6.5 PV Factory

Many students come to UNSW wanting to learn how solar cells are manufactured. However silicon solar cell manufacturing involves a diverse range of processing, ranging from chemical etching, plasma physics and metal alloying to screen printing. Understanding all of these processes, and how they interact in a production line, is challenging, to say the least, especially when it is not possible to take students to see a cell production line. Combined with the need for students to learn how to optimise a process with so many interrelated steps, a major educational challenge arises. To address this challenge, in 2001–2002 Prof Stuart Wenham and Dr Anna Bruce from the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW developed a simulation of the production of screen-printed silicon solar cells, called the Virtual Production Line (VPL).

In 2014, PV Factory (a cloud-based simulation platform) was developed through an ACAP-supported collaboration involving PV Lighthouse, UNSW and Arizona State University as a teaching application that could engage PV and Solar Energy Engineering students as they learned about how solar cells are made. This platform utilised revised versions of many of the earlier algorithms developed for VPL. Hosting of the simulation in the cloud has made it simpler for students to use the simulation – with the software being hosted on the cloud there is no limitation regarding downloads nor version control. Cloud-based delivery has also enabled the implementation of leaderboards where students can compete with their classmates and users across the world to achieve the highest cell efficiency. PV Factory was released to the public in January 2015.