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Hanergy changes ME solar landscape with thin film cells

The rise of thin film solar over the past two decades has been remarkable, fuelled by the greatest success stories in the PV industry. Over the past few years, Hanergy has represented the disruptive potential of thin-film PV in full, including high throughput, competitive efficiency and an industry-leading cost, enabling significant profit.

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Wei Qiang, president, Hanergy Energy Saudi Arabia
ITP Media Group
Wei Qiang, president, Hanergy Energy Saudi Arabia

In a region where new solar panels and breakthroughs in solar technology are emerging almost every month, today, end users have a lot of panel options to choose from. Among the many innovations in the panel manufacturing space, none may be more appealing and visually exciting than thin film solar panels, which has captured the imagination of renewable energy players and interested observers in the Middle East.

Early this year, China headquartered Hanergy Thin Film Power Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Saudi Arabia’s Ajlan & Bros to launch the first solar thin-film industrial park in the Middle East in a $1bn investment.

At the time of the agreement signing, the two companies said that they would collaborate to develop renewable energy manufacturing facilities in Saudi Arabia and conjointly seek relevant investment opportunities.

Thin film’s rise over the past two decades has been remarkable, fuelled by the greatest success stories in the PV industry. Over the past few years, Hanergy has represented the disruptive potential of thin-film PV in full, including high throughput, competitive efficiency and an industry-leading cost, enabling significant profit.

“Thin-film solar technology is the future. It is the more flexible and promising form of solar power,” says Wei Qiang, President of Hanergy, Saudi Arabia. “The latest market report by Technavio forecasts that global thin-film solar power module market will have a compound increase rate of over 16% from 2018 to 2022. Research from Global Market Insights also shows the value of global thin-film solar power cells market will increase from the current $8bn to $30bn in 2024.”

“Thin-film solar power modules have unique traits of being light, thin and flexible compared to other forms of solar energy, and they work better under low light conditions, which gives thin-film products more adaptability and broader application.”

The search for alternative technologies to the traditional crystalline silicon wafer-based PV led to a tidal wave of investment and entrepreneurial activity in thin film, with 46 companies entering the market between 2004 and 2008, as well as $1.8bn in venture capital investment in the space.

As market share rose from a mere 3% in 2001 to 12% in 2007, companies spoke confidently of hundreds of megawatts of production at below a dollar per watt being within arm’s reach. It was only a matter of time before thin film would replace crystalline silicon as the dominant PV technology, finally enabling the long sought-after dream of grid parity.

The thin film market is not a big one, with very few companies having presence in it, but all with very firm long term strategies. The three main players are US headquartered First Solar with cadmium telluride (CdTe), Japan based Solar Frontier and China based Hanergy Thin Film with Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS). There are also a few companies looking at very thin c-Si, such as Twin Creeks or 1366 Technologies.

After two years of extensive research, Hanergy chose thin-film solar technology and acquired 4 leading thin-film solar power companies, Solibro, MiaSole, GSE and Alta Devices to be one of the few companies who can produce thin-film modules and manufacture machines at the same time.

Thin film solar panels are made of the thin film solar cell materials. The devices are made from physically flexible solar cells and are designed to generate electrical energy by converting light energy into electricity.

That is done through the photovoltaic effect in a layer composed of micron-thickness photon-absorbing crystalline silicon material. Layers of silicon (the light absorbing material used in a solar cell) that are about 350 times thinner than any standard silicon cell used in a solar panel are deposited over a flexible substrate.

Today, there are several types of thin film solar panels available made with various technologies. However, a typical thin film solar panel is made from one of the four technologies that include Cadmium Telluride, Amorphous Silicon, Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) and Gallium Arsenide.

In October, Hanergy introduced its innovative BIPV product HanWall in Dubai. This is its newest development in the building-integrated PV (BIPV) segment, going well beyond installation of rooftop solar panels and making power generating capability an integral part of the fabric of a building.

Equipped with CIGS solar cell technology, every 1000 square meters of HanWall incorporated in the south facade of a building in Beijing can generate 326 kW of electricity per day, equalling to a reduced usage of 48 tonnes of coal.

The total surface area of the project is over 14,000m2, and adopted 2,506 pieces of HanWall basic modules. It is estimated that it generates 210,000 kwh of electricity annually. As of today, over 700 patent applications have been filed for HanWall.

HanWall uses the world’s leading technology to transform a piece of glass into a power generator, interconnects electrical and other integrated systems to build a power generation wall and converts a building into a green power station, so that a regional smart micro-grid will be established through the smart connection of technology and equipment to ultimately create a totally new eco-world.

Quality certifications including China Compulsory Certification have been issued or are in the process of being approved by authorities from China and 6 other countries and regions.

Hanergy has assured its potential clientele of the abiding power output, being no less than 85% at least for 25 years. The company says that HanWall can resist a grade-12 typhoon and it can adapt to temperatures from -40 degree Celsius to +85 degree Celsius, and has 4 different colours and various sizes, allowing designers to utilize the creative ability to build new eco landmarks.

Last month, Hanergy announced that it was all set for the global launch of Thin Film Flat SOLARtile, its cutting-edge solar roof tiling solution developed in collaboration with CSR Group, one of the largest roof tiles producer and roofing solution providers in the world.

The Thin Film Flat SOLARtile is specially designed to meet overseas market needs. “Unlike the curve shape of HanTile, Thin Film Flat SOLARtile is flat and has a square shape, which enables the house to meet local housing standards and harmonize better with the neighbourhood,” says Qiang.

It adopts CROSS BOND structure, where the tile-to-tile interlock is put right in the middle of next row’s tile to ensure best waterproof performance, he adds.

Junction boxes are covered by 2mm steel and safe trays are used to protect cables. The design of roofing system is inspired by Gympie Pyramid to feature a traditional Pacific vibe and improve the aesthetics of the housing.

With CIGS thin-film solar chips incorporated inside it, Thin Film Flat SOLARtile can achieve conversion efficiency, as high as 18.7% which is the world’s record. The product has received an outstanding rating for having been exceptionally wind, water proof and fire resistant.

It can work under extreme conditions from -40 degrees to 80 degree Celsius. Along with thin-film technology’s characteristics of being light, thin and flexible, as well as being able to work under low light conditions, it has great adaptability and can be applied in varied scenarios.

The global CIGS thin film solar cells market is likely to expand to $8.5bn by 2024, witnessing a healthy CAGR of 17.3% over the forecast period, according to a new research report by Global Market Insights, Inc. The growth can be primarily attributed to the presence of various government initiatives to promote renewable energy in light of growing environmental concerns.

Rising consumption for energy across the globe is further expected to propel the demand over the forecast period. CIGS thin film solar cells offer excellent performance efficiency as compared to their other counterparts, which has increased its demand across various end-use industries.

Laboratory CIGS cells have achieved an efficiency level of 22.4% and several technological advancements are underway in order to further increase its efficiency. Also, as these cells have a relatively low or no amount of cadmium, they are environment friendly.

The Middle East, driven by increased renewable energy investments in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is expected to massively embrace CIGS thin film for both commercial and residential settings as the cost of the technology continues to drop.

“Thin-film power is a promising market, especially in Saudi Arabia. The renewable energy facilities are bound to reform the landscape of the country’s energy industry and help us achieve our goals in the 2030 vision,” says Mohamed Al Ajlan, deputy Board chairman, Ajlan & Bros in Saudi Arabia.

The market share of thin-film in Middle East is around 6%, with compound annual growth rate of 18%, according to Hanergy’s Qiang. The sentiments are very positive due to factors such as conversion efficiency, production cost and flexibility.

“We have accorded priority to Saudi Arabia as one of the key strategic markets for our business globally. We realise the potential of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia and have set out an organised and specific road map to diversify our business in the country while supporting the advancement of renewable energy and fulfil the Kingdom’s commitments to reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” says Qiang.

Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA)’s founding member, General Manager of Alsa Solar Systems, Karel De Winter who has more than 20 years of working experiences in PV industry says that the region is ready to embrace any new technology that will guarantee sustainable power supply.

“Since Middle East is rich in sunlight resource, Hanergy is likely to do well in this market and we are certain that it will fill the gap of BIPV market, extend the BIPV application and the usage scenario in the region.”

Hu Minjian, CEO of Hanergy Dubai agrees: “The solar energy industry in the Middle East region has experienced strong growth in the last four years. Countries in the region have announced ambitious renewable energy production goals to help decarbonise their economies and manage the growing electricity demand.”

“So it’s the perfect time for Hanergy and other renewable energy companies to start business here. We are certain that we will be instrumental in Middle East countries’ perpetual efforts to meet this burgeoning demand of electricity. The market potential in Middle East is huge, Hanergy is trying painstakingly to develop products that meet the needs of local market and contribute to local economic plans like Saudi Vision 2030.”

According to Qiang, Hanergy will collaborate with local partners to set up a complete product line in Saudi Arabia that will make provision of local maintenance and after-sale services possible. In the early stages of setting up the manufacturing facility, Hanergy will dispatch its team of engineers to trains its partners before handing over the maintenance work to them.

With operations in over 40 countries, Hanergy is working on various projects that include its partnership with Environmental Technology Solutions (ETS), one of the largest green building solution providers in Australia, to provide BIPV modules for buildings like the headquarter of National Australia Bank in Melbourne CBD, 477 Pitt Street in Sydney and Regent Tower in Brisbane.

Hanergy is also working with global companies and organisations to apply thin-film technologies to more areas. For instance, the company built smart bus stations in Tianjin, collaborated with Boeing to develop a solar power drone, and has worked with NASA to send solar power cells to the international space station to receive performance tests.

Hanergy currently has 5 futuristic thin-film solar power technologies. These are Solibro’s CIGS co-evaporation technology, Alta Device’s GaAs technology, GSE’s CIGS flexible co-evaporation technology, MiaSolé’s CIGS sputtering coating technology, and silicon heterojunction thin-film battery technology.

“With these cutting edge technologies, Hanergy’s thin-film cells and modules have broken several world records of conversion efficiency. For instance, GaAs single-junction solar cell achieved an efficiency of 29.1%, breaking the world record for the sixth time last year,” says Qiang.

At the facility in Saudi Arabia, Hanergy expects to manufacture various products that include Solibro: Standard Module, Hantile and customised cut module Miasolé: Standard Module and HanWall. The facility will mainly serve the market of Saudi Arabia and the neighbouring regions.

On the bankability of thin film projects, Qiang says that the future looks promising as market capacity firms up to serve solar power plants, government projects, private projects, and greenfield energy sites.

“Distribution channels will be steady enough to provide hefty cash flow and make high IRR with a short payback period. We will also take other methods like having very careful initiators/shareholders evaluation and extensive insurance arrangement to ensure bankability of projects,” says Qiang.

Although US headquartered First solar was the pioneer of thin film, China’s Hanergy is the first company to introduce the technology to the Middle East on such a large scale, which further illustrates the increasing influence of Chinese companies as the region embraces the path to renewable energy.

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