From production to installation:
what makes a PV module

Even though the photovoltaic boom is still going strong and PV systems are fortunately being used more and more, they are still not yet extremely common in Switzerland. However, one thing is certain: the lion’s share of PV modules in Switzerland are made of sand. Namely normal quartz sand, like the kind we know from large sand deserts or the vast majority of sandy beaches. Global quartz sand reserves are thought to be virtually limitless – over 100 million tonnes are mined worldwide every year, the bulk of this in China.

From a grain of sand to a PV module

During the first step, silicon is extracted from the quartz sand, which is then processed further into polysilicon. Silicon is the most important and widespread semiconductor material of our time. This chemical element is essential for our modern electronic and computer age. This clearly explains the significance of Silicon Valley’s name.

In the next step, the extracted polysilicon is melted, purified, enriched if necessary and cast into semiconductor ingots. Micrometre-thin silicon wafers are cut from the ingots and then assembled into solar cells. Finally, the solar cells are assembled, interconnected and framed in a PV module.

Application options on buildings...

Prefabricated PV modules can be installed and fitted in a wide variety of ways. In Switzerland, solar systems on roofs are the most common, whereby a distinction is made between in-roof, flat-roof and on-roof systems. Façades are also being used more and more frequently. Optimum electricity production distributed over the day can be achieved through the combined use of different roof and façade areas of a building.

... and on open spaces

Unlike solar systems on buildings, ground-mounted solar systems are installed on open spaces. However, they do not yet play a key role in Switzerland. The scarcity of land, complex approval procedures and reservations among sections of the population are still slowing down development here for the time being.

Opportunities in agriculture

Using photovoltaic modules in agriculture has huge potential. Agri-photovoltaics (Agri-PV) refers to the combined use of agricultural land for the production of food and the generation of renewable energy. Agricultural production and solar power generation are not seen as competing goals, but are cleverly combined to create valuable synergies. There are promising applications on farms cultivating fruit and berries, for example (up to 6 per cent of current electricity consumption in Switzerland could be produced in this way). In addition, using PV modules to heat the air for drying hay offers a number of advantages.

Major innovation

But it’s not enough yet. As technology evolves, the scope for innovative uses of photovoltaics is constantly increasing. There are virtually no limits to creative applications. Applications range from roof replacements for car parks to motorway noise barriers, from traffic jam sensors to solar-powered chargers for e-bikes, from ticket machines to display boards, from avalanche barriers to floating solar installations on water reservoirs, from PV modules on the bonnet of taxis to those on camper van roofs.

With so much bundled innovation, you could make the following prediction with a clear conscience: solar systems will most likely continue to boom in the next few years.