Progress in PV technology is more often characterized by slow, steady progress than dramatic breakthroughs, and years and even decades go by where the same basic technology is tweaked but not fundamentally changed.
However, occasionally there is a component or approach that provides the potential for a step-change improvement, such as what silicon-carbide components offer for inverter technology.
Last Friday this potential got a big boost, with Danfoss Silicon Power announcing a collaboration with General Electric (GE) to build a factory in upstate New York to create silicon-carbide (SiC) power modules for inverters, electric vehicles and other applications. GE will supply the SiC chips for the modules, and the facility is expected to begin production in 2018 to serve the U.S. market.
“Today the U.S. demand for power modules is mainly driven through Japanese and German imports,” notes Claus Petersen, Danfoss Silicon Power vice president and general manager. “With this investment, Danfoss will offer the U.S. market a strong local partner, capable of providing best-in-class packaging technology as well as high-volume, high-quality manufacturing.”
The announcement came a day after the Intersolar USA East trade show in Brooklyn, where New York Senate Energy and Telecommunications Chair Kevin Parker repeated that “New York is open for business”. These were not idle words, given the state’s commitment to clean energy and the manufacturing associate with it.
The new Danfoss factory will be part of the New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium (NY-PEMC) in Utica, a public-private consortium funded by the state of New York for the creation of high-tech jobs. Additionally, the state of New York is investing $100 million for the construction, tools and equipment to complete the factory, and Danfoss will lease the space and the equipment, including two cleanrooms, laboratories, offices and a logistics space.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office expects that the project will create at least 300 jobs and help build a local high-technology manufacturing hub. The deal with Danfoss appears superficially similar to the deal that New York has made with Tesla, under which a non-profit associated with State University of New York will build the company’s solar “gigafactory”, which Tesla will lease.
SiC has the potential to handle much higher frequencies and temperatures than silicon, and SiC devices can offer higher power densities. As such the technology offers potential technical advantages not only for inverter components but in a range of industries including computers, cell phones and tablets.
Delta’s M80H inverter with silicon carbide components was chosen as the runner up in pv magazine’s Array Changing Technologies feature last spring, with one jurist noting that “any company that is spearheading silicon carbide is adding value”.
Danfoss currently assembles its SiC modules in Flensburg, Germany and states that the addition of the Utica plant will allow it to become the world’s leading provider of SiC power modules.