Vancouver-based solar manufacturer Day4 Energy announced today that it has developed a design and manufacturing process for a second-generation solar cell that achieves 18 per cent efficiency (multi-crystalline) and 19 per cent efficiency (mono-crystalline) while reducing manufacturing costs by up to 25 per cent. “The application of the Generation II photovoltaic (PV) cell technology for multi-crystalline products is particularly important because of the material’s lower price point and the company’s secured cell supply. The Generation II technology was designed to be fully compatible with Day4 Energy’s existing manufacturing equipment, enabling rapid deployment and scale-up,” the company said today in a release.
Day4’s existing product line, sold since 2006, is a multi-crystalline product that’s 14.7 per cent efficient, already making it one of the more efficient cells on the market. “Performance at this level using less costly multi-crystalline material cannot be achieved without employing the Day4 Electrode technology,” said John MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Day4 Energy. The company says it will fast-track commercial scale-up of the second-gen cells over the next 18 months and is in talks with potential manufacturing partners.
The company’s edge against competitors is that it has developed a better — and patent-protected — way to connect solar PV cells to solar modules and each other. Today’s solar panels are typically made by soldering cells to a module using a high-heat process that can damage cells and limit the exposed surface area of a cell. Day4 has developed a proprietary electrode and associated process for connecting cells — one that’s low temperature, and uses back-contact polymer/copper technology. The company claims that its Electrode reduces electrical resistance, by a factor of 10, from the material traditionally used to connect cells together. The approach also makes module surfaces simply look better, because all contacts are on the back (not particularly unique, but certainly welcome).
Day4 went public last December, raising more than $100 million. At the time, its production capacity was 12-megawatts annually. Earlier this month it announced it has expanded manufacturing capacity at its Vancouver-area facility to 47 megawatts. It has now entered its Phase II expansion, targeting the addition of another 50 MW of capacity. If completed within the next five months, it would exceed its goal of having 90 MW by the end of this year. The company said the expansion allows it to move forward with a global-scale expansion, “which includes an accelerated implementation of the third-party manufacturing strategy.”
Company revenues are growing rapidly, backed by a strong and growing pipeline of orders. If Day4 can make a material reduction in costs while increasing efficiency to 18 per cent, this would be an impressive breakthrough. Not that there aren’t other innovations out there that show more potential, but Day4 appears positioned to get there much faster than many of its competitors. Though not all competitors. SunPower, for example, says it has a 23.4 per cent efficient third-gen cell that’s expected to be in production in two years. Compared to SunPower’s expected $1.3 billion in revenues this year, Day4 is a small fry. But continuing strong demand for solar products makes it possible for a Day4 to thrive, and Day4 can still gain an edge over SunPower if its 18-per-cent efficient cell and resulting modules come at a much lower cost than what SunPower can offer. A tall order, yes, but Day4 appears convinced it can achieve it.
NOTE: For a great post on another Canadian solar company, Cyrium Technologies of Ottawa, VentureBeat’s Chris Morrison writes about a recent funding announcement here. Cyrium makes high-efficiency cells that can be used for concentrated solar PV products. It’s aiming to unseat the dominance of SpectroLab and Emcore.