Masdar Institute and First Solar Highlight Vital Role of R&D in Solar PV Technology

September 21, 2018

Workshop at Masdar Institute Campus Analyzes PV Industry Trends, Future Prospects and Relevance to Middle East

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 18 January, 2012– Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, and First Solar, Inc., aleader in photovoltaic (PV) solar modules and a premier provider of comprehensive PV solar systems, highlighted the vital role of R&D in the fast evolving solar power industry at a special workshop.

Titled ‘Solar PV: Striving for Grid Parity – the Importance of R&D in a fast evolving industry’, the workshop led by James Brown, President, Global Business Development, First Solar, offered key insights into developments in the solar power industry. The session on ‘PV technology, System Optimization and the role of R&D’, was conducted by David Eaglesham, Chief Technology Officer, while the last session titled ‘Innovation in EPC and O&M’ was led by Matthew Merfert, EPC Director, First Solar.

Dr Steve Griffiths, Executive Director of Initiatives at Masdar Institute, gave the welcome address that was followed by a talk on ‘Emirates Solar Industry Association (ESIA) Introduction: Solar potential in the Middle East’ by Sami Khoreibi, CEO of Enviromena Power Systems, a leading developer of solar projects in the Middle East and North Africa region. More than 20 industry professionals, as well as faculty, researchers and students from Masdar Institute attended the workshop.

First Solar supplied its thin film solar modules for the Masdar City PV plant that was designed and constructed by Abu Dhabi-based Enviromena. First Solar will also be engaging with Masdar Institute on research regarding the economic potential of solar PV in the UAE.

Providing an introduction to First Solar and an overview of the solar power sector, James Brown indicated that the solar industry has witnessed tremendous growth globally in the past few years.  At the same time, the cost of solar PV has fallen dramatically. First Solar has chosen to focus on utility-scale PV generation in order to translate low PV costs, economies of scale and engineering know-how into the lowest electricity cost in order to make the largest global impact. 

The company expects to produce approximately 2GW in 2012 and is targeting reductions in its module manufacturing cost per Watt from US$0.74 in Q3 2011 to less than US$0.60 by 2015. First Solar has two priorities: continuing its investments in R&D, and bringing its utility-scale solar power plants to ‘sustainable markets,’ regions experiencing high energy growth with high, although not readily apparent, energy costs. Brown noted that “key sustainable markets are the Middle East, India and China.”

David Eaglesham, Chief Technology Officer, offered an overview on R&D, system optimization and the First Solar evaluation criteria for commercial viability. Dr. Eaglesham explained the thought process behind First Solar’s selection and focused R&D support of its cadmium telluride thin film technology.  Following the workshop, First Solar announced at WFES a record CdTe PV solar module efficiency of 14.4%. This achievement supports First Solar’s roadmap of achieving nearly 15% module efficiency by 2015.

Matthew Merfert elaborated on the innovations and facts about engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) as well as operation and maintenance (O&M) that are essential to competitiveness in the solar energy industry. First Solar has many innovations in the EPC space that allow utility-scale solar plants to be constructed in a fraction of the time that it takes to construct traditional power generation facilities.

In his address, Dr Steve Griffiths said: “R&D is essential to driving forward the large-scale, unsubsidized deployment of solar energy. R&D is the basis for generating inventions that become innovations that diffuse into the market. True mass adoption of solar technology will likely come from an innovation that has not yet achieved the level of market diffusion that we seek.

“The region is undergoing a transformation from competition based on comparative advantage in hydrocarbon resources to competitive advantage in knowledge-based industries. R&D is foundational to this transformation, particularly with regard to industries such as solar that are part of many regional energy and industrial development roadmaps.”

Established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow.  With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change.