18 Feb 2022 Envisioning a solar-powered energy future with Aluminium

The pressing need for climate action has got countries all over the world taking rapid strides to develop, expand and increase output of renewable energy industry. As economies step up their climate action endeavors, the transition to a net zero economy is going to be metal intensive, with aluminium being a key enabler in all potential clean power technologies. In a report on metals essential for the transition to a net-zero economy, McKinsey pegs aluminium as a crucial enabler for developing clean energy systems.

For sun-soaked countries like India, Solar Photovoltaics (PV) technology for harnessing solar energy is not only a clear energy option, but it comes with two distinct advantages – module manufacturing can be done in large plants, which allows for economies of scale, and being a very modular technology, it also allows for small scale deployments. This makes the potential of applications limitless, as solar-powered systems can range from tiny personal electronics to utility-scale power generation facilities.

Aluminium is used in most clean energy technologies but especially solar, where it accounts for almost 85% of most PV components in the form of the frames and mounting structures that hold the PV panels together and support them. Aluminium will also find extensive usage in transmission and distribution of the energy generated, as it is the material of choice for energy transmission over long distances.

Special properties like high strength-to-weight ratio, superlative corrosion resistance, high surface reflectivity, excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, as well as 100% recyclability at the end of life, make aluminium suitable for Solar PV applications. Extruded aluminium sections are easy to machine, transport and assemble, requiring less skilled labour and lesser time to erect the solar infrastructure. This helps engineers make complex, efficient, and cost-effective structures well in advance.

Further, being naturally corrosion resistant, structures made with aluminium don’t require high maintenance or additional protective measures to prevent corrosion of the structure. Heat treated aluminium alloys are also capable of withstanding wind speeds of up to 150-170 km/hr easily. Moreover, aluminium is quick to cool down compared to traditional materials, which is of significant advantage in Solar PV, as increase in temperature of PV cells reduces the efficiency of electricity generation. Yet another benefit is aluminium’s ability to be endlessly recycled at the end of lifecycle. These properties have made aluminium the material of choice world-wide in solar infrastructure, proving its advantage over traditional metals like steel.

Aluminium is the second most used metal in the world today and will underpin the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy. So, time is opportune for players in the solar industry to make hay while the sun shines and collaborate with aluminium producers to create customized products and product applications for the solar industry right away!