Joint interview with João Pinho, Energy Trader at MUON Electric, and Jonathan Lehmann, Research engineer in photovoltaics at ENGIE Laborelec

HIPERION Project Newsletter n°7 / June 2023

João Pinho, Energy Trader at MUON Electric, and Jonathan Lehmann, Research engineer in photovoltaics at ENGIE Laborelec

Question 1 (Q1): João and Jonathan, could you please introduce yourselves and briefly present your career?

Answer 1 (A1) / João:  Hi, my name is João Pinho, I am Portuguese and I have a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. During my studies, I also participated in an exchange program in the Netherlands in 2017. After I finished my degree, I started working as an Electrical Engineer at a consulting company, where I supported the development and execution of IT projects under national and EU funding programs. I was responsible for managing metering and billing data, electricity contracts, and optimized energy consumption. Currently, I am an Energy Trader at Muon Electric, responsible for trading and maximizing the profitability of solar assets in the Iberian market. I manage a portfolio with a total capacity of 182 MW, develop trading strategies, integrate APIs, perform data analysis, and make trading decisions. Alongside my professional activities, I have a passion for traveling, sports, and scuba diving.

A1 / Jonathan: My name is Jonathan Lehmann, and I currently work as a research engineer in the solar lab at ENGIE. I obtained a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in France in 2011 and then pursued a Ph.D. in microelectronics at CEA-Leti in Grenoble, France. During my Ph.D., I focused on developing transistors for power electronics applications. Because of a strong interest in renewable energy, I transitioned to photovoltaics technologies and worked for two and a half years at KU Leuven University in the field of building-applied photovoltaics. Since April 2019, I have been working at ENGIE, where I am responsible for exploring new technologies, implementing pilot installations, and other related tasks in the solar lab.


Q2: MUON Electric is a new energy supplier on the Portuguese market with a strong focus on sustainability and renewable energy. How was MUON Electric involved in HIPERION? What is the main role of MUON Electric in the HIPERION project and what are MUON Electric’s key assets to fulfil this role?

A2 / João: HIPERION represents a natural partnership that has two main objectives: efficient and sustainable green energy production solutions; and the conception of new energy technologies and services. This is accomplished by leveraging the knowledge gained from understanding different consumption profiles, risks, and influencing factors in infrastructure and consumption. Muon Electric is responsible for constructing a commercial pilot site in Portugal, which will serve as an example of a self-sufficient energy solution. We will also evaluate the performance of real-life case studies to determine the effectiveness of the solution. Muon Electric’s main strengths are its strategic vision and partnerships, which guide its research and development efforts in designing and operating solutions that promote sustainable competitiveness.


Q3: ENGIE Laborelec is a leading research centre in electrical power technology based in Belgium. How was ENGIE Laborelec involved in HIPERION? What is the main role of ENGIE Laborelec in the HIPERION project and what are its key assets to fulfil this role?

A3 / Jonathan: ENGIE is a global energy player and is currently operating over 5 GW of solar photovoltaic power plants. As Laborelec, R&D center of ENGIE, we are preparing for the next generation of solar power plants and are therefore involved in various initiatives to identify the most promising technology evolutions and bring them to industrial scale through pilot projects, ideally in operating conditions that are as representative as possible. Therefore, our primary task in this project is to evaluate the performance of the first serially manufactured HIPERION modules in our utility-scale PV R&D facility in the Atacama Desert in Chile, known for having among the highest solar irradiance levels in the world. This site, fully equipped with outdoor testing equipment, offers an ideal environment for conducting rigorous assessments. We got involved in the project through our network with academia and start-ups, and specifically with Insolight, who invited us to join the consortium to help in the development of this disruptive technology together with other leading partners in the photovoltaics sector.


In HIPERION, both MUON Electric and ENGIE Laborelec are involved in the work package dedicated to the innovative hybrid technology’s blueprint evaluation, which final objective is to make the product ready for commercialization. To pursue this target, the HIPERION solution is assessed in various European locations and different pilot site types, including rooftops and utility market.

Q4: MUON Electric is leading the evaluation of HIPERION PV panels on an installation use case. This was the first HIPERION pilot site installed, which has been operating since October 2022. Could you describe the site, and how it works and the targets expected?

A4 / João: The pilot site comprises a ground installation of 15 panels. The modules are easily accessible and equipped with tracking-integrated hybrid micro-concentrators, capable of harvesting direct and diffuse sunlight, which can be placed in a conventional frame. The power system includes two microinverters in each solar module, creating two power outputs to optimize sunlight collection. The site is also equipped with an energy storage system for typical energy operations, such as peak shifting and valley filling, as well as a meteorological station. The targets expected for this site are to replicate the performance achieved during the prototype/conception phase of the solar cells and rectify any manufacturing issues that may arise in a real-world setting.


Q5: Joao, how is the pilot site being monitored and by whom? How will the performance of the HIPERION hybrid PV panels be analysed in the coming months? 

A5 / João: The pilot site data output is monitored via a web application that provides individual control over the panels drivers, status, and production history. This information is accessible thanks to the gateway and router mounted at the pilot site. The web application features a virtual representation of the pilot site, which enables prompt identification of any module-related issues. The data collected from the pilot site will be compared to simulations using irradiance data gathered on-site.


Q6: Does MUON Electric have any similar experience from past projects? Did your team encounter any specific issues with the installation or operation of the pilot site? How were these challenges tackled?

A6 / João: The installation process for the HIPERION pilot site is unique. One of the most significant differences is the communication system, which requires more cabling than normal installations to achieve precise control over the solar modules. Fine-tuning of actuators, motors, and close communication protocols between systems posed the greatest challenge during the installation process. These challenges were addressed by aligning the technical partners with the installation team and conducting live sessions on-site.


Q7: How will MUON Electric benefit from the activities performed within HIPERION?

A7 / João: Through our involvement in the HIPERION project, we gained valuable insights into emerging business models and energy commercialization. The project allowed us to study and characterize these models, providing a better understanding of their potential benefits and drawbacks. Furthermore, the project enabled us to create new energy services with the latest technologies and best practices. With these services and business models, we have been able to identify new opportunities for growth and expansion in the energy sector. Finally, the analysis of the information has allowed us to produce knowledge, metrics, and management indicators, that provide a better understanding of the energy sector and its potential growth. By leveraging these insights, we are well-positioned to continue developing innovative solutions for a cleaner and greener future.


Q8: ENGIE Laborelec is the leader of the task dedicated to the evaluation of the HIPERION solution on a utility use case. As such, ENGIE Laborelec is in charge of designing and installing a dedicated utility pilot site on its testing platforms in Belgium and in Chile, in the Atacama-desert. Could you tell us about the structure of these pilot sites? What is the purpose of these installations? How will the HIPERION modules interact with ENGIE Laborelec’s existing infrastructures?

A8 / Jonathan: In Belgium, our pilot will involve a limited number of modules that will be installed on our fully equipped test bench. This setup allows us to have daily access for activities such as IV curve measurements and thermal imaging. On the other hand, the pilot installation in Chile is situated in a remote location and is not designed for daily access. The site operates similarly to a utility scale PV plant. About 16 modules will be installed there, 8 of them will be placed on an east-west tracker while 8 will be installed on a fixed tilt structure. In Chile, we will have the opportunity to assess the performance of the modules in one of the harshest environments for PV modules, characterized by significant soiling and intense UV exposure. On the other hand, the high direct irradiance levels in this region makes it particularly suitable for this PV technology. Additionally, we will be able to observe how HIPERION modules can benefit from east-west tracking.


Q9: Jonathan, once the utility pilot site installation phase is achieved, ENGIE Laborelec will be in charge of monitoring and then analysing its performance. What will be the duration of the monitoring phase? Which Key Performance Indicators will be specifically observed to assess the HIPERION pilot performance?

A9 / Jonathan: In terms of key performance indicators, our focus will be on two specific aspects: power generation and the impact of soiling-induced degradation. Due to the abundant direct irradiance, we anticipate that HIPERION modules will achieve high power production levels in terms of watt-peak per square meter (Wp/m²). Regarding soiling, we will closely examine the influence of high-level soiling on their performances and assess the ease of cleaning these modules within a utility-scale environment.


Q10: Jonathan, installing HIPERION PV modules in ENGIE Laborelec’s platform in the Atacama Desert, Chile, must be a very challenging task. Did any difficulties occur so far? Are there any specific risks that might arise in the coming months, and how will ENGIE Laborelec mitigate them? In which extent can ENGIE Laborelec’s expertise contribute to the successful achievement of this task?

A10 / Jonathan: Undoubtedly, the installation of HIPERION PV modules in the Atacama Desert presents a significant challenge. As the installation is currently in progress, I can only discuss potential issues that we have anticipated. The installation of PV modules in such a remote environment poses significant logistical challenges. Our local offices are located several hours away, and installation teams have to be sent on a mission to the Atacama Desert. In order to prepare them beforehand every aspect of the installation is consciously prepared, extra supply is foreseen, installation steps are reviewed, etc. From the connection to the AC cabinet to the size of the profiles that we have to purchase to mount the modules, every aspect needs to be covered so as not to delay the installation by several weeks. Fortunately, we can rely on many years of experience in the realization and monitoring of first-of-a-kind pilot installations, even in very remote locations and the excellent collaboration with our local Laborelec team in Chile.


Q11: How will ENGIE Laborelec benefit from the activities performed within HIPERION?

A11 / Jonathan: The field of PV technology is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. As R&D center of ENGIE, our objective is to bring the most promising photovoltaic technologies capable of further reducing the cost of solar electricity to the technology readiness required for large scale deployment in the future. HIPERION allows us to re-develop our expertise on concentrated photovoltaics, an area that has received less industry focus in recent years. Moreover, as the industry strives to reach PV efficiencies of 30%, it is crucial for us to stay informed about advancements that have the potential to attain this threshold.


Q12: João and Jonathan, from your point of view as end marked stakeholders, and as far as results are available, how would you assess the readiness of the HIPERION technology towards commercialisation?

A12 / João: As we move towards commercialization, the HIPERION technology still needs further development. The main challenges we face are not at the component level, but rather in selecting the appropriate industrial processes required to assemble these modules in a cost-effective manner, without compromising performance or reliability. Also, consolidating the installation process of HIPERION would be advantageous.

A12 / Jonathan: The HIPERION technology has paved a new way in innovation allowing to reach PV efficiencies of 30%. As with many innovations with technology readiness levels (TRL) of 7-8, the focus now lies on enhancing the industrial processes, improving cost competitiveness, and ensuring long-term performance of PV modules.


DISCLAIMER: The information, statements and opinions in the above interview are personal views of the individuals involved in the HIPERION project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HIPERION consortium as a whole, nor of the European Commission. None of them shall be liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

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