SNEC wrap, Part I: Yingli to go vertical in U.S.; Chint implants; Suniva gives up on DOE loan

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Tom Cheyney
Tom Cheyney
Tom Cheyney, former senior editor of PV-Tech and Photovoltaics International, is now chief curator of SolarCurator.com and director of Impress Labs’ solar practice.

When confronted with a trade show as massive as the recently completed SNEC PV Power Expo 2011, with its 13 halls and tens of thousands of moving bodies, one can only hope to engage a small fraction of the industry folks in attendance. Since one of my three show days was devoted to video interviews, my own available time for editorial content sleuthing and schmoozing was further diminished—though some interesting nuggets did emerge from those five on-camera adventures that will air soon on our Website. To get the post-SNEC blog ball rolling, the first tidbit comes from one of those video shoots.

Yiyu Wang, chief strategy officer of Yingli Green, told me during our interview that the Chinese company plans to build more than just a module assembly plant in the U.S. He said that Yingli has decided to designate a location in the States as its second vertically integrated manufacturing and applications center, the first outside of China. Although he wouldn’t share any other details regarding the complete extent of the U.S. site’s verticality, he did say that the proposed locale has been chosen, and the buildout plan has been finalized internally and will be announced later this year.     

Although the following news did not actually come from the SNEC show floor, I did learn the identity of one of the seven-ish Chinese crystalline-silicon companies that Varian Semiconductor said it is working with to implement ion implantation on their respective production floors. During a visit to silicon thin-film manufacturer Astronergy, president/CEO Liyou Yang claimed that the monocrystalline team at parent/sister company Chint Solar was the first Chinese c-Si firm to partner with Varian.

Readers will have to stay tuned for my report on Astronergy with a hint of Chint in the weeks ahead, but I can offer the following teaser: After a couple of years of laying low during the downturn and optimizing its existing 25MW line, the tandem-junction silicon TFPV company plans to add production capabilities rapidly over three production sites in the next couple of years—and its cousins at Chint are cranking up capacity as well.  

Suniva, the first c-Si cellmaker to come out of the closet about its own implantation manifestation, made its first SNEC exhibition debut this year. Chief marketing officer Bryan Ashley told me the company has sold cells to Chinese manufacturers and also has some contract module manufacturing in the country. Commenting that the vast majority of suppliers and customers—“the procurement guys”—were at the show, he shared a telling example of the international nature of the PV business: one of Suniva’s sales guys had just closed a big order with a European customer on the Shanghai show floor.

But it was a bit of news closer to home (the U.S., that is) that really caught my attention. Ashley revealed that Suniva had informed the U.S. Department of Energy about a week before SNEC that it was suspending its efforts to obtain a federal loan guarantee for a new factory. Noting the process had taken too long and that the cellmaker was “uncomfortable” with the term sheets offered by DOE, Ashley said it was time for the company—which spent some three-quarters of a million dollars on lawyers and consultants in its pursuit of the Federal LG—to move forward and focus on other means of securing capital.

Suniva continues to look for a location for its second high-volume manufacturing facility in the U.S. as well as close the financing to make it happen, according to the CMO, and has narrowed down the site selection list to a few finalists—a list that no longer includes Michigan, the state that had once been announced as the location. He expected announcements to be forthcoming on the “package” in the next several months.   

No other Taiwanese PV company has a track record of manufacturing in China as long as Motech. The vertically integrated producer will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on the mainland this year. But as Sam Tsou explained at SNEC, the Chinese supply chain still suffers from certain quality challenges.

Tsou, who is VP of Motech’s commercial division, related that a module made with Chinese silicon at the company’s factory may come in at an ASP of, say, $1.65 per watt, and around $1.78 if assembled with more expensive, non-Chinese materials, making the latter too cpstly for some markets. But cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better.

The company’s internal team at Motech’s moduling operation in Delaware (the former GE plant) has run comprehensive tests that push beyond the scope of the usual Intertek and TUV exams. The results have raised concerns about whether the modules made with Chinese materials will actually last for the warranted 25 years. Tsou said the panels may pass the requisite certification tests, but more rigorous batch-to-batch comparisons reveal a lack of repeatability. As a result of the findings of the U.S. reliability team, Motech has decided not to sell the lower-cost modules anywhere outside the Chinese and Indian markets.

Since Motech’s higher cost but reputedly more reliable modules will be sold into the North American and European markets, better quality silicon will need to be available upstream, a supply of which may soon be coming online.

U.S.-based AE Polysilicon (which is ~ 33% owned by Motech) already has an initial capacity of 1800mt online, from which it just shipped a test sample of about 300kg to the Taiwanese company’s base of operations, according to Tsou. If the material tests go well, he said the Pennsylvania factory—which uses energy-efficient fluidized bed reactors to produce its pelletized poly—will be ramped to 4800mt capacity by year’s end and supply more high-grade materials to Motech.

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