Thin-film PV turnkey competition heats up with customer ramps for Applied Materials, Oerlikon Solar

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Two of the leading players in the amorphous-silicon thin-film PV turnkey factory competition have announced important customer production ramps. Applied Materials says that vertically integrated Spanish concern T-Solar Global has begun volume production of large (5.7 m2) panels at its fab (pictured at left) using the tool supplier’s SunFab line, while Oerlikon Solar is touting the ramp of Sun Well Solar’s 40-MW amorphous thin-film silicon production line in Taiwan, which was completed one month ahead of schedule.

Applied says that the SunFab line and modules produced by T-Solar have been awarded Intercert Certification, verifying achievement of all manufacturing, module efficiency and yield specifications. Oerlikon notes that Sun Well (a subsidiary of CMC Magnetics) achieved IEC certification on the line in October 2008. Both equipment vendors claim their customers have plans for future capacity expansions at the respective sites.

T-Solar plans to produce 700,000 m2 of a-Si panels (equivalent to 122,800 of the large modules) with the potential to generate up to 45-MW equivalent module production per year with Applied’s fully automated SunFab line. Oerlikon says that a PV module leaves the Sun Well line every 50 seconds, which adds up to more than 1250 panels, or 110 kW, produced on a daily basis.

Oerlikon Solar revealed that it has implemented a special high-performance front- and back-contact method in its production lines, in which a LPCVD process generates a transparent conductive oxide (TCO) that the company claims is superior to conventional methods.

Applied’s Jonathan Pickering told PV Tech that “our customers are buying glass with TCO coating on it,” adding that “we shipped TCO coaters last year, not for SunFab, but for Gen. 5 thin film, so we understand that technology very well.”

In an exclusive interview, Pickering, who is Applied’s VP of global marketing and business development for solar, also explained that T-Solar actually achieved factory acceptance testing (FAT) last quarter, so the resultant revenue was included in Applied’s first-quarter financials.

Although he could not disclose “factory timing” for the T-Solar plant, he did say that “they were  the third customer to sign up (for SunFab) and the third customer to get FAT. It’s all gone pretty much to plan. The most challenging (job) for us so far has been doing the big site (Moser Baer) in India,” because of the logistics involved. He added that module efficiencies coming off of T-Solar’s single-junction a-Si TFPV line were 6.2% at the moment.

Pickering would not comment on how much of T-Solar’s big-glass production run was being used at full size, but did note that “it’s very easy to switch from quarter to half to full size. Everything is made at full size, then it’s a matter of cutting it down and the final steps in the process changing. What we see are several of our customers switching glass sizes. The certification that we have is actually for the quarter size.”

Citing presentations made by Applied executives at the company’s annual analyst event that took place Wednesday in New York, Pickering said that 14 SunFab projects are under construction, eight complete factories have been shipped to customers, and three fabs have signed off (Signet Solar, Moser Baer, and now T-Solar).

The Applied VP would not divulge which of the other SunFab customers might be coming to volume next and getting their FAT, but there are several candidates.

A survey of previously announced plans by the companies involved reveals ENN Solar saying it will have its production ramp in the first-quarter 2009, Sunfilm claiming it should reach volume by mid-2009, Masdar citing the second half of 2009 as its target timeline, and Suntech projecting 15-20 MW of TFPV production by year’s end.

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