An unequivocally clear message emerged from the expansion site unveiling ceremony of the 3Sun Gigafactory in Catania, which is set to become Europe’s largest photovoltaic panel factory by 2024. The message was that only through constant innovation is itpossible to build partnerships and attract international investors.Having this philosophy in mind when it comes to business can help bolster new skills and cutting-edge technologies as well as usher in increasingly ambitious projects capable of driving the economic, environmental and energy-related progress of society as a whole.
From the heart of the Etna Valley Italy can make way to become a leading ally in the European race towards a total energy transition and energy independence. Francesco Starace, CEO and General Manager, reminds us of the foresight of those who saw technological innovation as an opportunity to be pursued with responsibility, tenacity and passion. He says they were "very smart people, and very stubborn, who continued to invest time to develop technology without which a factory capable of generating 3,000 megawatts per year would not have been possible. This is a textbook case of how innovation produces wealth".
Innovation, efficiency and sustainability: the winning formula for a clean energy transition
The clean energy revolution, which over the course of the next few years will see Catania become the capital of the photovoltaic market, would essentially not have been possible without the long journey of research and development that led the 3Sun Gigafactory to become a state-of-the-art energy hub.. This center will not only be a leader in terms of solar panel production, but also in terms of technological and engineering progress, resulting in the creation of new photovoltaic modules whose performance will eclipse the technologies currently employed.
In fact, raising the factory’s production capacity from its current 200 MW a year to approximately 3 GW a year would not have been possible without the use of a one-of-a-kind heterojunction technology. Not surprisingly, this technology was introduced by the Solar Innovation Lab located adjacent to the 3Sun Gigafactory, where increasingly innovative and high-performance solutions for the photovoltaic industry are being tested and researched.
We can start by looking at the heterojunction technology (HJT) with amorphous and crystalline silicon capable on one hand of dramatically increasing the performance of individual photovoltaic cells, and on the other hand of considerably reducing the deterioration of the entire module. In fact, Heterojunction Technology allows for the combination of two different technologies within the same cell, thanks to the insertion of a crystalline silicon cell within two thin-film layers of amorphous silicon. Because of this, the cells are able to absorb extra photons and collect more energy in relation to conventional models, resulting in ultra-high performance bifacial photovoltaic modules with a reduced wear rate.
Thanks to the use of HJT technology, currently the cells have an increased theoretical efficiency limit between 28% and 29%, and a practical limit between 26% and 27%. In 2020 these characteristics led the 3Sun Gigafactory to break the world record for commercial cell efficiency.
Although impressive, this performance will soon be surpassed with the arrival of Tandem technology, thanks to the Solar Innovation Lab's recent efforts. Tandem will integrate a new component, perovskite, into HJT cells. Perovskite is a hybrid organic-inorganic material that represents the future of solar technologies, allowing the transformation to electricity of an even wider range of wavelengths of light in the solar spectrum and bringing the cell's efficiency limit to over 30%, quintupling the levels achieved just five years ago.
A research and development hub dedicated to continual progress
The 3Sun Gigafactory does not want to limit itself to just becoming the largest photovoltaic panel factory in Europe, a future cornerstone for energy policies across the continent, but also aspires to be a true research and development hub where increasingly efficient and high-performance technologies are tested and implemented.
This undertaking has the goal of constant improvement of production capacity, thanks to facilities capable of operating on a continuous cycle through automation systems controlled by artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science. Nevertheless, there is always the utmost respect for environmental sustainability with a progressive reduction of the carbon footprint, a focus on the traceability of materials, the reabsorption of waste in the production process and the reclamation of modules at the end of their lifecycle, following circular economy principles.
Overall, the 3Sun Gigafactory is a constantly growing project that already that aims to further contribute to the advancement of the photovoltaic and sustainable energy sector. The factory is a true accelerator with a desire to help Italian startups develop new and potentially disruptive technologies and then test them in a cutting-edge industrial context. This accelerator is constantly searching for new instruments, projects and ideas capable of leading the energy transition and moving the world towards a zero-emission society and towards a sustainable future as bright as the sun.