In advance of the PHOTON Expo, I was expecting new polysilicon production facility and supplier agreements to lead the photovoltaic headlines. But the real news may be on the production equipment front.
Since the Solar division of OC Oerlikon Corporation AG (VTX:OERL) won this CHF 320 million order from Saudi investor backed German API GmbH, Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT) has been on the thin film photovoltaic offensive.
Things got rolling on February 7, 2007, with Applied Materials Names Winfried Hoffmann Chief Technology Officer of Solar Business Group. Given his tenure at SCHOTT Solar GmbH, Dr. Hoffman was in a unique position to evaluate production equipment offerings from both Oerlikon, which equipped the SCHOTT thin film plant in Jena, Germany, and Applied Materials. Since both companies have offices in Alzenau, Germany, I hope Dr. Hoffmann does not on occasion drive to SCHOTT Solar by accident out of habit.
With Applied Materials Selected by Moser Baer to Deliver World’s First Gen 8.5 Thin Film Solar Production Line, Applied Materials has changed the playing field for Oerlikon:
Applied’s Gen 8.5 Line is designed for flexibility because production output can be configured for final product sizes from 1.4m2 to 5.7m2. Current thin film production lines are configured for panel sizes limited to dimensions less than 1.5m2.
So far, Oerlikon’s amorphous silicon thin film production solution permits the production of any size panel, as long as it is 1.4 square meters in size. Since these low efficiency panels are well suited for BIPV (Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics) applications, architects love the flexibility of one size fits all glass solar panels – NOT! No doubt this is why Oerlikon customer ErSol CEO Claus Beneking was seen spending lots of time visiting the Applied Materials booth at Solar Power 2006. Oerlikon recognizes this deficiency and decided to make an acquisition to correct this:
In order to also cover the process step of laser scribing with its own technology and equipment, Oerlikon acquired the English company Exitech a few days ago (see press release of December 5, 2006). Laser scribing is the key step of subdividing the coated glass surface into individual solar cells and configuring them in a functional module.
In the last score, T-Solar Global S.A. of Spain has also purchased a Gen 8.5 thin film production line per Applied Materials to Deliver Europe’s First Production Line for Manufacturing Ultra-Large, Cost-Efficient Solar Panels.
Applied Materials has been leading by renewable energy example with the purchase of 8,220,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean renewable energy per Applied Materials Demonstrates Clean Energy Leadership and Applied Materials Commits to Leading U.S. Solar Power Generation Capability with the installation of over 1.9 megawatts of solar power generation capability at its research campus in Sunnyvale, California.
Special thanks and much success are extended to Dr. Hoffman in his new duties as CTO of Applied Materials Solar division beginning April 2, 2007. Dr. Hoffmann is a tireless Solar Advocate who was willing to talk with and answer questions from a newbie Blogger at EU PVSEC last year.