First Solar to manufacture copper-based crystalline silicon solar cells

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Updated: Leading thin-film and PV project developer First Solar has rocked the solar industry with the acquisition of US-based monocrystalline start-up TetraSun.

Having exited R&D into competitive CIGS thin-film technology and rejuvenated its commitment to CdTe technology, First Solar plans to start “tentative” production of TetraSun’s copper-based monocrystalline cells in the second half of 2014.

First Solar did not say what the capital investment would be, or where the solar cells would be produced and what the initial nameplate production capacity would be.

“This breakthrough technology will unlock the half of the PV market which favors high-efficiency solutions, which has been unserved by First Solar to date,” said Jim Hughes, CEO of First Solar. “This new capability to meet the needs of customers with distributed generation applications, coupled with our leading CadTel offering which remains the benchmark for utility-scale systems, gives us a unique end-to-end suite of solutions to serve the full spectrum of commercial applications.”

First Solar noted that one of its aims with the acquisition was to distribute the technology in Japan, based on ongoing discussions with TetraSun’s majority shareholder, JX Nippon Oil & Energy.

Other than a PV demonstration installation in Japan, First Solar has had limited success in the booming Japanese market. Though no legislation is believed to exist in Japan that directly bans the use of cadmium telluride-based products, rules do exist for labelling of products using the substance (cadmium) for recycling purposes.

US-based rival, SunPower recently renewed a distribution deal with Toshiba for over 100MW of its modules for installations in Japan this year. 

However, the acquisition of TetraSun sends a signal to First Solar’s main rival in the US market, SunPower, that it plans to compete directly with like-for-like technology in both the ground mounted and residential rooftop markets.

The CEO of TetraSun, Denis De Ceuster spent 12-years at SunPower, which included a spell as director of solar cell R&D.

TetraSun’s 14 staff members are expected to continue their R&D work at their current premises in San Jose, California. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. 

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