The Covid-19 health crisis has highlighted a number of weaknesses in European industry including the solar sector, which is heavily dependent on solar cells and panels made in Asia.
But Claude Jacquot and Arnaud Goy, thefounders of French solar production equipment startup Solean, claim that their fully automated production lines can bring solar manufacturing back to its European roots – for small producers. at least.
“There are a lot of small manufacturers who only have one production line, often manual or semi-automatic, and which need to shift up a gear,” Jacquot told pv magazine. “They do not have the means to set up ultra-capacity factories and need, rather agile and flexible tools that can automate bespoke production.”
The Solean founders said their production line would also be ideal for manufacturers fabricating building-integrated PV panels with complex structures or designs. “In this segment, the strong constraints of shapes and dimensions which existing production equipment cannot take into account do not allow panels to be produced at fair prices,” said Goy. “However, this market is in full swing.”
Vehicle-integrated PV (VIPV) is another case in point, according to the Solean duo. “Our equipment offers the possibility of producing various panels – for roofs, facades, cars or buses … and to be able to automate this customization while having acceptable costs,” said the co-founders. “We want to assemble the ‘unassemblable’.”
In recent weeks, Solean has been the subject of many requests: interest in its technology is growing, underlined Goy, although the various bricks of the assembly unit are not yet all completed.
Partnership with Photowatt
For the development of its assembly solution, Solean is cooperating with French module maker Photowatt, a 100% subsidiary of energy giant EDF, in the framework of the European PV Impact project. This project, launched in April 2019 and funded by the Horizon 2020 program, brings together experts from the worlds of industry and research with the aim of boosting the European solar sector, one of the challenges being to improve performance tools for manufacturing solar panels.
A major player in the PV Impact project, Photowatt supports the start-up by providing it with part of its know-how and technical assistance for the optimization of equipment and processes. “Photowatt makes its know-how available, while start-ups like us are precious sources of ideas and innovation,” said the co-founders of Solean.
Solean’s assembly solution is a modular line based on three sub-unit: a stringer, an assembling equipment and a laminator. The stringer, which can operate independently, should be ready in the fall. The stringer demonstrator will be available in June, announced Jacquot and Goy.