Thin film gigawatt fab arriving soon, hints Applied Materials

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Applied Materials executives gave a strong hint that the era of a ‘Giga’ watt thin film solar production plant using its SunFab manufacturing line technology was close at hand during its first quarter conference call with financial analysts yesterday.

“We are in discussions with some major customers on gigawatt-scale fab lines, but we don’t have a specific thing to announce today,” commented Mike Splinter, President and CEO of Applied Materials in the conference call.

Asked whether some of the initial SunFab line customers were planning second phase expansions in the gigawatt scale, Splinter responded by saying that “we are discussing with up to four people [companies] on pretty large-scale gigawatt kind of scale factories.”

When asked whether the company had signed such a contract, Splinter would only say that the company had nothing to announce at the moment! Splinter then hinted that at least one customer with whom it was having serious discussions could feasibly sign a gigawatt-scale order within the next three to six months.

A key driver of thin film large substrate PV modules is the lower cost per watt fabrication compared to traditional crystalline solar cells, as glass, not polysilicon, is used for the substrate.

However, to reach grid parity, both types of technology will need to be produced in larger fully integrated facilities – significantly larger than facilities currently employed. A gigawatt per annum facility has the potential to meet grid parity requirements over time.  

Last year, M+W Zander, a hi-tech cleanroom design and construction company, outlined concepts for the ‘Giga’ fab for both crystalline and thin film substrates. Then the company believed that the first integrated Giga fab would break ground in 2008 but would probably be a crystalline wafer facility. The first thin film Giga fab was not expected before 2011.

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