Two of the major thin film solar module manufacturers, First Solar and Sharp Corporation have already done major deals with utilities in which dedicated manufacturing plants within a designated region will service PV projects undertaken by the utility. Now, Applied Materials has announced a new business model that also targets this integrated approach, dubbed ‘Solar fab2farm.’ Using its ‘SunFab’ thin film turnkey production line, Applied is touting the need to have locally produced modules and solar power plants that creates localised renewable energy ecosystems that could have significant local economic benefits.
“Applied’s fab2farm model unlocks a low-risk, cost-effective opportunity to integrate solar PV electricity into a community’s energy portfolio,” said John Antone, vice president, Energy and Environmental Solutions, Applied Materials. “This approach enables a significant share of solar PV investment dollars to remain in the community, in contrast to fossil fuel based power generation sources. It would create a regional economic engine generating a steady supply of skilled jobs and a path to achieving the lowest installed solar energy cost.”
Applied Materials claims that an 80MW SunFab plant (2 production lines at full operation) could generate more than 2,500 jobs, accounting for US$400-US$500 million in local economic activity per year.
“Optimized for utility-scale applications, Applied’s SunFab line produces the world’s most powerful thin film modules with approximately six times the output of conventional glass solar panels,” said Dr. Randhir Thakur, senior vice president and general manager of Applied’s Display and SunFab Solar Products Group. “With an installed cost of less than US$4.00/watt SunFab panels cost less per unit area to manufacture and fully install than conventional glass panels. Over time, manufacturing efficiencies are expected to reduce these costs even further – while the price of electricity from conventional sources is forecast to continually rise.”
On Applied Materials website, the company touts using its 5.7m2 panel design, to enable a fully installed price of <$3.50/watt, noting that its use of large substrates reduces balance of systems costs compared to smaller thin film module designs used by competitors.
Although Applied did not announce a utility customer with its new business model, it has not been uncommon for the company to follow product introductions with sales agreements.