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Thin-Film Solar Tops India Panel Performance, BNEF Says

Indian solar plants using silicon-free panels, mostly supplied by First Solar Inc., emerged as the best performers in the first year of operation, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

An analysis of 33 projects in Gujarat, India’s biggest state for solar installations, found that those using thin-film panels without silicon achieved an average capacity utilization factor of 19.6 percent, compared with 18.5 percent for competing technologies, the London-based researcher said in a note to clients.

“This is consistent with thin-film performing better at high temperatures,” said Bharat Bhushan Agrawal, BNEF’s New Delhi-based solar analyst. Projects that bought equipment from Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar also probably benefited from better advice from U.S. engineers on design and siting, he said.

Developers and their lenders are seeking data on how technologies fare in new markets, where higher temperatures and dust can reduce panel performance, as growth shifts from Europe, home to 68 percent of global solar installations.

The data shows that worries about inexperienced engineers, poorly designed plants and India’s hot and humid climate were unfounded, BNEF said. Overall, the Gujarat plants recorded an average capacity utilization factor of 18.7 percent, in line with initial estimates by regulators and project developers, Bhushan said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday.

Capacity utilization factor measures how efficiently a plant produces energy, compared with its maximum capacity. Traditional crystalline modules are silicon-based, while First Solar makes thin-film panels with cadmium telluride, a substitute for silicon.

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