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Non-nuclear energy

Advisory council presents a vision to keep PV on the right track

Fission and radiation protection

Interview with Emiliano Perezagua PV-TRAC Chair (ISOFOTON) and François Démarcq PV-TRAC Vice-Chair (ADEME)

28 September 2004, Charlemagne Building, Brussels, Belgium

The PV-TRAC vision report has been well received. How difficult was it to incorporate all stakeholder views within the deadline you set yourself to deliver  it?

Emiliano Perezagua: With PV-TRAC there was a understanding from our first meeting that we needed to provide a clear idea of the vision for photovoltaic technology. In the ten months that we worked to produce the vision document we got through 16 versions of the text! Fortunately, there was a consensus on the broad strategy to be pursued from all stakeholders involved. The hard work came in making the final text as inclusive as possible and ensuring that the words and phrases reflected the opinions of all our colleagues.

François Démarcq: The process was very open and cautious. We were looking to avoid ambiguities and repetition and to articulate the vision as carefully as possible while, at the same time, achieving consensus on the fundamentals.  

Emiliano Perezagua: It was also important to keep the vision realistic – not to be over optimistic – 2030 is over 20 years away so we took a conservative approach when making predictions on market penetration, etc.

Do you feel that there were any significant stakeholders missing from the PV-TRAC process?

François Démarcq: Our initial PV-TRAC meetings included representatives of the building community but they tended to drop out as the meetings progressed. Building and architecture are important as primary end-users of PV technology and seamless integration of PV in buildings is a main goal of the technology. As the Technology Platform progresses, we will work to involve them in the process.

Emiliano Perezagua: It was a question of maturity of the technology I think. We were mainly talking about R&D initiatives and future possibilities. Building contractors deal with possibilities in the ‘here and now’. As the Platform becomes established and market deployment issues become more important then the contractors will want to make a bigger contribution. And we do want to include end-users to ensure implementation plans and marketing are correctly aligned.

What is your view of the timescale to establish the Technology Platform now?

François Démarcq: It is important to get the organisation established quickly to build on the momentum and enthusiasm of the PV-TRAC process. There will be a call for experts to serve on the Platform’s steering committee very soon. PV-TRAC will give a view on the balance of members required for the committee, taking into account the views expressed at the conference today. We also need to establish mechanisms- terms of reference - to allow the membership of the steering committee to be reviewed and refreshed periodically.

Emiliano Perezagua: I hope that the steering committee will be in place and can have a first meeting in December this year.

One notable point in the report was the issue of raw materials availability – is this a significant challenge?

Emiliano Perezagua: Yes, the quantities of materials needed to achieve the market penetration – that we believe is realistically achievable by 2030 – are large compared to current usage, but the primary  raw material is silica: one of the most abundant materials on earth! The challenge is to refine the manufacturing process to reduce the energy cost in making the silicon solar cells. This may be achieved by using thin-film technology or reducing wafer thickness or some other process innovation. This will be one of the main action points for the Strategic Research Agenda.  

François Démarcq: Yes, the silicon used in today’s solar cells is essentially a by-product of the electronics industry. The silicon wafers used in microchip manufacture need to have much higher purity standards than the silicon wafers we use in the PV sector. Silicon wafer production is energy intensive so a key parameter for sustainability in the PV industry is the energy payback time: that is the time it takes for a PV device to generate more energy than it took to produce. Minimising this time has economic value as well, of course.

The Technology Platform involves communication between many stakeholders – will it encourage the public to participate in its activities?

Emiliano Perezagua: It is clear that PV will play a significant role in the EU’s future energy mix. The question is how to reach that situation from where we are today – i.e. a very low proportion of energy being produced by PV. It is clear that we need to convince as many people as possible that PV is a real alternative energy source that is sustainable and affordable. To do this we have to engage with society at many different levels. Dialogue with the public is important to ensure that there is a real market ‘pull’ for the technology.  

François Démarcq:, The Technology Platform will definitely not be a ‘lobby’ group.

However, communication and public dissemination will be a central part of its education and training programme.