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CIGS technology distributed generation goes mainstream

Jie Chen is currently the director of the solar energy centre in the National Institute of Clean and-low-carbon Energy (NICE), Beijing.

He successfully established a nano electronic devices laboratory in 2005 at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin fur Materialien und Energie (formerly HMI), Germany and was the director of the laboratory from then on.

Under Chen's leadership, his team made the first vertical nanowire field effect transistor in flexible polymer foils and the invention has been use in new generation flexible OLED displays. A lot of innovation techniques invented by his team have been used in the industrial process of fabricating CIGS solar cells.

Chen's academic and engineering activities cover photovoltaic solar energy, material, and nano technology. He participated in accomplishing the EU's strategic research for photovoltaic technology in 2007.

So which way forward for China's PV industry?

A number of favourable policies for solar industry development have been implemented. These include the Guidelines from the State Council on Encouraging Healthy Solar Industry Developments and Guidelines from the State Council on Financial Services Supporting Distributed Solar Generation. Thanks to this, the trend of distributed solar power generation has become the mainstream development direction.

Thin-film solar batteries are arguably the most ideal solar battery technology applied in distributed generation. In virtue of its distinct advantages of being thin-film and flexible, thin-film technology will inevitably become the mainstream solar technology in the future and is expected to witness large-scale application in the Chinese market.

CIGS Thin-Film Solar Technology Features Distinct Advantages

PV solar industry mainly comprises two major solar battery technology routes: one is crystalline silicon technology, including monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon solar battery. The other is another is thin film technology, the most potential of which is Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) thin film solar technology.

Thin film solar batteries have five prominent advantages compared to crystalline silicon batteries as described below.

Low industry chain energy consumption

A wider choices of materials for making thin film and diversified manufacturing technology

Thin film batteries have a higher generating capacity

Thin film batteries are lighter and flexible which could be more widely used and suitable to fit onto the rooftops and building integrated photovoltaics

CIGS batteries in thin-film solar technology currently has the highest conversion efficiency, reaching nearly 20 percent in the lab

According to the conversion efficiency data of the products of the world's renowned solar power companies in May 2013, the best product of MiaSolé, A CIGS thin film battery manufacturer, has reached conversion efficiency of 15.7 percent, the highest in the market.

Most important of all, generating capacity of CIGS battery is approximately 20%-30% higher than that of silicon solar battery in actual operation. For this reason, the LCOE of CIGS battery could be lower than that of silicon solar battery. With the advance of CIGS thin film solar technology at a tremendous pace, conversion efficiency could be further improved rapidly. Especially after the GW-grade mass production, the cost advantages of CIGS technology could be given full play to with lower LCOE.

In fact, quite a few experts believe that CIGS technology will be the important solar technology which could most boost the feed-in tariff of the solar power generation

Proven CIGS Technology Route Promotes Industrialisation Development

Currently, CIGS technology routes fall into three categories, namely physical method, chemical method and printing method. There are mainly two methods which could be put into commercial mass production, namely sputtering method and co-evaporation method which pertain to physical method. Having the whole world in view, CIGS industrialization has entered into mature period.

MiaSolé and Global Solar of US, Solibro and BOSCH of Germany as well as Solar Frontier of Japan are paradigm enterprises which are enable to successfully apply CIGS technology in large-scale industrialisation.

China's CIGS industrialisation is entitled to extraordinary huge development potential, while the blue-ocean market of distributed generation energetically pushed forward by China will present unprecedented opportunities for thin film PV products.

Concerning China's market, currently most solar power plants are large-scale ground-mounted power plants and small-sized distributed power plants only account for 20 percent, while distributed generation accounts for over 80% in world's many developed countries such as Japan, US and Europe.

As large-scale ground-mounted power plants require land of vast area, such power plants will have comparative advantages in western China with scarce population. While in eastern or central developed regions, distributed generation will inevitably become the future mainstream development direction. As such, in the foreseeable future, distributed generation will occupy a larger and larger proportion in China.

With regard to practical application, thin film solar battery is more suitable to fit onto rooftop and distributed PV constructions such as BIPV. As distributed generation mainly depends on rooftop power plants, thin film battery especially flexible light battery has higher generating capacity in cloudy and hot days as compared to silicon solar cell. Also being light, thin film battery could cling to buildings. In addition, small-sized distributed power plants are mainly built upon rooftops which could substantially reduce land costs.

Localisation of leading CIGS thin-film technology

Different from other solar technologies, CIGS thin-film technology requires three major elements: equipment, technology and staff, not a single one of which can be omitted.

Localisation of equipment is not simply copying production technology, whilst the key for the success lies in how to realise localisation of materials for manufacturing batteries and localisation of technology.

During the process, China needs to give more attention and support to innovative enterprises in respect of core technology R&D. The substantial support offered to industry leaders and leading enterprises with independent innovative and R&D capabilities is a significant guarantee for improving China's core competitiveness.

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