“The future of solar is about advanced solar devices”

Interview with CubicPV’s Frank van Mierlo

The government has been refocusing its efforts on promoting domestic manufacturing of solar cells and modules. In light of this, various manufacturers have expressed interest in setting up or expanding their manufacturing bases in the country. CubicPV, which was recently formed following the merger of 1366 Technologies and Hunt Perovskite Technologies, is one such company that is actively exploring manufacturing opportunities in India. Frank van Mierlo, chief executive officer, CubicPV, talks about the recent developments in the solar manufacturing space and the company’s plans in India…

What have been the recent developments in the company? What has been the impact of Covid-19 on its operations?

There have been a number of very exciting recent developments. For the past two years, the former 1366 Technologies has been developing tandem solar technology, which uses two semiconductor materials to capture more of the sun’s energy and significantly boost solar module power. Tandem technology, also referred to as multi-junction, is exciting because it breaks the efficiency barrier of conventional solar cells. To further our tandem efforts, 1366 recently merged with Hunt Perovskite Technologies to become CubicPV. The new company attracted $25 million in venture financing from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, US solar manufacturer First Solar, and Hunt Energy Enterprises, to bring high-powered tandem modules to the market and deliver the lowest cost of energy to India.

As with businesses around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic impacted our own. As supply chains shut down and our offices were required to close, we realised a loss in productivity and time. Thankfully, our facility was able to reopen quickly and our team managed through the past 15 months with an aggressive safety plan and a commitment to our collective welfare. Access to our facilities is vital, so we made several investments that allowed us to navigate the challenges of operating during a pandemic.

What are CubicPV’s plans and targets?

Following a decision on the production-linked incentive scheme, our short-term plans include a 2 GW wafer and cell facility in India, an investment of about $300 million. We not only can deliver the lowest levellised cost of energy in India, we also have a blueprint to realise the world’s highest efficiency modules. Our proprietary Direct Wafer process is at the heart of both manufacturing advantages, and it is our goal to support India’s manufacturing ambitions with a technology that gives the country the ability to compete on both cost and efficiency. Direct Wafer technology is a rare manufacturing invention, something that just does not occur that frequently. The process eliminates much of the waste associated with conventional wafer production, a technique first invented in the 1950s. Rather than saw an ingot to make a silicon wafer, Direct Wafer produces one directly from a molten bath. Thus, there’s a dramatic reduction in cost. It is a technological innovation for a solar future defined by high efficiency, lower embedded energy, and better use of materials.

What innovations have been witnessed in cell and module production lines?

Cell and module production lines experienced a number of incremental improvements during the last decade. What you saw the solar industry do so well was reduce costs through scale and equipment improvements. Those were important developments, and the world has benefited from the cost reductions realised; but it wasn’t due to innovation. What you are going to see next, and we believe CubicPV will lead here, is a focus on innovations that deliver higher efficiency and greater module power output. These higher efficiencies extend beyond the capabilities of conventional cell and module technologies and can only be achieved through tandem or multi-junction technologies. The future of solar is all about advanced solar devices that generate more electricity from same-sized installation footprints. That is truly revolutionary.

What are the key requirements to make India a solar manufacturing hub?

The Indian government has developed one of the most comprehensive policies to support domestic solar production. There is a real desire within the country to compete globally, as well as an understanding as to what type of support is required to meet the goal. India can absolutely compete if it adopts technologies that allow it to lead rather than follow. The country’s most promising path is to embrace innovations that offer a clear advantage during this next phase of industry growth. We believe Direct Wafer technology is such an innovation, as it provides the lowest cost of electricity today and enables higher efficiency tandem modules for a strong export industry tomorrow.

 

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