The Indian solar power market has grown significantly over the past two years. Factors such as record capacity additions, falling capital costs and tariffs, and a self-sustaining market driven not by incentives but by intense competition are strong indicators of the market rapidly approaching maturity. Disruptive innovation has become the key to continued relevance in the fast-paced solar market. DSM Advanced Solar is one such innovation centric company that aims to provide cost-effective solutions for increasing the efficiency of traditional solar modules. It provides technologically advanced solar module coatings that use smart material, increasing the efficiency of modules while reducing the levellised cost of generation.
Vivek Chaturvedi, country manager, DSM Advanced Solar, describes Royal DSM (erstwhile Dutch State Mines) as a 120-year-old, science-based company with a turnover of Euro 10 billion. The Dutch conglomerate, which is the parent organisation of DSM Advanced Solar, is a technology-driven company working in the field of nutrition, health and materials. It entered the Indian solar market in 2014 with the setting up of a solar technologies demonstration centre for research and development at its DSM Engineering Plastics facility in Pune. The site also has a grid-connected 1 GW power plant for captive consumption with 96 different solar inverters to enable the study of various technology experiments made by the company.
DSM Advanced Solar has introduced multiple innovations in the Indian solar market. One of its more significant products is the anti-reflective coating created by depositing a layer of thin, highly porous silica-based film on to the surface of the glass plate on the solar panel. This reduces the amount of light reflected from the surface of the glass, thereby ensuring the highest possible absorption of light and maximising the solar power output.
The anti-reflective coating’s reflective properties are a result of the millions of nanopores that create a refractive index between the air and glass. This porous structure was created with the help of a formulation consisting of core shell particles, made from a latex polymer core and a silica-based shell. Subsequently, a wide range of deposition methods (like roll-coating and slot-die coating) is used to deposit a 100-150 nanometre thick layer on to the glass surface. The spaces between the core shell particles are filled with a modified silica binder, which acts as a glue. This polymer core not only removes thermal degradation, but also leaves the silica-glass layer with a high internal porosity that can significantly reduce reflection, resulting in an average module energy gain of up to 4 per cent.
Anti-soiling coating is another innovative product that has found application in the solar power segment. The core shell composition of the coating in this case has been modified to minimise dust adhesion while optimising dust removal. The product has been tested by DSM and various leading institutes and module manufacturers, both in the lab and in real time at outdoor test locations. It is claimed to help maintain the maximum power output of solar modules. A solar panel glass treated with the anti-soiling coating gets less soiled and is therefore easier to clean. By reducing the soiling rate, the modules can maintain optimal performance, and reduce downtime and maintenance costs.
In its efforts to venture into the solar panel backsheet market, DSM Advanced Solar acquired Suzhou Sunshine New Materials Technology Company Limited (Sunshine) in February 2017. China-based SunShine has innovated the backsheet product using co-extrusion technology, which eliminates the risk of interlayer adhesion and delivers a superior performance compared to the laminated backsheets that are available in the market. The co-extrusion process also enables flexibility in new product designs, adding further value for customers. DSM Advanced Solar is currently working on a new light-trapping technology that uses plastic foils with a smart 3D structure made of corner cubes. These tiny cubes point upwards and enable one-way transmission of sunlight. Depending on the type, location and age of the module, this technology is expected to increase energy yield by up to an additional 6 to 12 per cent.
With the solar market looking at a 100 GW target over the next five years, innovation has become a key differentiator for companies. For an industry that is in constant pursuit of energy efficiency, technologies such as anti-reflective and anti-soiling coating are important solutions. However, technology costs would be a determining factor in the success of DSM Advanced Solar’s offerings in India.