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Monitoring System for Thin-film Manufacturers

BrightView Systems has introduced its InSight-M series monitoring system, the first inline process control and optimization tool developed specifically for thin-film photovoltaics manufacturers. Based on the company’s Wide Area Metrology (WAM) technology, the platform features continuous monitoring and whole-panel mapping of critical and process parameters at full production throughput and for 100% of manufactured glass and flexible panels.
Ariel Ben-Porath, VP Marketing and Business Development of BrightView Systems speaks about the technological development and efficiency improvement.

 

Please introduce briefly BrightView Systems to our readers.

BrightView delivers comprehensive process control and optimization solutions dedicated to thin-film solar panel manufacturing. With a profound understanding of photovoltaic cell physics, process development and mass production, and with over ten pending patents, BrightView’s core technologies span in line metrology, imaging and unique data analysis packages specifically designed for thin-film solar manufacturing. BrightView solutions improve the efficiency, durability and bankability of panels and provide integral solutions for improving thin-film PV productivity and profitability.

 

Could you update our readers on recent trends among thin-film manufacturers?

One of the most significant trends for 2010 is the entry of global corporations into the solar thin-film market. Recent announcements and detailed plans by companies such as Sharp, General Electric, Bosch and Samsung are evidence that the thin-film market is about to undergo a transition that will take it into the next phase of global scale production and substantial growth as grid parity is reached and surpassed. These companies are relying on experience gained in other segments, such as semiconductors, LCD screens and even wind power to assure that their entry into this market segment will be optimized for ramp up time, volume production and profitability. Among other crucial components, process optimization and control is a major enabler for reaching panel efficiency and factory productivity goals, as well as assuring long-term panel performance.

 

BrightView has recently unveiled Wide Area Metrology (WAM) system for thin-film solar cell manufacturers. Please give us more details on the technological breakthroughs.

The BrightView InSight-M product family utilizes Wide Area Metrology (WAM) technology to provide the first effective solution for in-line production optimization and cell efficiency enhancement for thin-film PV solar panel producers. The solution enables simultaneous mapping of key panel material characteristics as well as electrical and optical parameters, and allows for real time modification to process chambers as well as immediate Fault Detection and Classification (FDC). The system provides simultaneous mapping that includes, among other parameters, each layer’s thickness, surface morphology, energy gap and crystal phases, for virtually all thin-film technologies that exist today in the market (thin-film silicon, CIGS and CdTe). This mapping provided at unprecedented rate of hundreds of measurement points per second, and can be embedded in any type of production line without affecting throughput or introducing delays.

 

Which role does your panel mapping play in steps in the manufacturing process?

The BrightView InSight-M System assists thin-film producers in achieving several significant goals. It helps to increase the average conversion efficiency through comprehensive process optimization of optical and electrical parameters resulting in lower process variation. As a result, the entitled efficiency level is achieved not only for a small fraction of the production, known as ‘champion panels’  but rather on the majority of manufactured panels. At the same time, tight monitoring of panel properties including changes in process signatures allows detecting process excursions, saving time and materials and eventually driving PV manufacturing costs down.

 

 

In your experience in thin-film production process, what are the biggest challenges in terms of technology?

These challenges vary from one thin-film technology to another. For the thin-film silicon technology, the major challenge will be the increase of the conversion efficiency above 10% and driving the cost down to a number that will be well below US$0.8/Wp. These goals are ambitious, but necessary in order to compete with other technology. Leading turnkey manufacturers and panel producers believe that these goals are achievable, and so do we.

For emerging thin-films technologies such as CIGS, the biggest challenge will be to transfer the manufacturing process from the lab with the conversion efficiency of best modules of ~15% to mass production. Mature and robust equipment with better homogeneity and wider process window will be an essential part of achieving this goal.

 

Large-scale PV installations have been emerging as a new trend in the solar industry. How do you improve the efficiency in terms of scaling?

The shift to large-scale installation will have a profound impact on the growth of the thin-film solar industry, as thin film is shining brightly as the preferred technology for large ground-based systems. This is due to cost, performance under high ambient temperature and under diffused sunshine. We believe that the share of thin-film panels installed vs. crystalline panels will increase dramatically over the next several years, up to anything from 40% to 60% of total installations. In addition, as production is mostly geared towards large ground-based systems, and the operators of such installations gain experience in the factors affecting the total energy harvesting of their arrays, the role of panel matching is emerging as a crucial factor. The variance between panel energy yields in an array is known to have a detrimental effect on the total energy yield, as chains and inverters effectively align themselves to their weakest members; however, the extent of the phenomenon has become apparent only with substantial statistical data coming out of installations that have been in operation for one or more years. It has become clear to project planners that panel matching holds the key to several percentage points of higher annual energy yield, and the subject is receiving attention. One of the approaches for counteracting the effects of non-uniformity whether inherent or due to shading has been the development and deployment of micro-inverters with each panel. If panels can be cost-effectively manufactured to higher matching requirements, total energy harvesting can be increased without requiring additional system components.

 

Any tips for assuring product bankability?

Increasingly, the ‘bankability’ of thin-film panels becomes a key factor driving this industry, by capturing the combined effect of several metrics, most notably the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) and the risk associated with long-term system durability. It has special relevance for companies that enter the solar PV market and do not have yet sufficient data to demonstrate the long-term reliability of their products. Turnkey lines, widely used by thin-film producers to speed up the production ramp, will increasingly be perceived by both users and suppliers as starting points for process customization rather than fixed end-to-end solutions, and process enhancements will allow product differentiation and competitiveness. One of the challenges of the maturing thin-films PV industry will be to establish process control and quality assurance strategies similarly to those that were established in IC and LCD manufacturing processes. The ‘bankability’ of thin-film projects will highly depend on the ability of panel manufacturer to demonstrate great panels matching, lower light-induced degradation and higher product durability.

 

Could you share some of your goals for 2010?

In 2010, BrightView expects to expand its presence in the Asia and U.S. markets--we believe that significant portion of our potential customers are in China, Korea, the U.S.A. and Japan. We have established local presence in all key markets and are moving forward with penetrating strategic customers in all regions and across all thin-film technologies.

Following the introduction in the beginning of the year of the InSight-M product family for amorphous and microcrystalline silicon, we are expanding our product portfolio into CdTe and CIGS technologies. Most of companies using these technologies are in early stages of production, and BrightView seeks to partner with these companies to drive manufacturing costs down and to increase modules’s conversion efficiency.  

 

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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