New production line for tailored solar facades completed as part of EU project

The factory belonging to the project partner Via Solis will, from now on, manufacture photovoltaic elements of varying shapes and colors that architects can use to realize their visions.

Berlin/Germany, Vilnius/Lithuania, October 1, 2014 – The EU project SmartFlex has announced the completion of a production line for manufacturing individually designed solar facades on an industrial scale. The factory belonging to the project partner Via Solis will, from now on, manufacture photovoltaic elements of varying shapes and colors that architects can use to realize their visions. In addition to producing rectangular modules, the production line can create square, triangular and round modules in any RAL color. Located in Vilnius, Lithuania, the factory has a production capacity of 50 megawatts (MW) and is powered using 100 percent renewable energy. A total of 37 million euros was invested in building the PV cell and module production line.

"Architects repeatedly find that their designs for solar facade elements are either technically impossible or too expensive to implement. Our production line is set to change this and will even allow unusual solar facades to be constructed," explains Rimvydas Karoblis, CEO of Via Solis, a Lithuanian solar systems manufacturer with subsidiaries across Europe. "We decided to use highly innovative production methods: Thermo sealing with butyl, for example, ensures that our crystalline modules last for a long time."

The factory is able to produce modules measuring up to 1.7 meters by 3.5 meters with a maximum output of 750 watts peak. A variety of colors are created by using differently colored module glass, laminating films or solar cells. The glass may also be screen printed, while digital printing technology can, for example, even be used to apply a photo to the entire facade.

"Via Solis uses the colored, semi-transparent solar glass that has been developed by the innovative glass manufacturer Glassbel and is already used in standard glass facades," states Dr. Juras Ulbikas from the Applied Research Institute for Prospective Technologies (ProTech) in Vilnius, who is coordinating the SmartFlex project. "The data relating to the required shapes, colors and sizes of the solar elements is directly transferred from the architect's planning software to the production line."

Firstly, the front and rear glass panes of the module are cut to the necessary shape and size and a layer of PVB film is applied. Robots are then used to position the solar cells at desired intervals on the front glass pane in a process that also enables semi-transparent modules to be industrially manufactured. The procedure followed to connect the cells to form a string is also largely automatic. After this step, the second layer of PVB film is applied, the rear glass pane is put in place and the module is laminated. A microinverter makes the task of connecting modules with different outputs as straightforward as possible for the fitters.

The European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Innovation is contributing 2.9 million euros of funding to SmartFlex. In addition to Via Solis, Glassbel and ProTech, the project partners include the Photovoltaik-Institut Berlin, the mechanical engineering company Mondragon Assembly, the Swiss BiPV Competence Centre (SUPSI), the planning software developer Creative Amadeo and the specialist renewable energy agency Sunbeam Communications.

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