By Climate Scorecard EU Manager Brittany Demogenes
In December 2018, a recast Renewable Energy Directive in the EU entered into force. The recast directive sets a binding renewable energy target of at least 32% by 2030 with a clause for potential upward revision by 2023. In 2019, for the first time ever, EU power production from wind and solar surpassed coal. Thus, it is clear that renewable energy has been made a priority in the EU’s policy framework.
One specific project that the EU has undertaken in order to increase its solar energy production and consumption is the NEXTBASE project. The NEXTBASE project is funded by the EU as part of its Horizon Europe initiative and has developed highly efficient IBC solar cells in the silicone heterojunction configuration. The methodology behind the solar cell configuration deals with the movement of inputs from the technological topics of wafer, layer, cell, tool and module. NEXTBASE cells currently have the ability to convert 25.4% of the solar energy they capture into power. NEXTBASE researchers have also developed a prototype 4-cell x 4-cell solar module that has achieved 23.2% efficiency; this is among the highest silicon model efficiencies ever reported. Due to the promising nature of these results, the NEXTBASE team has developed a cost-effective manufacturing method that could produce such modules for under EUR 0.275/watt, which would enable electricity generation that is largely in line with the costs of similar generation by Asian-made technologies. Hence, not only does the NEXTBASE project promise the potential to increase solar-power generation, but it promises to do so in a way that could make the EU competitive in the solar market. Thus, there is potential for the NEXTBASE project to be scaled-up and to help to power other countries outside of the EU if it can indeed be produced in a cost competitive way.
Furthermore, NEXTBASE cells have the additional positive potential to make Europe’s energy more sustainable and secure since they will give Europe a way to produce locally. The higher efficiency of these cells will also produce more energy from smaller areas than similar less-efficient cells. The cost of ownership of NEXTBASE cells is 0.274€ per Watt Peak, which is competitive with industry-leading PERC silicon heterojunction solar cells, whose cost of ownership is estimated at 0.25€ per Watt Peak. Solely looking at the EU and the current EU-produced alternatives, NEXTBASE cells are also competitive since the cost of NEXTBASE cells are around 40% cheaper than the average cost of high performance photovoltaic (PV) models currently on the market. Additionally, as of 2020, the average cost of electricity prices for household consumers in the EU was 0.2126€/kWh, so even on a less industry-focused and more household-focused basis, the cost of solar cells do not make them an unrealistic alternative as a means to power households as well as businesses. Moreover, NEXTBASE cells carry an added environmental bonus in that they produce less carbon per kWh than competitors’ cells. NEXTBASE cells produce approximately 43gCO2e/kWh while PERC cells produce approximately 53gCO2e/kWh. Since solar cells emit significantly less greenhouse gases than traditional energy sources, this project demonstrates significant potential for reducing emissions in the EU in an innovative way.
However, in order for NEXTBASE IBC cells to be more competitive, and to potentially reach a more global market, it is clear that NEXTBASE will benefit from additional funding from the EU in order to perform research that will permit them to further lower the costs of their cells.
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