Influences on the energy delivery of thin film photovoltaic modules

The energy yield delivered by different types of photovoltaic device is a key consideration in the selection of appropriate technologies for cheap photovoltaic electricity. The different technologies currently on the market, each have certain strengths and weaknesses when it comes to operating in different environments. There is a plethora of comparative tests on-going with sometimes contradictory results. This paper investigates device behaviour of contrasting thin film technologies, specifically a-Si and CIGS derivatives, and places this analysis into context with results reported by others. Specific consideration is given to the accuracy of module inter-comparisons, as most outdoor monitoring at this scale is conducted to compare devices against one another. It is shown that there are five main contributors to differences in energy delivery and the magnitude of these depends on the environments in which the devices are operated. The paper shows that two effects, typically not considered in inter-comparisons, dominate the reported energy delivery. Environmental influences such as light intensity, spectrum and operating temperature introduce performance variations typically in the range of 2–7% in the course of a year. However, most comparative tests are carried out only for short periods of time, in the order of months. Here, the power rating is a key factor and adds uncertainty for new technologies such as thin films often in the range of 10–15%. This dominates inter-comparisons looking at as-new, first-year energy yields, yet considering the life-time energy yield it is found that ageing causes up to 25% variation between different devices. The durability of devices and performance-maintenance is thus the most significant factor affecting energy delivery, a major determinant of electricity cost. The discussion is based on long-term measurements carried out in Loughborough, UK by the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST) at Loughborough University.