Even before the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 increased and extended financial incentives for solar panels and awarded an extra 10% investment tax credit for panels made fully in America (40% ITC total), consumer demand was surging for solar power in the United States and globally.
Solar panel installations increased by 40% year-over-year, adding 5.3 GW of residential solar power production to the grid. In many cases, demand outpaced supply as rising energy prices, climate change realities and supply chain disruptions combined to make it especially difficult for people to acquire and install solar panels.
Meanwhile, the cost of rooftop solar prices has dropped by 60% in the past decade, but many homeowners are still priced out, with upfront costs estimated between $15,000 and $25,000 to purchase and install a new solar system.
In other words, as solar becomes increasingly popular and important to green energy production, it faces dual challenges that hinder its adoption: affordability and accessibility. With supply chain challenges and geopolitical uncertainties straining international production capacity, a state-side solution is desperately needed.
The Cadmium Telluride Accelerator Consortium (CTAC), a group of research teams, universities and companies, is working to accelerate the development of domestically manufactured, cheaper, more efficient cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells, making American-made solar panels more affordable and accessible for consumers.
CdTe’s impact on green energy
The consortium, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, has been focused on CdTe photovoltaics, a type of thin-film solar cell made from a combination of cadmium, tellurium and other materials. CdTe cells offer several advantages over traditional silicon-based solar cells, including lower production costs and higher efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity.
With a theoretical maximum conversion efficiency of over 31%, CdTe solar technology has yet to reach its full potential for growth. CdTe is already a powerful solar PV product, historically powering the utility-scale markets.
However, CdTe products face significant competition from Chinese-made silicon solar panels, a logistical and human rights problem, increasing the need for American-made solar solutions. Chinese solar companies have been connected to forced labor in the Xinjiang region, prompting the U.S. government to ban more than 1,000 shipments of solar energy components following a June law banning imports from the solar manufacturing region.
As a result, demand for American-made CdTe solar is outpacing supply, making it difficult for suppliers to lower costs. CdTe solar panels are an essential part of the energy transition, with most utility-scale projects in the United States powered by CdTe technology. Making CdTe more broadly accessible for consumers is Toledo Solar and CTAC’s principal focus.
Already, the consortium has experienced a growing number of students and faculty working together with the solar industry to accelerate CdTe research, eradicating information silos and leveraging collaboration to facilitate long-term improvements.
Specifically, the consortium aims to enable CdTe cell efficiencies above 24% and module costs below 20¢/W by 2025, and cell efficiencies above 26% and module costs below 15¢/W by 2030.
Enabling American-made solar at scale
Historically, global energy market trends are tied to natural gas prices. The cost of fossil fuels increased sharply this past year, and geopolitical conflict is reminding many people that adversarial energy partners are a bad long-term energy strategy.
Consequently, nearly 70% of homeowners say they are interested in installing solar panels to lower long-term costs and reduce their carbon footprint.
With lower production costs and higher efficiency compared to traditional silicon-based solar cells, CdTe technology has the potential to increase the adoption and use of renewable energy sources. What’s more, CdTe has the lowest carbon footprint in the solar industry, and U.S.-based production facilities help mitigate ethical or supply chain concerns plaguing the industry.
Solar panel demand is expected to increase for the next several decades. CdTe development alone won’t make solar power a success. However, it’s a foundational product with long-term implications for countries striving to meet climate targets, communities investing in more sustainable energy solutions and homeowners looking to lower costs.
Simply put, more affordable and cleaner energy from ethical products with long-term benefits like recyclability that can support solar adoption at scale are in high demand. CTAC is hastening accessibility and affordability, leveraging the power of public/private partnership to power the green energy transition.
Aaron Paul Bates says
These are great Questions: to take a few of them:
1. TSI modules power output are equivalent to the First Solar series 4, not 3 or 2. After Series 4, First Solar went to a larger module in Series 6, but the technology remained the same.
2. RSD costs are the same or lower on a per watt basis by using a supplied parallel wiring harness from TSI.
3. TSI modules are frameless.
4. The CdTe R&D effort is fairly collaborative in the U.S.- including First Solar, Toledo Solar, many other companies and research institutions. Overall average efficiencies are ~18% modules that are expected to reach 22-25% in the next several years.
I really appreciate the great comments, and that someone read the article! Thank you so much. For more information, please visit http://www.Toledo-solar.com. Our live engineers and sales folks are happy to answer questions.
“Specifically, the consortium aims to enable CdTe cell efficiencies above 24% and module costs below 20¢/W by 2025, and cell efficiencies above 26% and module costs below 15¢/W by 2030.”
Interesting, First Solar owns the CdTe panel operations. Unfortunately it seems at some point First Solar is now focusing on utility scale panels in the 24 to 32 square foot panel size and right at 80 pounds for the larger panels used in utility scale projects, that are designed to put out a nominal 220VDC per panel instead of the usually expected 35VDC to 45VDC of most other panel brands. The picture of the Toledo solar PV panels go from 105 watts STC to 120 Watts STC one would want to use the NOCT of the panels to design a robust system and get something like 90 Watts NOCT for the 120 Watt panel. The down side these Toledo Solar panels look like First Solar series 2 or 3 panels and are smaller about 7.8 square feet which means it would take more panels per array than the standard 20 square foot crystalline silicon solar PV panels that put out around 370 to 400 Watts STC. Another down side to the Toledo CdTe panels is the output voltage can be from around 70VDC to 65VDC, is one needs RSD devices for each panel one will spend more money to apply RSD to the array. Either Toledo Solar or First Solar should go to frameless solar PV panels in the 18 to 20 square foot area for residential rooftop solar. Why can’t First Solar or Toledo Solar accelerate that panel efficiency timeline and use IRA and DOE funds to develop the 26% efficiency modules by 2024 instead of 2030? Now is the time to right size China’s influence over the solar PV industry in the U.S..
Doug Rasmussen says
More articles like this. Are these panels available to the private homeowner and who would be the distributor?
@ Doug Rasmussen: go to the the Toledo Solar site> http://www.toledo-solar.com and send them an e-mail as to what you want for a system. They should be able to put you in touch with a regional distributor if not a local solar PV company that sells and installs Toledo Solar panels. One question you might want to ask of your distributor or solar PV installer is how these Toledo Solar panels are handled in the NEC code for RSD requirements. The smaller panels will require more RSD modules mounted under each panel to meet shutdown requirements and safety requirements during emergencies.