Within five years, solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-generated electricity, even in Britain, Scandinavia or upper Siberia. In a decade, the cost may have fallen so dramatically that solar cells could undercut oil, gas, coal and nuclear power by up to half. Technology is leaping ahead of a stale political debate about fossil fuels.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Last Updated: 11:31pm GMT 18/02/2007
The race is effectively on to develop and market a range of films or versatile solar cells that can power the homes and cities of tomorrow. One material is based on a CIGS (CuInGaSe2) semiconductor compound that absorbs light by freeing electrons. This is then embedded on the polymer base.
A leading company in the arena, Applied Materials is betting on both of the two rival solar technologies: thin film panels best used where there is plenty of room and the traditional crystalline (c-Si) wafer-based cells, which are not as cheap but produce a higher yield – better for tight spaces.
Good Energies and NorSun have established Sunfilm AG to manufacture the worldâ€™s first 5.7m2 tandem thin film photovoltaic modules on glass substrates on a production line supplied by Applied Materials, Inc.
â€œSunfilm opens new frontiers; it goes beyond what todayâ€™s industry is projecting – in size and in performance – and could change the way solar energy is viewed. We believe that solar energy is of paramount importance for our energy future. However, we need to stay focused on bringing the cost down. This venture aims at grid parity. Applied Materialsâ€™ technological leadership is the key element for us in this project,â€ says Dr. Sven Hansen, Good Energiesâ€™ Chief Investment Officer.
Appliedâ€™s production line will feature new tandem cell technologyâ€”an innovative dual-junction approach that combines an amorphous silicon top film to absorb short wavelengths of light with a microcrystalline silicon bottom layer to absorb longer wavelengths. These tandem cells are expected to deliver significantly higher energy conversion efficiencies at a cost per Watt that is comparable to that of single junction technologies. By coupling tandem technology with ultra-large 5.7m2 substrates, Sunfilm expects to substantially reduce the cost of solar panel manufacturing.
â€œWith this initiative we introduce second generation solar energy technology,â€ said Dr. Alf BjÃ¸rseth, founder and board member of NorSun. â€œSolar panels based on this tandem cell technology will provide clients with electricity at a very competitive price and have countless areas of application. This new technology will strongly support the continued growth of the solar energy market.â€
â€œWe are excited to work with Sunfilm, Good Energies and NorSun, whose people are among the most influential and respected leaders in the solar business,â€ said Dr. Mark Pinto, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Appliedâ€™s New Business and New Products Group. â€œThe Good Energies and NorSun teams have proven that they can shape the industry â€“ and we look forward to working with them to deliver leading-edge, cost-efficient PV module technology.â€
Sunfilm AG is currently designing the building and facilities for its first PV line and will start construction work in Q2/2007 on its local site. This project will be supported with grants from the State of Saxony and is expected to employ about 180 people when the line is fully operational in 2008/2009.
Sunfilmâ€™s contract with Applied is for a fully-integrated equipment line for an ultra-large panel tandem module factory with a nominal rated capacity of 60 megawatts per year. This is approximately three times the capacity of conventional thin film solar facilities.
â€œOur thin film production line will provide Sunfilm with the first combination of higher-efficiency tandem technology and the compelling cost-advantage of ultra-large scale panels. Weâ€™ve seen similar cost benefits in the flat panel display industry as our customers have transitioned to larger-area substrates,â€ added Dr. Pinto.
Sunfilm AG is a newly established operating company located in GrossrÃ¶hrsdorf Saxony/Germany.
Good Energies is a member of the COFRA group and one of the largest investors in the renewable energy industry. Its globally invested portfolio has a market capitalisation of over USD 3 billion. Good Energies contributes to the challenge of sustainable energy transition through its investments in leading solar photovoltaic companies, wind energy developers and other renewable energy technologies. Its policy aims to provide long-term strategic investments in partnership with companies developing the technologies of the future. .
NorSun AS was established in December 2005 by Scatec AS, that serves as the point of origin for new business ideas within renewable energy and advanced materials. Scatec AS is still the largest owner in NorSun. The purpose of NorSun is to produce the lowest cost solar power components for the international solar energy market.
Applied Materials, Inc. (AMAT) is the global leader in Nanomanufacturing Technologyâ„¢ solutions with a broad portfolio of innovative equipment, service and software products for the fabrication of semiconductor chips, flat panels, solar photovoltaic cells, flexible electronics and energy efficient glass.