As Solar & Storage Live 2023 brought the GB industry together in October, many looked for opportunities to explore new partnerships to spearhead the renewable revolution.
Perhaps one of the most interesting outcomes from the show came in the form of a new partnership between AIKO, a global clean energy technology manufacturing company that has led the cell manufacturing industry for nearly a decade, and Segen, the UK’s leading renewables distributor. Solar Power Portal saw first-hand the signing of the distribution agreement between AIKO and Segen, which will see the manufacturer expand further in the UK and Europe.
To find out more about the partnership, Solar Power Portal spoke with James Galloway, European technical director of Segen, Marina Shi, head of AIKO UK, Ireland and Nordics, and Dr Christian Peter, managing director of Solarlab AIKO Europe.
AIKO’s expansion from cell to module business
AIKO is well known as one of the leading solar cell manufacturers and, according to Shi, the Company has been supplying its solar cells to many “well-known module manufacturers”.
Indeed, the firm has been expanding its capabilities in this field and at Intersolar 2023 just a few months prior, AIKO showcased several of its ABC modules. Its 72-cell white hole series won an award at the trade show due to its high conversion efficiency (24%) and long lifespan, with a power attenuation rate of just 0.35% per year.
With this side of the business well-established in the global solar market, Shi explains that the Company began solar module sales just two years ago.
“We started the module business about two years ago, so this is the first year that we are selling into the European and UK markets. AIKO is still manufacturing and selling solar cells with non-ABC technologies as our main business, and we’re looking to provide one-stop solar solutions for everybody” confirmed Shi.
For AIKO, research and development (R&D) is still at the core of the company’s plans. Peter, who runs Solarlab AIKO Europe, said “AIKO is a very technology driven, entrepreneurial organisation, with Chairman Chen driving the Company forward at crazy speed. This pushes us all forward; we’re all addicted to technology and we’re proud to have this best module in the market. Now we need to start selling it and therefore we need the best partners.”
Expanding AIKO’s presence
Having AIKO’s solar products accepted into Segen’s range provides a means to expand its presence in both the UK and European solar markets and contribute more to the decarbonisation of the region.
For Galloway, introducing AIKOs products in its range grants various technological benefits, particularly in improving the efficiency of systems that are available for both residential and commercial rooftops, explaining:
“In both residential and commercial rooftop solar, there’s an increasing need for higher efficiency panels as well as improved aesthetics. Those are two really important customer requirements, especially aesthetics in residential, where the look of the house is an important factor for home owners.”
“Many commercial projects are financially based, so having a high efficiency is very important in order to deliver an improved return on investment and project yield.
“That’s what I’m looking for: products and services that go beyond fulfilling just the basic customer needs. The AIKO ABC panels do that by demonstrating very high robustness, long product performance warranty and low degradation annually, Creating value for the customer throughout the product’s lifetime.
Galloway concludes: “Finding a partner like AIKO has been excellent because you’ve got a marriage of both the technology and the professional cooperation to really help us get the right products to the right customers in the right way.”
Commenting on the partnership with Segen, Shi says: “[The partnership] provides us with a better channel towards all the other distributors and installers, so they have the expert help of Segen to pre-select reliable products.
“I think with us as a newcomer, it’s great to be able to work with Segen, the biggest distributor in the market. We are also comparing notes on how the market is going and share plans for future products and market development.”
AIKO’s technological innovation to reach new heights
With AIKO’s capability in the solar cell industry, pushing the technology and improving its efficiency remain some of the top priorities for the organisation. This, in particular, is tied to an opportunity for the European and UK solar markets to benefit from and further incentivise the adoption of PV.
When asked about how AIKO’s technology stands out in the market, Peter was quick in his response:
“The easiest answer for this is that we are heading all these lists with the best modules. Our efficiency is obviously the best, this is very easy to measure, you can measure it at calibrated Institutes like Fraunhofer,” he said.
“This technology has been in the market for some years, but we invented some technologies to make it reasonable and feasible for mass production. That’s always the big step from European and the US; R&D towards mass production.
“To develop a perfect cell in the laboratory is one thing and the other is to have a perfect product for the customers at the end.”
With this in mind, it is clear that AIKO will continue to push the boundaries of cell efficiency in a bid to incentivise further technology adoption. But, as Peter says, reaching these efficiency levels in the laboratory is quite different to reaching the efficiency for the end users. Despite this, he remains optimistic.
“These contact cells for single junction are top notch and may be will be achieved as long as we are staying at single junction, because you can have an efficiency of 27% in laboratory for the cell. The theoretical limit is around 29% and it’s the old 80:20 ratio, so the rest, the last 10% or 20%, cost the most and this means this is the top notch of technology. You can now have this in the market.”
Rooftop solar opportunities
Peter also makes an important case in terms of the architecture of European and UK rooftops and how AIKO’s products can bring benefits to these buildings in particular.
“For the UK, the roof spaces are generally smaller in comparison to other places in Europe, like in Germany. For limited roof space, it’s actually better to have high efficiency modules because the space is already limited.
“With our high efficiency, we have done some comparisons. For example, for a 1.4MW site, you can actually install more than 200 pieces fewer using the same surface area with AIKO, in comparison to one of the super league modules. It’s a huge saving on the balance of systems” he revealed, continuing:
“Think about all the cables, mountings and labour reduction – you can save quite a few days of working on the roof. I think this is a revolution that AIKO is bringing to the commercial market.”
For Segen, Galloway sees a real interest in AIKO’s ABC module technology and suggests that it could be the answer they are looking for:
“I think this ABC technology is really answering those customer needs, delivering up to 24% panel efficiency with the commercial panel and 23.8% on the residential panel. That’s really a big improvement compared to what we see in commercially available, at-scale-manufactured panels elsewhere. It’s great innovation,” he said.
AIKO’s plans for the EU and UK markets
Although AIKO has lofty ambitions for both the UK and EU markets, the Company continues to stay grounded since it is aware of the fact that it has just started this side of the business.
Commenting on this, Shi says: “I think right now, for the UK market, we have just started. We are focusing more on the module side at the moment but there are some innovations with the modules that we are still looking to explore and we actually have a light module that is very exciting in our roadmap.”
The particular module Shi references is half the weight of a standard solar module of the same size, and is able to reach “over 400Wp production. In doing so, Shi believes that this could expand the solar industry “beyond the current routes”. Shi also hints at what is to come in the near future:
“We are also going to bring out our one-stop solution, which includes inverters and batteries,” she says.
Peter also touches on AIKO’s goals for the UK and EU solar markets, adding that the Company’s target is to be a “market leader”, bringing new innovations to the market to support both regions on their decarbonisation journey.
“My vision is that we have 100% carbon emission-free power supply in the UK – and this is the same for Europe,” he said.
“Our modules can participate a lot with this and we can also earn money from this; it’s a great combination to have something sustainable that is also a great business. We want to be one of the market leaders. I think we are leading the technical transition towards this and we make a tremendous effort to stay at the top and bring new innovations to the market.”
AIKO UK Installer Awards
Bringing Solar Power Portal’s interview with AIKO to a close is a discussion around a brand-new initiative the company has launched, the AIKO UK Installer Awards. This competition aims to encourage installers to use AIKO’s products and reward them for doing so. According to AIKO, all participants in the Installer Awards receive a branded t-shirt and cap. Those installers that place their first order of over 10kW are rewarded with an AIKO speaker and backpack.
As one can imagine, these rewards grow in size as a greater capacity of modules are ordered, and the top two prizes, which are for those that order 200kW and 1MW, can receive an e-scooter and a “big party” worth £5,000 (sponsored by AIKO) respectively.
“We are asking installers to register as an AIKO installer on our official AIKO Installer Awards 2023 website” Shi said.
“If you place an order of 10kW, you get another bigger AIKO package, including speakers, and if you order 30kW, you get a drone that can help you to video and tape your installation of the AIKO products.
“This is a very big promotion that we are offering to the installers, so we hope they will get to learn about our brand.”