Experts Speak: An Interview with Conrad Burke, Global Marketing Director, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions

 

DuPont

In this edition of Experts Speak SEMI interviews Mr. Conrad Burke, Global Marketing Director, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions.


Conrad Burke, DuPont

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1.      Of the several materials that are used in solar panel manufacturing, which materials are most critical and why?

The most critical materials in solar panels include metallization pastes, encapsulation materials and backsheet materials. Metallization pastes are used on the front and back sides of solar cells to conduct and transport the photo-generated current. Quality metallizations can significantly boost the power output of solar panels. Encapsulants are used to surround and protect solar cells and panel circuitry, and must be able to deliver decades of life to make a solar cell viable. Finally, backsheets are a critical protective layer for the entire panel area. The material used in the manufacture of backsheets is key to a solar panel’s power output over time. Polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) films offer a unique balance of long-term durability and performance reliability. PVF films are also the only material proven to perform for more than 30 years, even in the harshest outdoor environments.  Ensuring in advance that panels contain PVF-based backsheets is one of the best and most important ways of protecting a solar investment long-term.

 


2.      Material cost is still a major component of the overall PV system cost. What is DuPont’s approach to bring down this cost?

DuPont materials are designed to increase the power output and lifetime of solar panels, and lower overall system costs to make solar power more competitive with other forms of electricity.  Materials such as metallization pastes can also be engineered to increase efficiencies and reduce material laydown so that less material is required while sustaining performance.  Other materials can reduce the weight of systems, reducing Balance of System costs.

 


3.      Modules deployed in tropical countries like India go through extreme climates. How do you compare the long electrical performance and the life of modules deployed in India with those deployed in colder countries say like Germany?

Solar panels installed in countries like India with extreme climates are simultaneously subjected to various environmental stresses such as Ultraviolet (UV), humidity, temperature, dirt and dust throughout their lifetimes. Over extended periods of time, these stresses can result in lower power output, reduced lifetimes and consequent investment depletions. The risk quotient in India increases significantly as climates vary across geographies: from high temperature zones with intense dust and wind (Northwest) to extreme humidity levels (South and West) posing greater risks to the long term performance of solar panels. Thus it is extremely important to only use time-tested and durable materials in modules to enable them to survive these stresses and ensure module lifetimes are protected.

 


4.      You offer a whole range of materials for solar cell and module manufacture, are you yourself manufacturing solar cells and modules?

DuPont is making a variety of investments to support growth in the solar energy industry.  DuPont has two independent initiatives:  DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions (DPVS) has been established to represent a broad and growing portfolio of materials and process technologies for the industry; DuPont has also established an independent wholly owned subsidiary, DuPont Apollo, which has set up a full-scale R&D lab and production facility for silicon-based thin film on glass photovoltaic modules.  Both ventures are consistent with the company’s aim to help reduce global dependence on fossil fuels through renewable energy technologies such as solar.

 


5.      How big is the global PV materials business and what are the changes expected in the next five years?

Over the next several years, we expect 20% average annual growth in installations, as PV reaches grid parity in more markets.  Photovoltaic installed system sales are expected to grow from $70 billion in 2010 to $100 billion in 2015. Crystalline silicon will remain the dominant PV module technology for the foreseeable future with over 80% market share. China and the United States are the major growth countries currently, while India and Japan show significant future growth.

 


6.      How is DuPont contributing to the growth of solar in India and what are your future plans?

While the number of solar installations is rapidly rising in India, the long term sustainability of the industry depends on ensuring interest in the sector is maintained through sustained project returns for developers and investors.  Through its investments in advanced materials, DuPont helps ensure that the potential for project returns are high and the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) remains low throughout the life of the system.  

 

DuPont is actively collaborating with participants throughout the value chain, including system developers, Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) companies, financial institutions and consultants to educate them on the importance of using proven materials within the modules procured for their installations. Over the last year, it has been encouraging to observe the deep appreciation on understanding the significance of materials. We are now seeing buyers considering fundamental performance and reliability of solar panels along with the other parameters including bankability, warranty and brands.

 


7.      Potential induced degradation (PID) of modules is a hot topic these days. How can materials address this issue?

Materials can play a critical role in resisting PID, and we have a great deal of focused work and testing going on in this area.  We are seeing some specific advantages with the use of DuPont ionomer encapsulants, for example.

 


8.      Since your material business in India depends on a thriving manufacturing industry how do you think the government should encourage local manufacturing without creating any import barriers.

DuPont is a global leader in the solar industry, and believes that the growth of the industry as a whole should be the primary focus. Through our materials, we ensure that Indian manufacturers have access to superior technology developed through cutting edge research. This would over time, enable them to compete with their global counterparts.

 

The growth of the local solar manufacturing industry will be good for Indian installations as buyers will have a wider choice through local partners, and will create more jobs and value for the country.

Additionally, DuPont has established its own assured backsheet laminator in India to service the needs of the local panel manufacturers and this initiative has received considerable support from the local industry.

 


9.      Unlike the West, collaborative work between industry and universities pretty low in India. Is DuPont looking at opportunities to work with leading science universities like Indian Institute of Science to study and develop materials that are more suited to Indian climatic conditions?

Our existing solar materials have been proven to work successfully in climates similar to India for a number of years and have also gone through stringent internal tests. Thus we have high confidence that our materials will work in Indian conditions as well. Having said that, India being a relatively new market in solar (as far as ground mounted installation is concerned) does not have a long history of module performance in the field. More time and field performance data of the modules is required to understand the changes in material formulations for optimal performance.  DuPont is open to collaborating with universities and Institutes in India to identify projects for material developments and other relevant subjects. Apart from academia, we are also collaborating with corporates and other stakeholders on developing new products developing new products and applications.

 

10. What are the top 3 / 5 focus areas for DPVS over the next 3-5 years?

By leveraging 30+ years of experience in solar materials and technology development, DuPont continues to deliver new and innovative solutions to help customers increase the power output and reliable lifetime for solar panels in order to achieve total system cost reduction and reach grid parity faster in more parts of the world.

 


11.   What in your opinion is the one big thing that will make solar compete with conventional power?

While fossil fuels continue to deplete and prices continue to regularly rise, solar will need to find its place under the sun as being an affordable, sustainable resource and accessible to all. Materials will play a key role here.

 

Bio:  Mr. Conrad Burke, Global Marketing Director, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions

Conrad's career has spanned research and development, product management, marketing, sales, general management and operations in major global organizations such as NEC, AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Agere Systems.Conrad founded Innovalight in 2005, which was acquired by DuPont in 2011. He has received the Technology Pioneer Award for cleantech innovations from the World Economic Forum, and in 2010 the President of Ireland presented him with The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

 

SEMI India Newsletter, April 2013