Solar startup 1366 Technologies on Monday plans to announce that two technologies that boost the efficiency of multicrystalline-silicon solar cells are officially available. The company told us back in July that it had signed an unnamed first customer for one of the technologies, which textures multicrystalline-silicon solar cells — giving them a rougher texture that adds surface area, increases internal light refraction, and boosts solar panel efficiency — and would deliver its first prototype machine in April.
The second technology creates thin metal “fingers” on a cell by applying a proprietary seed layer that essentially glues pure silver lines onto the top of the cell, then electroplating those conductive lines on top, explained Emanuel Sachs, chief technology officer of 1366. The technique enables the lines to be thinner than the standard –- some 40 microns thick compared with the usual 120 microns — which reduces shading on the cells without diminishing their conductivity. In addition, the thinness means manufacturers can apply more of these lines, further increasing the efficiency of the cells.
The technologies are aimed at making multicrystalline-silicon cells more efficient and less costly. Altogether, the company says its technologies have already produced cells of almost 18 percent efficiency, and it plans to hit 19 percent in nine months, Sachs said. Standard multicrystalline cells average approximately 16 percent efficiency, although the most efficient multicrysalline cells, such as those made by Kyocera, already have exceeded 18 percent efficiency.
But 1366 says its technologies can improve efficiency at a much lower cost, essentially bringing cells of 16 percent efficiency to 18 percent efficiency — with only small process changes — for pennies per watt. Other companies like Kyocera Solar have developed different technologies that raise the cells’ efficiency, but cost more to produce.
Higher efficiency cells can result in lower installation costs, because fewer cells need to be installed to get the same production capacity. The company says its technologies can reduce the total system cost of projects using these cells by about 15 percent, cutting 60 cents per watt from solar-power systems that cost $4 per watt today, said Craig Lund, director of business development. The technologies could save manufacturers up to $50 billion over the next five years, the company claims.
The company is already licensing one of its technologies to Ulbrich and Schlenk, which are independently marketing it. For the texturing and metallization technologies, 1366 plans to make money by designing and selling the necessary equipment, and expects to begin commercial production of these machines — using U.S. manufacturers — in the next 18 months.