Sunovia set to take on First Solar in two years?

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Sunovia announced yesterday that it had completed its next round of financing and was devoting these resources to the company’s plans for manufacturing CdTe solar cells. More than $25 million has been invested into the companies’ core CdTe research, development and design for the high-throughput CdTe-based manufacturing facility.

Sunovia’s move to mainstream commercial solar is a departure from its background as a supplier of niche solar products for NASA and the military. Sunovia claims to have developed an advanced manufacturing process for CdTe cells that will reduce the footprint of a 100MW facility to only 10,000 square feet. This reduction could enable them to compete with larger scale producers in the future as their ability to ramp could be greatly enhanced by the new process.

Obvious comparisons will be drawn between Sunovia’s goals and the current CdTe incumbent First Solar who has attracted enormous coverage recently for its higher-than-expected first quarter results. For 2008, the company expects sales from $975 million to $1.05 billion, well over analysts’ estimates of $954.9 million.

Commenting on the first quarter result, Chief Executive Michael Ahearn said in a conference call, “Demand for our products remained robust during the quarter, and we continued to experience market demand in excess of supply.” First Solar is looking to reach 1GW of production by 2009.

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There can be no doubt that Sunovia has high expectations for the future. “Initially, the high-efficiency CdTe-based solar cells are targeted at concentrated solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that support the commercial and utility-scale renewable energy markets. After demonstrating the scalable 10 MW high-throughput CdTe manufacturing system, we believe that the company will be ideally positioned to add additional capacity within a relatively short period of time in a cost-effective manner. In addition, the core manufacturing system is designed to have a very small footprint and can be scaled to meet the increasing demands, which are anticipated for this market throughout the foreseeable future,” said Carl Smith, CEO of Sunovia. “Our aim is to achieve, or even undercut, the cost-per-watt manufacturing targets and timeframes, which are identified within the Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative, and we believe that we are uniquely positioned to accomplish this.”

There is no doubt that demand will continue to grow for CdTe-based products, particularly in the utility grade CPV sector. The question is: who will be the one meeting that demand in three years’ time?

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