In Depth

  • ‘Made in USA’ no more: Siliken closes San Diego PV module factory, sets up larger shop across border

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 24 May 2011, 23:58 | 1

    Siliken has by no means given up on the US solar market, but it has certainly given up on manufacturing its modules in the USA. After ramping a small panel factory in Otay Mesa in south San Diego County to 30MW and staffing it with 130 employees as of late September 2010, the subsidiary of the vertically integrated Spanish PV company reassessed its situation and quickly decided to make a cost-saving short-distance move across the border to maquiladora-friendly Tijuana—signing a lease in February and rolling its first multicrystalline products off the new, soon-to-be 60MW Mexican production line in April. While the economics of the relocation may make sense in a time of shrinking module ASPs, when I visited Siliken then-expanding San Diego facility last May, the company was touting its long-term commitment to the city. Why the firm changed course and the quiet way in which it did so provide a cautionary solar tale and a lesson in marketing—or the lack of it.

  • What’s in a name: Sulfurcell is out, Soltecture is in, as German CIGS thin-film firm reloads

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 19 May 2011, 22:56

    When I first heard that Sulfurcell was ditching the element embedded in its name in its CIGS thin-film PV process and going to a selenium-based approach, I wondered how long it would take the Berlin-based firm to change its outmoded brand. Although it took awhile for the transformation to happen—and the 10-year-old company does still make some of its modules using the less-efficient sulfurized Gen-1 process—rebranding has finally taken place: say goodbye to Sulfurcell, hello Soltecture.

  • New South Wales subsidy cuts: The state bites back

    Editors' Blog | By Emma Hughes - 19 May 2011, 16:34

    In an attempt to defend the harsh feed-in tariff decision made at the tail-end of last week, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has today claimed that residents would have faced an increase of AUD$170 on their power bills over the lifetime of the scheme had things been left as they were. And, although this seems to justify the fact that more than 110,000 solar panels owners will lose out on a large slice of the subsidy pie, it hasn’t stopped the huge amount of backlash which has come in thick and fast since this policy revelation on Friday 13.

  • Raising Arizona solar: Suntech bets on US market with Goodyear module manufacturing plant

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 18 May 2011, 02:22

    (Updated) While a 50MW PV module line may seem like a drop in the capacity bucket of a firm with some 2GW of production capability, the importance of Suntech’s Goodyear, AZ, goes beyond the modest percentage of the enterprise-wide nameplate it represents. In addition to being the company’s first major facility outside of China, the site will be a prime example of the concept of distributed manufacturing—the idea of making panels close to where they will be deployed—when the US plant starts shipping its products 30 miles (~50km) west to the Mesquite Solar 1 project for installation in the initial 150MW of the utility-scale solar power farm. For the parent company, the Goodyear plant also will be a testbed of sorts, since it features a higher level of automation than the more manually oriented modcos operating back on the company’s Middle Kingdom campuses.

  • Challenges for the PV equipment supply chain in 2011

    Guest Blog | By Finlay Colville - 17 May 2011, 08:34

    In reporting Q1’11 results on May 13, 2011, Roth & Rau highlighted year-on-year revenue growth for group activities (including PV) of 69.1% - from €35.3 million in Q1’10 to €59.7 million in Q1’11. Indeed, analogous to other PV companies recently across the value and supply-chains, emphasis was placed on year-on-year comparisons, not on quarter-on-quarter changes from the preceding reporting period Q4’10…

  • Solar short takes: SoloPower chooses Portland, Solibro grows, REC on the roof, loan guarantees slow

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 14 May 2011, 00:14

    The first Solar Short Takes blog of the spring finds SoloPower moving the Oregon site of its planned factory from Wilsonville to north Portland,  fellow CIGS manufacturer Solibro increasing its production output, REC Solar banking on big business in the Northeast US and likely adding thin film to its portfolio soon, First Solar still in the running for more DOE loan guarantees and Cogentrix copping one for CPV but other projects seeking the federal incentive now in doubt, ECD Uni-Solar singing the blues, and Canadian Solar returning as a good-luck-charm sponsor for the reigning World Series champs.

  • Distribution center generation: REC Solar racks 1.795MW rooftop PV system on massive IKEA warehouse

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 12 May 2011, 21:16

    While large rooftop solar projects have their share of system integration challenges, getting a racking configuration wind tunnel-certified to 120mph (193kph) is usually not one of them. But that was part of the engineering process as construction preparations began on a now-generating 1.795MW (DC) PV installation atop IKEA’s huge distribution center in Tejon Ranch, CA.  Facilities manager Eric Ranney recalled how a January day made it clear that a wind-tolerant design was necessary, as gusts topped 89mph (143kph) and nearly two-dozen skylights and a handful of modules staged for installation blew off the roof.

  • Centrotherm reports record Q1 revenues but bookings decline 34% on cell equipment spending downturn

    Guest Blog | By Finlay Colville - 10 May 2011, 17:17

    Centrotherm Photovoltaics has released its Q1’11 results, highlighting strong year-on-year revenue and bookings performance compared to Q1’10. Revenues grew year on year by 64.2% to €189.3 million, while new orders increased by 187.8% to €224.3 million. However, a more appropriate comparison comes by looking at quarter-on-quarter trends - in particular how Centrotherm’s PV book-to-bill is tracking – and in understanding trends within the industry driving these metrics.

  • String theory: Power-One’s Phoenix plant plays part in push for PV inverter market primacy

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 06 May 2011, 03:34

    Just off Interstate 10 across the Salt River wash south of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, one of the dozens of nondescript industrial buildings houses the newly commissioned US manufacturing facilities of a fast-moving player on the PV inverter pitch—Power-One. The company, with roots in the power supply sector going back to the 1970s, entered the renewable energy fray five years ago and has quickly become one of the largest suppliers on the global scene. The production site, along with a sister factory in Shenzhen, China, will add 2GW of capacity to the existing 4GW at the firm’s Italian campus this year. The Arizona location has the potential to grow to 4GW or more as demand increases in the North American and Australian markets. Plant GM Doug Schendt, a contract manufacturing veteran who spent years building capital equipment for Applied Materials, showed me around the 120,000 sq ft facility in early April.

  • Data dumpster: Spinning, questioning, and admiring First Solar’s latest numbers

    Chip Shots Blog | By Tom Cheyney - 04 May 2011, 00:51

    Things were a little different during First Solar’s quarterly earnings call this time. Gone from the roster was Bruce Sohn, the former president and manufacturing guru who recently left the company. New to the team was probie CFO Mark Widmar, evidently a “quick study” according to CEO Rob Gillette (and he did nothing to indicate otherwise). Although the tone was upbeat, the financial results slipped a bit from the previous quarter, and the guidance for 2011, at least on the operating income side, tweaked slightly downward. The analyst and market research folks will no doubt probe the latest data with their usual “how does this fit my model/how does my model need to change” level of proctological intensity, but here are a few of my own number-crunchings and ponderings as the first quarter starts to fade in the rear-view mirror.

Publications

  • Photovoltaics International 27th Edition

    Now that the PV industry has unquestionably entered a new growth phase, all eyes are on which technologies will win through into the mainstream of PV manufacturing. PERC, n-type, p-type bifacial, heterojunction – all have become familiar terms in the ever-growing constellation of solar cell technologies. The question is which will offer manufacturers what they are looking for in improving efficiencies and cutting costs.

  • Manufacturing The Solar Future: The 2014 Production Annual

    Although the past few years have proved extremely testing for PV equipment manufacturers, falling module prices have driven solar end-market demand to previously unseen levels. That demand is now starting to be felt by manufacturers, to the extent that leading companies are starting to talk about serious capacity expansions later this year and into 2015. This means that the next 12 months will be a critical period if companies throughout the supply chain are to take full advantage of the PV industry’s next growth phase.

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Acknowledgements

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