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This page was published on 09/01/2007
Published: 09/01/2007


Last Update: 09-01-2007  
Related category(ies):
Energy  |  Environment


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European consortium reaches important milestones in solar energy research

The EU-funded project CrystalClear has greatly improved the processes required for large-scale solar electricity production. CrystalClear has addressed some of the principle factors holding solar research back and has identified promising solutions. The consortium of European companies and research groups has pooled its talents to improve the efficiency of silicon solar cells, demonstrated the sustainability of solar electricity and defined ways to reduce production costs; all integral to meeting EU sustainable energy goals.

Solar electricity is inching closer to consumer electricity prices. © Georg Slickers
Solar electricity is inching closer to consumer electricity prices.
© Georg Slickers
CrystalClear set out to devise processes to produce highly efficient, low-cost silicon solar modules, and to date has been particularly successful in doing so. Consortium researchers have been able to increase the conversion efficiency of large-area multicrystalline silicon solar cells to a record level of 18 percent. The ability to produce efficient cells is an important factor in the uptake of solar technology.

Cell efficiency can range from 6 to 30 percent with current commercial standards at approximately 14 to 16 percent. Researchers were able to produce the encouraging results through the design of extremely thin solar cells made from high-purity silicon starting material. They were sure to employ production processes within industry capacities to ensure easy integration into other methods already in use.

Cost being an oft cited prohibitive factor, efficient cells translate into improved cost effective energy solutions. CrystalClear participants carried out detailed cost calculations showing that the technologies now successfully under development can be produced at around €1 per watt of module power, which cuts other current production model costs in half. Consortium experts have drafted a technology roadmap that outlines the steps required to arrive at the relatively inexpensive unit cost.

Another hurdle faced by solar electricity is the so-called energy payback time, the time it takes to produce more energy than was consumed during production and installation. A common misconception charges that solar cells rarely produce more energy than is required for their production. CrystalClear has proven through careful analysis of solar electricity's environmental impact that today's systems have an energy payback time of merely two years for southern Europe and just over three years in regions further north.

Their studies show that these statistics have the potential of being further reduced by up to 50 percent if current technology trends continue. The energy payback times are even more impressive considering that these cells have a 25-year lifetime.

CrystalClear, an Integrated Project funded in FP6, has shown that solar electricity is highly sustainable and indeed effective in reducing CO2-emissions. The project began in 2004 and will wrap up research at the end of 2008. It consists of partners from Spain, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium, and carries a total budget of €28 million with over half coming from the EU.

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