are expected to eventually replace the market share of p-type multicrystalline cells, with a rear gridded contact option providing bifacial performance. Bifacial n-type PERT (Passivated Emitter Rear Totally diffused) cells are competitive and have a higher bifacial output but are perhaps more difficult to manufacture. Heterojunction silicon cells with a thin layer of amorphous silicon on top of crystal silicon will continue to compete in the high efficiency cohort of cells/panels and can be bifacial as well.

National Grid– Soolmaz Moshiri “The course was filled with very useful information for my career. I am currently working on developing PV and energy storage projects and this course will help me a lot in my current role and future career aspirations.”

Near-term Technical Innovation

The performance of stand-alone bifacial panels, that collect light not only through the top of the cells but also through a gridded rear contact, is difficult to simulate due to the variability in albedo (reflection) provided by the underlying ground. Nonetheless several percent enhancement in performance is given by this additional photon capture and it can be optimised by tracking the panels. Large PV farms in sunny climates will predominantly move to tracking bifacial arrays. New types of PV panel mean that new degradation modes may become evident and the early identification of these requires more in-field monitoring. Both infrared imaging and electroluminescence testing can be done on large arrays without removing panels to test laboratories. Other monitoring tools and comprehensive data collection will be important to ensure that large arrays meet the expectations of user and investor. Already available inverters are smarter and more efficient than those of a few years ago, and models are being upgraded to higher voltages.

Energy Storage Developments

Battery technology is also improving, dominated by lithium types; but will meet competition from magnesium-based batteries as these transfer from laboratory to production, perhaps in Europe (see EU Horizon project “E-magic”). Electricity suppliers in several countries are testing high capacity battery storage for grid stability and these plants are likely to be co-located with renewable generation and fossil-fuel generators in increasing numbers. For instance, EDF is increasing its storage capacity emphasising the domestic market in France as well as off-grid in Africa. Electric vehicles will form a part of this evolution in electricity demand and storage.

Incentives in the UK

As the cost of components has fallen, and grid parity has been approached, many governments have either reduced or removed their incentive schemes for PV. At the present date, the UK will shortly stop the incentive for new PV and has proposed an export tariff based on the actual amount of electricity exported to the grid (requiring smart meters) with the price per kWh to be set by each electricity supply company. 2019 will see the introduction of the new scheme after consultation closes. Sources: PV Magazine; PV Tech Power; IRENA.

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