The fact that the biannual technical conference will focus on the role of glass in the burgeoning solar market is clear, as each of today’s keynote speakers hail from a company involved in some part of the solar market. The keynote speakers stressed the importance of driving down costs and driving up demand for solar panels to keep this market segment growing around the world.
"The glass industry has a challenge as we all do to drive costs down …" commented Avi Brenmiller, president and CEO of Solel.
Eric Peeters, global executive director of Dow Corning’s solar business, called this the fundamental challenge of photovoltaic (PV) production: "How many kW hours a panel can make over its lifetime and how much that will cost." Peeters added, "This challenge calls for strong collaboration down the value chain."
Each of the speakers seemed confident that glass will remain the primary material, over competitive products, for encapsulating solar cells in PV modules. Leon Giesen, CEO of Scheuten, noted that glass is advantageous for this application in that it’s strong, durable and is able to "play" with light. "The more light you get through it the more effective it is." He also noted, "The disadvantage is the weight – it’s too heavy."
Giesen added that glass is the natural choice for solar applications as, "Solar in the long run will be a building integrated product, a building-related product," adding that glass is already an inherent part of buildings.
Brenmiller added, "We will have to do some [further] sophisticated processing of the glass that is used in buildings and automotive [applications] to turn it into an optical device." As far as further improving the use of glass in solar applications, Giesen suggested bringing together the fabrication of solar glass with the fabrication of the cells themselves, and in that way reducing the costs of the process.
The speakers also stressed that solar is just beginning to grow.
According to Brenmiller, "A wave of technological innovation will lead concentrating solar power (CSP) to grid parity in the 2014 timeframe."
"By 2012 we will be very close to grid parity or already there in many countries," said Peeters of solar energy.
Dr. Johannes Segner, chief operating officer of Solibro GmbH, noted that the global demand for glass in solar applications is now about 50 million square meters, but by 2012 is expected to be closer to 130-140 million square meters.
To meet this demand, several of the speakers at the opening ceremony encouraged devoting whole float lines to solar glass in the future.
"It’s actually a challenge for suppliers to produce these materials fast enough," Peeters said of all of the raw materials used to produce these large panels.
Giesen said that five or six float lines would need to be dedicated to solar glass production by 2012. Segner estimated 20 complete float lines dedicated to solar glass by 2015.
To further encourage this growth, the speakers began encouraging building designers in the crowd to keep energy generation in mind for future buildings. During his talk, Giesen addressed the architects sitting in the crowd (for the first time as GPD now includes an architect’s forum), "to the architects it’s necessary that solar is on your drawing boards … we have to start planning for it today."
More than 800 attendees have gathered for this year’s event, which continues through Monday. Stay tuned to USGNN.com™ for further updates.