Wednesday, July 17

Investing in the Future of Solar Energy Technology

The Solar PV technology is relatively new compared to other technologies used for power generation. It was in 1954 that Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson from Bell Labs developed the silicon photovoltaic cell to convert the energy from sun into power for electrical equipment. Since then the PV technology has evolved to a great extend. The PV technology has now taken center stage in addressing the issue of climate change and the world is looking at solar as an alternate source of energy to power its future.

In India solar power gain traction with the launch of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission also known as JNNSM, inaugurated by the then PM of India Manmohan Singh in the year 2010 with a target to generate 20GW from solar by 2022. The target was significantly increased to 100GW by PM Narendra Modi in 2015 and in a true sense a dawn of new era in solar begin with all the stakeholders getting into a mission mode.

As of Sept 2022, India’s total renewable capacity installation has reached 118 GW. Solar with 60GW is the leading followed by wind at 41GW.The current pipeline of combined capacity of solar and wind and hybrid projects are around 45GW, which is likely to be commissioned in the next 4 to 5 years.

As India strives to fulfil its commitment of meeting 50% of its energy requirement from renewable energy by 2030 and gets on the path to achieve its goal to reach net-zero by 2070, solar energy has an important role to play . It has enormous potential and growth opportunities going forward. We take a look at some of the emerging trends in solar technology that presents future investment opportunities for businesses.

Tandem Solar Cells:

Traditionally Solar cells are made from Silicon. Silicon solar cells have good photoconductivity, are lightweight, and do not require high maintenance and hence are popular and are widely used. Despite the advantages, owing to its high cost, complicated manufacturing process and low efficiency researchers are trying to find out a cost effective and efficient alternative to silicon solar cells.

One of the alternative that has been well researched and gain popularity as an alternative to silicon cells is Pervoskite Solar Cells.  Perovskites have outstanding properties: they absorb light especially efficiently and are adept at routing the generated electricity. They are cost-effective as well as simple with respect to both production and processing. They have developed quickly and their efficiency has increased from modest 3% to over 25%.

However, solar cells based on perovskites have their limitations; they do not yet work consistently enough and are not sufficiently durable for large-scale use. The researchers are working to overcome these challenges and one of the ways found is to superimpose the two materials to make what it called as called as Tandem Solar Cells.  The new type of tandem cell is highly efficient and directly compatible with mono crystalline silicon-based technologies, which benefit from long-standing industrial expertise and are already being produced profitably. Manufacturing tandem cells is not complicated and the manufacturers won’t have to adopt a whole new technology, but simply they will have to update the existing production line already in use for manufacturing silicon-based cells.

Keep track of the developments in tandem cell technology as this is one that the business can look forward for investment in the future. Although the team has made a breakthrough, there’s still work to be done before their technology can be adopted commercially.

Flotovoltaic:

One of the investment opportunities that businesses can look for is installing solar panels on water bodies like lake or river, popularly known as ‘Flotovoltaic’.

Installing solar system on water bodies has its advantages. First and foremost is that the solar system installed on water bodies reduces the need of costly land area, it also saves the drinking water that would otherwise be lost due to evaporation, reduces the growth of algae. The solar system shows a higher efficiency as the panels are kept in cooler temperature than they would be on land area. The floating platforms are 100% recyclable, utilizing high density polyethylene which can withstand ultraviolet rays and corrosion.

Though floating solar plants were never part of the initial plan to reach 100GW target. Considering the benefits and the successful installation of the first floating solar plant at New Town in Kolkota in 2014 opened a new opportunity for the government and project developers. Since then India has witnessed slew of installations on water bodies across different part of the country.

According to estimates, India, with 18000 Sq. Km of reservoir area, has the potential to support 280GW of floating solar. With the engineering and expertise that India has gained in installing solar systems on water bodies, this is one area which can be actively pursued for future business investment.

Maintenance & Cleaning:

One potentially overlooked area for investment is in the maintenance and cleaning of solar panels.

The solar panels are installed at an angle giving a natural advantage for the dust accumulated on the panel to get cleaned. Despite this natural advantage, according to expert’s solar panel cleaning and maintenance activity has to be taken seriously and done three to four times in a year. The cleaning cycle depends upon the area where the panels are installed and the frequency and amount of dust that gets accumulated on the solar panels.

Solar panels can be cleaned manually or by using robots. Manual cleaning is recommended for small plants and installations in low dusty areas. While for large utility scale projects cleaning robots are the best used. Manual cleaning is done using brush, both dry and wet type of cleaning brushes are available in the market. Looking at the scarcity of water, dry cleaning is preferred by the project developers.

There are many companies in India and even start-ups that have entered this area with expertise and technical capabilities to develop semi-automatic and robotic cleaning solutions as per the requirements of the clients.

As per the research conducted by IIT, Jodhpur, a solar plant can lose 10% to 40% of its efficiency due to dust accumulation within the first few months of the installation. To overcome this challenge, the researchers at IIT, Jodhpur have come up with an innovative coating technology for self cleaning of the solar panels.

Solar Panel Recycling:

Is India ready to handle 34,600 tonnes of solar waste by 2030? Time has come to find answers to this question.

While India has set ambitious targets to install solar over the next decade, what it lacks is a responsible waste management policy. Today majority of the solar panels not in use are sold as scraps, the real challenge will be to address the issue in more responsible and environment friendly way when the solar waste will increase four to five fold in coming decade.

While PV generate 3% of global electricity, they consume 40% of world’s tellurium, 15% of silver, substantial chunk of semiconductor-grade quartz and a significant amount of indium, zinc, tin and gallium.

Accoring to the projections by International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), the market value of raw materials recovered from solar panels could reach $450 million by 2030 Which, is approximately the amount of raw material required to generate 18GW of electricity. The value of recoverable materials is likely to surpass $15 billion by 2059, enough to power 630 GW with two billion solar panels.

One of the potential reason for looking at entering the recycling business is retrieval of the silicon material from abandoned solar panels. Expert’s predictions show that silicon will generate the highest revenue, therefore accounting for substantial portion of the recycling market.

Agri-PV:

Agri-PV or Agrivoltaics as is popularly known is an opportunity that combines agriculture with solar. In short, the process involves mixing farm crops with photovoltaic panels to generate both crops and solar energy at the same time.

There is immense potential for Agrivoltaics in India as agriculture land makes up 60% of India’s total surface area. According to estimates, 1% of agriculture land can lead to additional 630 GWp at the rate of 450 kWp per hectare.

One example of Agri-PV is the Cochin International Airport, where this idea has been implemented. The vegetables are grown organically and are co-located with solar panels.

Though Agri-PV has potential in India, there are few challenges on the policy and regulatory issues like classification of agriculture land to use for solar generation, safeguarding the farming community and the agriculture products needs to be addressed.

With current investments in solar energy is growing at a significant rate, and with it being a natural renewable energy source based on power from the sun, its future looks positive. The technological opportunities it offers, such as panel recycling and water installation, prove to be a viable reason to invest.

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