Next Generation Solar Manufacturing: Sunstyle® Gigafactory

As Europe turns its attention to ensuring a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar sector is ready to step up to maintain the momentum of the Commission’s central priority: the European Green Deal. In order to achieve the Green Deal’s energy and climate objectives, European solar PV manufacturing presents a golden opportunity to invest in a strategic technology of the future. This not only creates new jobs and sustainable growth, but increases Europe’s energy security and autonomy, and as Europe has always been the cradle of solar innovation, we already have many cutting-edge manufacturing projects that are shovel-ready and at the forefront of the sector.

The ‘Solar Manufacturing Accelerator’ is an initiative from SolarPower Europe – and strategic partners ESMC, ETIP-PV, IPVF, and VDMA – that is aimed at accelerating the
deployment of solar PV manufacturing projects in Europe as a critical milestone to strengthen European leadership in renewable technologies and contribute to the
continent’s re-industrialisation. The Accelerator is open to all companies and organisations interested in developing or partnering on solar manufacturing projects.

In this blog series, we talk with representatives of the first 10 European solar manufacturing projects to join the Accelerator, all of whom presented at our Solar Manufacturing Accelerator Conference. Combined, the 10 projects represent more than 20,000 new jobs in Europe, and feature the latest in the manufacturing and innovation of cells, modules, and wafers.

Sunstyle® Gigafactory, from France’s Akuo Energy, will see the existing 50 MW capacity production line in France increased up to 200 MW by the end of 2021. The Sunstyle® tiles will be made out of glass that is produced, shaped, cut and painted by Saint Gobain in its Mannheim, Germany based factory. The tiles will meet the booming European solar PV rooftop market. We asked Jean Luc Kwantes, Executive Director of Akuo Industry, some questions about the project.

1) Can you briefly introduce your project

Our Sunstyle® tiles uses the sun in more ways than one: the PV tiles convert conventional roofs into solar energy production units. In addition to performing traditional roof functions, the technology combines solar power generation with proven waterproofing and aesthetics, while generating long-term savings for the building.

2) How does your project innovate the solar sector?

Sunstyle® is an innovation by the way we integrate and adapt solar energy technology to the city and its architecture (and vice-versa). Classical roofs are converted into vectors of renewable energy, respecting the landscape and the environment.

Sunstyle® technology is similar to that of PV panels. The innovation lies mainly in the shape of the tile, allowing a layout that resembles a conventional roof. The tile is a glass plate protecting solar cells structured to ensure the transmission of energy. Its production capacity varies between 85W115W, depending on the color. The tile combines three functions in one product (roofing, waterproofing and energy production).

Like a roof, this technology protects the building permanently from the effects of the environment and the weather; it is waterproof and thus ensures the natural flow of water on its surface. A 15-colour color chart, which can be customized as desired, allows Sunstyle® technology to adapt to a variety of aesthetic desires, allowing the roof to blend harmoniously into the landscape.

3) What kind of jobs will be created, and which skills are you looking for in workers?

The rooftop solar sector is SME heavy and contributes to the creation of local, qualified, and sustainable jobs. Solar PV creates more jobs than any other energy industry driven in part by rooftop solar. Furthermore, 3 out of 4 solar jobs in the EU are downstream jobs, which are local and cannot be relocated.

When it comes to the number of direct and indirect employment that could be created thanks to our Gigafactory, it is likely to be overall around 20,000 across the EU at the full completion of the project. The emergence of solar tile products leads to new important competencies: combining the skills of an electrician and a roofer, in a profession of the future. These competencies related to this sector of the future must be developed in training centers.

4) How will your project help accelerate the energy transition?

Rooftop PV production is the necessary path to a clean energy transition, especially in urban areas that are energy intensive and suffer from a high land pressure. BIPV technology makes architecturally-integrated PV production possible, which ensures both power production and water tightness.

Sunstyle® is an innovative and viable technology, protecting the environment, and allowing the EU’s building stock to play a crucial role in achieving the 2050 climate neutrality target. According to the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, EU roofs could produce up to 680TWh of solar electricity per year, of which 2/3 would be at a cost lower than actual residential tariffs.

In order for the EU to achieve its 2050 climate neutrality target, we need to deploy solar energy on a massive scale. This scaling up must take place without encroaching on agricultural land and without artificialising soils. Thus, roofs represent a considerable solar potential and its development is therefore a real opportunity for the energy transition. 

5) What support do you need – financial or otherwise to realise the project?

Akuo will be looking for financial support to ensure the relevant investment for scaling up the facility production. Nevertheless, the trigger will be the existence of a market depth for solar tiles. Public authorities need to recognize BIPV as a specific technology and design specific regulation and mechanisms adapted to it. For a competitive development, BIPV needs a guaranteed market through specific measures for rooftop PV development, which recognises BIPV specificities, and an adapted regulatory framework associated with the decarbonation of building stock strategy of the EU.

6) Describe your vision of Europe’s energy future

We believe in a green, resilient, and sustainable energy system. In order to achieve our 2050 climate neutrality goal, we need an energy system that is affordable, that does not use more resources that we have, and that does not waste them. Furthermore, we think that citizens should be fully aware of the opportunities created by the energy transition and we want to make them the stakeholders of the new future we are advocating for. Our solar tiles will allow this to happen.

The Solar Manufacturing Accelerator, which at the moment gathers 40+ participating organisations, will support more industrial projects and is committed to delivering the future of European solar PV manufacturing. If you wish to learn more, please contact Naomi Chevillard: n.chevillard@solarpowereurope.org.

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