R&D as success formula of the Photovoltaic Technology Cluster
A number of factors have influence on the success of cluster’s operation, however motivation to maintain cooperation, a talented and pro-active team and focus for research will guarantee a desired result. The fact that clusters are an excellent medium for creation of innovations may be proven and demonstrated in practice by the members of the Photovoltaic Technology Cluster established in 2008.
“The Photovoltaic Technology Cluster focuses on the research and development (R&D) activities, therefore the chief benefit offered by the cluster to its members comes from creation and testing of new products,” revealed the senior scientist Dr Juras Ulbikas, the cluster coordinator at the Applied Research Institute for Prospective Technologies. “The key focus of the Photovoltaic Technology Cluster is to ensure a continuous flow of innovations to the cluster’s enterprises. Our distinguishing feature is specialisation in such activities of technological preparedness where products are prepared for production in the industrial research environment. This accelerates introduction of a new product on the market,” shared he the cluster’s success formula.
Infrastructure created first
Since its formation, the cluster had a clear strategic direction. Its successful implementation was compromised by the lack of an open access research and infrastructure for technological development. Dr Ulbikas mentioned that the cluster was facing certain challenges: “At that time the scientific infrastructure was monopolised by separate institutions and universities. They were geographically dispersed and had different profiles, therefore it is only natural that there was little cooperation among them.” Since 2010, the cluster became active and started implementing projects designed for the improvement and development of infrastructure by attracting investments from the EU Structural Funds (Measures Inoklaster, Inoklaster LT+), which allowed to create the open access infrastructure, which was later expanded with new equipment, and to successfully implement the project for the creation of a long-term partnership between the members of the cluster and science and study institutions.
The projects implemented were a contribution to creation of competitive advantage of the Lithuanian photovoltaic industry and Lithuania becoming an attractive partner in development of solar technologies. Last year, the cluster started implementation of yet another project “Development of the System for Promoting the Innovation System of the Photovoltaic Technology Cluster to Ensure Competitiveness of the Sector (InoPV)” financed by the EU Structural Funds under the measure Inoklaster LT, which is aimed at further improvement of the position of the photovoltaic sector.
Ten joint projects
“At the moment, together with the members of the cluster we have implemented ten different projects. Aside from improvement of the infrastructure, the EU funds granted under the measure IntelektasLT allowed development of new products. Research and projects financed directly by the members of the cluster have also been implemented, for example, the solar cell technology development project PERC has been integrated in cooperation with the German enterprises,” said Dr Ulbikas in relation to the cluster’s success emphasising that one of the recent and most relevant projects Smartflex has already saw the light of day.
According to Mr Ulbikas, Smartflex is a financially profitable and environmentally-friendly innovation opening doors to new possibilities in the use of solar energy for energy needs of buildings. The key
feature of Smarflex is a highly efficient solution for integration of photovoltaic products (solar modules) into façades of buildings. The architects are granted nearly full freedom in realisation of their vision, because the solar modules are custom-made and manufactured in rounded and square shapes and can be semi-transparent and coloured. A demonstration facade has been featured this spring on Glassbel building in Klaipėda.”
The main problem dealt with by the project team was the bulky size of the solar modules, which did not allow the architects to integrate them into facade while preserving its aesthetic appearance. The project was implemented by the joint Lithuanian and German forces: Via Solis UAB, Glassbel, Applied Research Institute for Prospective Technologies, Berlin Photovoltaic Institute, Mondragon Assembly, Swiss BiPV Competence Centre, Creatice Amadeo and Sunbeam Communications. The unique solar modules are manufactured by the Lithuanian company Via Solis.
Photovoltaic Technology Cluster has 37 members
The Photovoltaic Technology Cluster was established in 2008 seeking creation of an environment promoting cooperation of members and partners for the cluster, offering resources and competences in the fields of creation and production of photovoltaic products, marketing, stimulation of innovation and investment, enhancement of competitiveness of the Lithuanian photovoltaic technology industry, creation of added valued and promotion of business internationalisation. Today the cluster unites 37 members – 8 scientific institutions and 29 enterprises.
Today, the Photovoltaic Technology Cluster is one of the 14 clusters reared under the Promotion and Development of Innovation Networking (InoLink) project. InoLink is the project under the EU measure Inogeb LT coordinated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) and implemented in cooperation with the Lithuanian Innovation Centre and financed by the European Regional Development Fund. The project was launched in 2016 with the aim to stimulate integration of enterprises into clusters, to increase maturity of clusters, and to promote growth and international cooperation.