Saturday, July 9, 2011

Asian quality leads crystalline efficiencies

Adding a bit of rationale to the ever growing claims of world record efficiencies in the PV industry, Solarplaza has released the top ten table for mono crystalline modules and shows the best performing region is Asia regardless of company ownership.
With all the big talk of laboratory world-records and 'quality' modules by the renowned brands, it's easy to lose sight of the real picture of module efficiency. Which module manufacturers produce the most efficient Monocrystalline PV Modules currently available on the market? 

As many would have expected, Sunpower sells the solar module with the highest efficiency of 19.6%. The technology of number two Sanyo is actually not based on mc-Si alone. Their HIT technology combines a crystalline silicon cell with an additional amorphous silicon layer. The difference between the leader and the number 10 is 3.4%; in absolute terms a small difference, but relatively significant. The difference could mean you need less space, for example on a roof, to achieve the same system power or energy yield. It means you need less BOS investments. Whether it pays out to use the higher efficient modules is yet to be seen. 

This ranking does not say anything about the module cost, the relative cost per Wattpeak power, nor about the most important topic, the cost per produced solar kWh. It could mean that a module of lower efficiency is so much cheaper that the extra cost for other system components (more frame, cables, installation work) can easily be covered by the money saved on the modules.  

Also, some modules perform better in real life conditions rather than in the standard test condition as mentioned on the certified datasheet. These cost issues will be key in the Top-10s coming up soon Another remark can be made about the origin of the modules. Europeans as well as Americans often claim that at least their products offer the best quality, but this does not show in terms of technology superiority.  

Although the number one, Sunpower, is from the US, their cells and modules are actually produced in the Philipines. Except for Crown Renewable Energy all the other modules are from Asia. And it’s interesting to see that some of the more well known brands did not make it into the Top-10. We do find these brands in the Top-50 overview that can be downloaded for free here. Also interesting to see is the relatively young and unknown brands that are listed. Will these companies be offering an attractive price too and thus be heading for a leading market position? The future will tell as this listing will be updated frequently.  
*This table was first published on June 27, 2011 and was updated on July 5, 2011