OREANDA-NEWS. Hevel, a joint venture between RUSNANO and Renova Group of companies, has launched Russia’s first full-cycle plant for the manufacture of solar cells. Total investments for the creation of manufacturing and engineering infrastructure at the site were 20 billion rubles (€444 million at the exchange rate when implementation of the project began).

The opening ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, the Head of the Republic of Chuvashia, Mikhail Ignatiev, the Renova Board Chairman, Viktor Vekselberg, and the Chairman of the Executive Board of RUSNANO Management Company, Anatoly Chubais.

The new plant will produce thin-film solar cells by deposition of nanolayers, reducing use of silicon (the main raw material in solar energy equipment) by up to 200 times. The solar cells made in Novocheboksarsk will be capable of generating electricity even in cloudy weather, which makes them well suited to the Russian climate.

The cells made by Hevel will be used mainly for the construction of solar power plants (SPPs), which will generate electricity for people living in remote areas. The company expects to build SPPs with total capacity in excess of 500 megawatts by the end of 2020. The Kosh-Agach solar power plant in Russia’s  Altai Republic is already operational and design and construction work is now underway on large SPPs in the Republics of Buryatia and Bashkortostan, in Orenburg and Saratov Regions and also in other parts of Russia.

Hevel has teamed with Russia’s Joffe Institute of Physics and Technology to set up a solar energy R&D center. The center, which is unique in Russia and has the support of the government-backed Skolkovo Foundation, is working to improve existing solar power technologies as well as pursuing new developments in the field.

Background Information on the Technology

The Hevel plant occupies a ??12-hectare site, with the main building on an area of 7180 square meters. The plant is equipped with modern facilities, centered around KAI and TCO units for the application of micromorphic silicon and conductive layers of zinc oxide. The plant also has 13 laser-scribing units for the division of modules into individual cells and their unification into a chain. The laser-cut precision is about 1 micron (the thickness of a human hair is 50 microns). Each unit has a 10-ton granite base to provide stability.

ISO class-7 clean rooms with total area of ??2000 square meters have been built and brought into operation at the Novocheboksarsk plant. A system for storage and supply of high-purity gases (monosilane, diborane, phosphine, diethyl zinc) has been installed, as well as 10 km of pipework with electro-polished inner surfaces.

Hevel uses thin-film technology with micromorphic silicon. Advantages of the technology compared with crystalline-silicon modules include more efficient functioning in diffuse light conditions.

A solar cell using micromorphic silicon differs from previous-generation amorphous silicon cells by the presence of a nanostructured layer that makes it possible to convert a broader wavelength spectrum of solar radiation, increasing efficiency. Thin-film solar cells suffer less capacity reduction when they become hot, while crystalline cells lose 15–20% of capacity. Amorphous silicon cells can also operate at levels of illumination, which are too low for power generation using crystalline cells. Thin-film solar panels generate 10–20% more energy than crystalline panels in cloudy and rainy weather.

Thin-film technology has significant potential for further improvement by increase of generating efficiency (20–25% gains are attainable) and reduction of the temperature coefficient. The bulk of future research work will be carried out by the newly created R&D Center for thin-film generating technologies, which has been set up by Hevel at the Ioffe Physics and Technology Institute in St. Petersburg with support from the Skolkovo Foundation. The R&D Center has an experimental 0.5 megawatt facility where work will be carried out to improve the performance characteristics of thin-film photovoltaic cells.