Last month the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC) held their annual event. While every year brings with it unforeseen events and surprises in the solar industry, it’s safe to say no one in 2019 envisioned the lead up to 2020’s EU PVSEC to unfold as it did with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But like any great event, the EU PVSEC organizers vowed "the show must go on", and in doing so delivered to the solar industry a fantastic—if different!—installment of their yearly gathering. This writer was very pleased to be in touch with Mr. Jonas Bergmiller, Managing Director of Events from WIP Renewable Energies, and Dr. Robert Kenny, the EU PVSEC Technical Programme Chairfor an interview with Solar Magazine surrounding the story of the EU PVSEC’s 2020 event.
For any Solar Magazine readers who are not yet very familiar with the EU PVSEC could you explain to us in your own words what makes it unique?
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: EU PVSEC is one of the longest-running solar specialist conferences, and also the largest. What makes it unique and unmissable is the broad range of topics covered: From nanotechnologies or theoretical studies of materials, cells and modules to Digital PV Systems and Grid, covering the whole value chain of PV. It is the world-renowned science-to-science and science-to-industry platform with a full and only focus on the global PV solar sector. This offers participants the opportunity to not only share in-depth information on latest developments in their field, but also to find out how their work could benefit from other developments and vice versa.
Dr. Robert Kenny: Another highlight is the prestigious Alexandre Edmond Becquerel Prize that is awarded each year at the conference opening session recognizing exceptional merit in the development of photovoltaic solar energy. The award was established in 1989 by the European Commission at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Becquerel’s discovery of the photovoltaic effect. This year it was awarded to Prof. Henry Snaith for his groundbreaking work on perovskites.
2020 has seen immense upheaval as a result of the coronavirus. Can you tell us about how that impacted your event?
Dr. Robert Kenny: It was very rewarding to see so many participants from around the world connecting to our first online EU PVSEC to hear and see over 850 live presentations. Their dedication to our conference and desire to stay connected with the international community is to be commended.
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: Transforming such a complex and high-level event as the EU PVSEC into a digital edition was enormously challenging for us. We have invested a lot of resources in this, as the continuity of the event is very important to us. We see this as our contribution to the PV community in this exceptional year.
This is also shown by the very good feedback of the PV community to the online conference. We had the same number of attendees and only a few presentations missing compared to a regular year.
Despite the success in terms of organization and content, it must be said that 2020 will be an extremely difficult year for all conference and exhibition organizers.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused considerable disruption to the global solar industry, but what silver linings or positive things occurred as a result of it within the European context to your minds?
Dr. Robert Kenny: It is true that emissions dropped considerably and air quality improved in many cities due to lockdowns and an increase in teleworking. Hopefully, this has opened people’s eyes to the fact that a better and cleaner future is possible, but it is too early to tell if this will only have a short-lived impact if further structural changes are not implemented.
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: More importantly from a European context is the additional momentum the recovery from the crisis seems to have put into the European Green Deal plan to make the EU's economy 100% sustainable.
What was the major achievement or some of the most notable outcomes of the conference this year from your perspective?
Dr. Robert Kenny: The Technical Programme Chair presented a selection of highlights on the closing day. Some particularly notable aspects are summarized below.
In silicon, many developments were reported, and bifacial cells continue to be a focus of attention. From a European perspective, the first European 25% efficient large-area silicon solar cell and the path for European premium PV manufacturing was a clear highlight.
Perovskites continue to grab attention, and promising results in scalability and stability were reported. Tandems, particularly perovskite on silicon is being seen as a future game-changer. Record efficiencies for OPV cells and GIGS modules were also reported—we are seeing a range of PV technologies competing; which can only be good for the field.
The ever-diversifying applications of PV, e.g. BIPV, agri-PV, power to X etc., are getting more substantial results. The broader aspects, e.g. socio-economic and policymaking, of PV deployment are getting scientifically more substantial and methodological.
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: The great advantage of an online conference is that all the mentioned content is recorded and is available to be viewed at any time. This is of course very helpful for the participants, given the variety of content.
It’s often overlooked that although solar power is a green technology not all of the manufacturing processes to create solar installations are. This year’s PVSEC helped illustrate this point. What would you like our readers to understand about the path ahead to making the solar industry greener in the future?
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: This is a very important topic ever more so as solar installations grow. We have dedicated sessions on the topic of sustainability, including talks on recycling of silicon cells for example, and also highlighted the topic in the closing plenary session (see Sustainability of PV for the TeraWatt Era for a great overview). The concept of sustainability is of course a constant theme throughout the week covering improvements in design and manufacturing—the replacement of silver in contacting, for example. The new cell materials and concepts being introduced, e.g. perovskites and tandems, can also reduce the resource impact through increases in efficiency.
It’s no secret European manufacturing of solar tech has faced some challenges recently. To many people, the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to "reset" and make new plans for the future of the industry and the economy. What could the EU do better to help cultivate and maintain new manufacturing growth in this area?
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: With the framework of the European Green Deal, solar could become the number one energy source in Europe. It is the cheapest resource and provides the perfect set up for all the challenges in terms of changing the industry towards a green industry and to transform jobs. This requires the rapid implementation of eco-design standards, investment in research but also support for the training of workers in the sector.
Dr. Robert Kenny: The EU PVSEC makes an important contribution to this and we hope to help drive this important issue forward.
Looking ahead to 2021, what’s on the agenda for next year’s EU PVSEC?
Dr. Robert Kenny: We are planning a physical conference in September, where participants can fully benefit from the networking opportunities on offer in the conference venue and in the beautiful city of Lisbon. As regards the technical program we are looking into further adjustments to reflect the importance of new materials and the growth of solar in the energy system.
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: This also corresponds to the wish of our participants to be able to once again network physically. An on-site conference brings anticipation, then impulses, discussions, reflections, exchange of experience and knowledge, networking. All this is difficult to realize digitally.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention or comment on surrounding these topics?
Dr. Robert Kenny: In the call for papers for the 2020 conference earlier this year, I expressed the need to maintain momentum towards rapidly increasing renewable energy sources, especially that generated by PV, for integration into the current and future energy network.
Mr. Jonas Bergmiller: The ongoing crisis has only heightened the urgency for this momentum. The response from the scientific community and many policy announcements has so far been encouraging, but we cannot afford to relax.
Solar Magazine thanks Mr. Jonas Bergmiller and Dr. Robert Kenny for their time. We look forward to an opportunity to speak to them again in the future, to next year’s EU PVSEC, and what exciting new developments it may unveil. comment↓