|Closer links with photovoltaics|
|On the occasion of solarpeq/glasstec the glass and solar energy sectors agree on closer co-operation.|
The glass and solar systems sectors might considerable benefit from each other, though they have not really met thus far. Now solarpeq, the new fair affiliated to glasstec, will pave the way to closer co- operation and synergies.
A successful start: Solarpeq, held for the first time this year, turned out to be a resounding success. It was attended by large numbers of visitors. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
Glass making is tough and involves hard work: At temperatures over 1,000 degrees Centigrade sand, lime, soda and cullet are brought to their respective melting points before being turned into windows, bottles and industrial glass, for instance. At first sight such a sector of industry does not appear to be easily linked with delicate photovoltaics (PV). However, glass is a key product for solar system makers: ever greater numbers of thin sheets ends up in PV modules on the roofs. And vice versa, the glass industry thrives on the solar energy boom. While the packaging glass business shows hardly any growth, sales of glass for solar energy facilities rose impressively. In the words of Mr. Bernd-Holger Zippe, head of Zippe Industrieanlagen and Chairman of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) glass technology section: “Demand from solar systems industries provides some sort of special upswing to certain glass machinery suppliers”.
For the first time solarpeq was held in parallel with glasstec, the most important trade fair of the glass sector from 28 September to 1st October this year. This underlined the growing importance of solar technologies and their links to glass processing. The very beginning of the trade fair already paved the way for closer co-operation of the two sectors. During the “Solar meets Glass“ conference, held during solarpeq, leading representatives of both industries agreed on a joint roadmap contributing to defining co-operative approaches to products and applications, because this would represent a decisive step towards more innovations and lower cost. There was justified satisfaction, therefore, when Mr. Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director of Messe Düsseldorf, said after the event: “We met a major interim goal on our way ahead, because representatives of the glass sector were talking to those from the solar sector”. What was needed now was an even more intensive dialogue. “We shall prepare other events to turn this approach into success,” Mr.Reinhard announced.
Hi-Tec in action: Grenzebach presented not one but several new units for manufacturing thin-film modules in Düsseldorf. Here, a robot device lifts a pane of glass without touching it. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
Bendable modules: The Lisec company from Austria put panels between glass sheets only two millimetres thick – making them almost indestructible. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
Many chances left to bring down cost
Glass producers and solar module makers still have to resolve a number of issues. So far, glass industries were not very much interested in innovations benefiting solar glass development. They cannot be blaimed for this because PV facilities only proved to gain in relevance rather slowly. Until now, it was mainly the automotive and construction industries, which took up most of its output, and cost savings do not come about if there is a dearth of progress in technology. Priced at about € 10 a square metre, glass used for PV facilities is still at the same price as it was at the beginning of the boom four years ago. In the words of Mr. Heiko Hessenkemper, a scientist from the Bergakademie Freiberg Technical University, who addressed the conference, by now it accounts for about 5 per cent of the cost of crystalline silicon modules. And in thin-film solar panels, requiring cover and carrier glass, glass accounts for up to 30 per cent of material input. “It is not difficult to see, that glass may turn out to be the “bottleneck” on the way to further bring down solar cell manufacturing cost”, the expert cautioned.
The sales hit: Glass rolling equipment manufactured by Fickert + Winterling is enjoying brisk demand at present. This company exports mainly to China. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
His view was backed by Mr. Chris Buckland, Head of Project Management at the ib vogt machinery works in Berlin, who felt that better cooperation of the glass and solar sectors was a matter of great urgency. Referring to his example of a thin-film production site with a capacity of 120 megawatt, he said that 4.4 tons of glass was lost to breakage every day. “This figure might be considerably reduced if PV module manufacturers knew more about how to handle glass,” Buckland complained. “But they do not have this expertise.” One decisive argument in favour of “Solar meets Glass“: Glass makers proved to be accessible for criticism and the needs of their new partners. Mr. Ruud Gerlings, Head of F-Glas, an eastern German glass works, criticised his own industry when he admitted: “Thus far, there have not been any standards for making glass used in PV units, neither has there been any general concept for valued- added production. Also, most companies have never studied the concept of glass logistics“. With this in mind, his company is prepared to pay greater attention to the needs of solar system manufacturers. The Osterweddingen float glass factory is one of the most modern facilities the world over. F-Glass operates a special glass melting unit, which is especially energy-efficient, running at low temperatures, to make white glass. F-Glass also finishes glass for use in modules in its facilities, long-distance transport being no longer necessary. Mr.Gerlings adds: ”This provides a base for savings“. The Dutch manager thus fed hopes of solar industry representatives for better and cheaper glass to make solar energy competitive soon. Innovations galore in Düsseldorf.
The glass sector, meanwhile, puts it hopes on the PV industry, a fact quite obvious when looking around the trade fair halls. Thus, Lisec, a machine-building company from Austria, presented its plate glass finishing unit. This machine tempers glass panes for PV units just two millimetres thick. Traditional glass tempering units can only temper glass between a maximum of three and four millimetres. Otherwise, there is a breakage risk. Alexander Kronsteiner, a member of Lisec’s sales staff said that this new unit enabled the PV sector to save considerably on materials costs. The Lisec works benefits from its know-how for making especially robust multi-crystalline double-glass solar modules. Instead of plastics, used by other makers for backsheets, Lisec switched to employing their own two-millimetre glass. Adds Mr.Kronsteiner: “This makes our panels almost indestructible“.
Listening intensively: At the “Solar meets Glass“ conference held at solarpeq, solar system manufacturers and the glass sector agreed on closer cooperation. The conference was attended by almost 200 participants. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
But solar system producers also came with innovations of their own, presented by suppliers, offering their goods at solarpeq next to specialised glass manufacturers. Thus Grenzebach, a Bavarian company specializing in the automation of thin-film module production, came to Düsseldorf with not one but several innovations. A new handling device shown by the company can carry glass panes without touching them, using gas for support. This new device prevents panes from getting dirty or receiving scratches during transportation. Grenzebach’s novel shuttle system allows for rapid transportation of glass from one place to another and also speeds up manufacture. Over and above, Grenzebach also introduced a unit for ultrasonic welding of connector boxes, developed jointly with Kumatec. Until now these boxes containing the electrical connections of a PV module, were soldered into place. Ultrasonic welding, for a change, does not require any additional material and modules will not be subject to any mechanical stress. Mr.Thomas Geiger, Sales Manager of the company, said: “We want to be the No. 1 supplier of general automated devices for thin-film manufacturing lines. This is the objective we work for so hard”. This explains why Grenzebach offered such a powerful performance at solarpeq.
Another company with great innovations at solarpeq was GP Solar, an affiliate of Centrotherm, a supplier of turn-key units. They also presented their latest technological achievement at the Düsseldorf trade fair. Theirs is an inspection system for thin-film modules. As Mr.Thomas Stenzel, Sales Manager of GP Solar explained, high- performance processors provide for very high resolution and complete image data. But there is an important extra: This GP unit does not only provide complete images but it also analyses them. Thus, it counts dirt particles on a module and users receive a complete analysis. Adds Mr.Stenzel: “This means, our unit contributes to process optimization”.
Press contact solarpeq 2010
Mr. Sebastian Pfluegge/Ms. Brigitte Kueppers
Phone:+49 (0)211/4560-464 or -929
Fax: +49(0)211/4560-87 464
E-Mail: PflueggeS@messe-duesseldorf.de or
Last review: November, 2010
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