Sustainable systems: voestalpine and photovoltaics 6 minutes spent reading

Sustainable systems: voestalpine and photovoltaics

Volkmar Held
As a freelance writer, Volkmar Held reports for voestalpine on topics that move people. The content of his stories ranges from archaeometallurgy to future technologies.

Many climate protection hopes are built on photovoltaics—turning the power of the sun into electricity. This requires both the right know-how for generating solar power as well as sustainable components and tools. We provide both.

Around the world, systems are being installed on building facades, roofs, and in open spaces which convert the power of the sun into green electricity. As ever, when it comes to sustainability, we offer smart solutions for effectively installing solar power plants and producing the essential solar modules.

For photovoltaics, from voestalpine

The technological implementation of photovoltaics is challenging. Apart from the modules and necessary electrical components, photovoltaic systems need to be installed securely and effectively. Installation requires robust assembly systems, which ensure that the panels are firmly fixed and ideally positioned, and able to withstand the elements, such as wind. voestalpine companies help to achieve this with their expertise, and by supplying steel components tailored to the specific applications. These range from special sections and tubes through to customized system solutions.

Nachhaltig in vielen Aspekten: iFIX® für Sonnenstrom (© Schweizer)

Sustainable in many aspects: iFIX® for solar power (© Schweizer)

Whether PV systems are installed on unused spaces, between crops, above orchards, or on carports, we implement ideas which combine sustainable power generation with an effective use of space. Six voestalpine companies on three continents manufacture structures and components for generating solar power:

The benefits of photovoltaics

Every kilowatt hour produced by a photovoltaic system which replaces power generated from fossil fuels takes us another step further to meeting the climate goals. This explains the current boom in the PV industry. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects a 20-fold increase in current installed PV capacity to over 14 million MWp by 2050. Solar power would then account for almost a quarter of global electricity generation.

Photovoltaic in total global electricity generation (Source: IEA World Energy Outlook 2022/STEPS)

The benefits are global. Generating electricity with photovoltaics creates no direct greenhouse gases. Instead, it avoids millions of tons of emissions. The IEA calculates that each year, every installed PV gigawatt helps to avoid 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions resulting from coal- and gas-based electricity generation.

The right position

Faced in exactly the right direction and at the right angle—solar panels need to be precisely positioned so that the sun’s rays hit the solar cells at a right angle. Shadows need to be avoided, of course; trees, buildings, and satellite dishes, or even adjacent panels, can significantly reduce output. Intelligent installations and appropriate assembly systems are used to overcome these challenges.

In the northern hemisphere, solar panels are usually positioned to face south to exploit the power of the sun to a maximum. The exceptions to this rule are so-called east-west systems, which, although reducing peak output, distributes power generation more evenly over the day, making them ideal for PV systems used to ensure self-sufficiency.

Tracking systems are often used in open spaces to align individual panels or entire lines of modules to follow the sun along one or two axes, further increasing their output compared to static systems.

Solar trackers in Brazil

Much is happening in terms of green electricity generation in Brazil. In 2022, solar power accounted for 2.6% of overall power generation; this share is forecast to rise to more than 15% by 2030. voestalpine Meincol S. A. provides steel sections and tubes, which will help to turn this prediction into reality.

Since 2017, this Brazilian voestalpine company, based in Caxias do Sul, has increased its supplies of PV assembly systems 40-fold. Its customers include the constructors of “Futura I,” one of Brazil’s largest PV projects. In the first phase of construction, nearly 20,000 trackers cover an area of around 16 km², and once completed the PV system should harvest a maximum of 852 MW of electricity.

Sun with system

Using coordinated components is the most effective way of installing a PV system. Modern assembly systems are quick and easy to install, and enjoy a long service life. The components are manufactured from corrosion-resistant and extremely durable material, allowing them to withstand the stresses of wind, snow, and temperature changes.

Assembly systems in galvanized steel, such as Fastslide® and Flexroof® from voestalpine Sadef nv, are successful examples of PV systems. The Belgian voestalpine company supplies its solar power systems everywhere from Great Britain to Jordan. Whether freestanding installations or mounted on rooftops, they ensure the panels are securely directed towards the sun.

Flexroof® von voestalpine Sadef, ein schnell und einfach installierbares PV-System

Flexroof® from voestalpine Sadef, a PV system which is quick and simple to install

Sustainable in logistics, assembly and deployment:

iFIX, manufactured by voestalpine Automotive Components Schwäbisch Gmünd GmbH in Germany, is a rooftop assembly system designed for sustainably and efficiently converting flat rooftops into solar power plants.

"Our iFIX substructures play a role in generating green electricity, and are manufactured by voestalpine Stahl GmbH using greentec steel, the Group’s low CO2-emission, premium steel. The substructures can also be efficiently stacked, stored, and transported, so that iFIX requires only one third of the warehousing and transport capacity of comparable systems."
ZitatJulian B., Julian B., CSO at voestalpine Automotive Components Schwäbisch Gmünd GmbH
Julian B., Geschäftsführer, CSO, der voestalpine Automotive Components Schwäbisch Gmünd GmbH

Julian B., CSO at voestalpine Automotive Components Schwäbisch Gmünd GmbH

iFIX® is also extremely quick to install. The individual elements are joined together using a simple one-click system, with no need for tools, making them twice as fast to install as comparable systems.

Essential for the solar industry

Solar modules convert sunlight into electrical energy. Extremely fine saws are used in their manufacture: Wires as thin as 40 µm, or 0.04 mm in diameter, work their way through the cultivated silicon ingots, which are at least 156 mm in length. The result is so-called wafers, which form the core of highly- efficient, monocrystalline solar cells. Although over the past years production has moved out of Europe, manufacturers are sourcing a quality product: wire rod for the finest diamond-tipped saws. This essential prematerial for the photovoltaics industry is produced by voestalpine Special Wire GmbH in the Styrian town of Fürstenfeld, Austria.

The thinnest wire for solar modules

The wire used to saw silicon ingots into wafers is just half the thickness of a human hair.

"In a five-stage process, we draw our 5.5 mm width prematerial into a wire with a diameter of less than half a millimeter. Our customers adjust this to a final thickness of 40 µm, so that in the end 16 km of wire rod becomes 300,000 km of saw wire, which is then coated in diamond powder."
Helmut G., CEO of voestalpine Special Wire GmbH
Helmut G., Geschäftsführer voestalpine Special Wire GmbH

Helmut G., CEO of voestalpine Special Wire GmbH

Although these saw wires are incredibly fine, they have huge tensile strength and are unbreakable. A breakage during sawing would ruin the silicon ingot. The Fürstenfeld manufacturer’s description of the product as “ultra-high-strength fine wire” indicates its key property. “Our controlled manufacturing process, from the steel plant through to the final diameter, allows us to influence our product parameters at any time, to consistently ensure its purity and grade,” stresses Helmut G., explaining the advantages of the fully integrated production chain.

voestalpine Special Wire

voestalpine Special Wire

The wire rod produced by voestalpine Special Wire is thinner than a human hair but 25 times stronger, and essential for the solar industry.

Volkmar Held