【DE】Motor for the energy transition: New technologies and artificial intelligence ensure greater efficiency of photovoltaic systems

If the energy transition is to succeed, the rapid expansion of renewable energies is a must. Photovoltaics plays a key role in this, which will take place from the 15th to the 18th. November at EnergyDecentral 2022 will be thought of intelligently and networked by the exhibiting companies. The trade fair for decentralized energy production takes place at the same time as EuroTier in Hanover and offers an overview of the current trends in the solar power industry and provides answers to the question of what potential this results for a self-sufficient and climate-neutral energy supply.


With regard to the solutions of EnergyDecentral 2022, it becomes clear that photovoltaic systems are now more powerful than ever and use sunlight better than it was a few years ago. Highly efficient monocrystalline solar modules now have a higher market share worldwide than multicrystalline modules. An example of this are the so-called PERC modules, which are also receiving more and more attention in the context of rooftop systems in agriculture. The abbreviation stands for “Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell” – a technology that increases efficiency to over 24 percent by reflecting part of the light that reaches the back of the cell back into the cell.


Solar systems are in demand like never before


The exhibitors at the exhibition center in Hanover, who specialize in the project planning, installation and maintenance of private and commercial PV systems, are currently encountering a growth market. In March 2022, 2.2 million photovoltaic systems with a total rated output of 58,400 megawatts were installed on German roofs and plots. With them, in the 1st quarter, around 8.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity from sunlight are fed into the grid – 34.7 percent more than in the 1st Quarter 2021. Marcus Vagt, project manager of EnergyDecentral, also perceives an increased interest in photovoltaics. He confirms: “The efficiency of modern solar modules has grown significantly over the past few years. With every kilowatt hour of electricity that owners of a photovoltaic system generate and consume themselves, they save money compared to the grid purchase.” The trend is moving away from the classic pure solar system to a system that ensures that the solar power is used in the best possible way. “Those who then additionally invest in battery storage will become more independent of rising electricity prices in the long term,” says the expert from DLG. The combination of solar system, electricity storage, supplemented by a wallbox, is therefore one of the trends that the technology providers in Hanover are bringing to the fore. “In commercial and agricultural sectors, such grid-independent PV systems are becoming increasingly popular, not least due to the recent turbulence in the energy markets,” explains Vagt.


PV technology is still based on silicon and the principle: the more solar cells, the more electricity the modules generate. A new way is the division into half cells. The module is divided into two twin halves, in which the solar cells are connected in series and segmented into several strings. With the use of half-cell technology, a solar yield of around two to three percent higher can be achieved. In addition, the shading behavior is significantly better – if only one half of the module is shaded, the other half of the module continues to perform at its full power.


In tandem to new efficiency records


However, if more sunlight is to be converted into electricity, it is not enough to simply increase the area of the solar modules. Above all, their efficiency must be increased. And the industry experts agree on this: With silicon alone, further increases in efficiency can hardly be achieved. Due to the physical material properties, the theoretical limit of such modules is 29.3 percent. Therefore, great hopes currently rest on the tandem cells (Multi-Junction Solar Cells) – a technology that a team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE is also dealing with. Thanks to a new anti-reflective coating, the researchers from Freiburg have succeeded in increasing the efficiency of the best quadruple solar cell to date from 46.1 to 47.6 percent.


What sounds like a small step is a milestone, because there is currently no more efficient solar cell in the world. This is an upper tandem solar cell of gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) and aluminum gallium arsenide (AlGaAs), which has been bonded to a lower tandem solar cell of gallium indium arsenide phosphide (GaInAsP) and gallium indium arsenide The solar cell layers were provided with improved contact layers and a four-layer anti-reflection layer. This reduces resistance losses as well as reflection at the front of the cell, which is sensitive in a wide spectral range of 300 to 1,780 nanometers. Conventional solar cells made of silicon absorb sunlight only up to a wavelength of 1,200 nanometers and therefore do not require such broadband anti-reflective coating. “The application possibilities of such highly efficient tandem solar cells include concentrator photovoltaic systems that contribute to efficient energy production in sunny countries. With tandem photovoltaics, it is possible to leave the limits of single solar cells behind and thus ultimately achieve a reduction in solar power costs, says Prof. Dr. Stefan Glunz, Head of Photovoltaic Research at Fraunhofer ISE.


Digital and intelligent into the future


The PV system of tomorrow is digital and intelligent. AI-supported systems will allow early detection and correction of malfunctions and automatic yield optimization in the future. A study by the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nuremberg has shown how great the need for optimization is. Around eight percent of European solar modules therefore do not run at full power. “In addition to incorrectly set or defective modules, environmental influences such as dust, pollen, bird dirt or tall trees and grasses can also lead to the plants supplying less electricity than would actually be possible,” explains Dr. Claudia Buerhop-Lutz, scientist at the Helmholtz Institute, an institution of Forschungszentrum Jülich. With modern measurement technology, it is already possible in principle to detect faulty and underutilized modules, for example through thermographic analyses with drones from the air. But the procedures are expensive and time-consuming.


In the future, AI measuring instruments will read possible performance deficits directly on the spot directly from the monitoring data of the solar modules – a goal that the researchers at the Helmholtz Institute pursue with the joint project Dig4morE. With the help of machine learning, they want to identify performance deficits and defects at an early stage. Data from a total of eleven solar parks spread throughout Europe are available for the development of the algorithms. Depending on the type of system and environment, there are different problem areas for the solar modules. “In Central German Hesse, other factors play a role than on the Portuguese west coast, where the strong winds make the modules vibrate,” explains Buerhop-Lutz. Towards the end of the year, initial results are to be available, from which best practice examples and recommendations for large-scale solar parks can then be derived, for example to economically plan maintenance work such as cleaning measures.


Platform for the trends of the PV industry


But this does not yet reach the end of the flagpole. In the future, the operator of a PV system will be able to accurately predict electricity generation and electricity consumption in terms of weather conditions and consumption habits on the basis of big data analyses. Accordingly, the AI can optimally control the charging and unloading of the energy storage system for various scenarios – sunny, cloudy or rainy days. In this way, the electricity yield can be maximized in any scenario and the proportion of self-consumption can be effectively increased. What artificial intelligence still has in store for solar energy can be seen from the 15th to the 18th. November at EnergyDecentral, when technology providers present their products and services in the fields of photovoltaics. The topics of floating PV, water-floating PV systems and Agri-PV, solar systems in combination with agricultural land, are also represented at the exhibition center in Hanover.


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