By covering 0.4% of the Norwegian territory with solar cells, today’s solar cell technology (15% efficiency) can provide Norway with 120 TWh annually. A similar value is also pertinent for the United States. It is therefore possible to utilise solar cells in order to supply all of our electricity consumption, given that we find a good way to store energy for utilization at night or in cloudy weather.
Status of solar cells in Norway and the world
Solar cells today represent a small part of the global electricity production, but at locations where it is expensive to connect to the grid it is cost efficient. In Norway a good example is the utilization of solar panels in cabins. Solar panels have been installed in Norwegian cabins at remote locations for more than 20 years. However, solar cells are still quite expensive, and the industry is working hard to reduce costs. In 2009 the milestone of 1 dollar per installed watt was achieved. The development continues, and one expects that electricity prices from photovoltaic solar cells may be competitive by 2030.
Norway is already today a considerable producer of solar cells, and one of the worlds leading producers of silicon, which is the most common material for manufacturing of today’s solar cells. Norwegian industry and Norwegian research institutions have long experience with the production of silicon for solar cells and wafers for electronic devices. The Norwegian company ELKEM has for a long time been the worlds greatest producer of pure silicon. Another company, REC Wafer, has since its establishment in 1997 become one of the world leaders in the manufacturing of wafers for solar cells. REC – Renewable Energy Corporation, is involved in the whole value chain of solar cells, from raw materials to complete modules.
Research at NTNU, SINTEF and IFE
To reduce the costs for production of electricity from solar cells, research and development is needed. The efficiency of the solar cells and efficient use of materials are crucial to bring down the cost.
NTNU and SINTEF has a world leading research environment for the manufacturing and characterization of silicon for solar cells. In laboratories in Trondheim research is carried out to find new and cheaper processes for the production of solar grade silicon, crystallization and characterization of wafers and materials. Researchers are also investigating the recycling of silicon that is lost in the process of wire sawing of the wafers.
The solar cell value chain – from quarts to silicon wafers, explained by associate professor Gabriella Tranell from NTNU. Photo: SFFE
At NTNU and SINTEF there are also projects on how to develop technology for the solar cells of the future. There are several researchers working on intermediate band solar cells, as well as light harvesting in thin films that can upconvert infrared light to visible light that can be utilized in solar cells.
At IFE, a new solar cell laboratory was inaugurated in 2009. The solar cell laboratory contains a complete production line for the manufacturing of wafer based solar cells and advanced processing equipment for thin film technologies. There is also a well-equipped characterization lab for solar cells.
IFE’s researchers are devoted to working on a number of different projects related to solar cells. These includes production of silicon materials, design, modelling and processing of solar cells, characterisation of materials and how they affect the solar cell efficiency, and even on solar modules and energy systems containing solar cells.
New concepts for solar cells are also developed at IFE. So called third generation solar cells are focusing on new materials and technologies to trap the light in ultra-thin solar cells. “The Norwegian Research Centre for Solar Cell Technology”, which was established in 2009, is also headquartered at IFE.
Associate Professor Turid Worren, Department of Physics, NTNU, +47 73 59 03 86
Professor Otto Lohne, Department of Materials Science, NTNU, +47 73 59 27 94
Researcher Arve Holt, IFE Solar cell department, +47 63 80 61 95