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Thursday, September 07, 2006

More light flashes from the 21st European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition

The exhibition at the this year’s EU PVSEC covers an area of 1.5 hectares (3.46 acres) including a wide range of PV manufacturing equipment (PV tooling) vendors. This may be the largest collection of PV tooling vendors at one location ever, and most of the PV tooling vendors have sample equipment operating in demonstration modes. If you are equipping a new factory or upgrading an existing line, the exhibition is a one stop shop for all your needs from ingot furnaces or Czochralski pullers to fully automated cell and module production lines. With PV equipment manufacturers, “turnkey” is the popular, must have buzzword to entice new and R&D challenged manufacturers to equip production facilities.

After the Monday press conference, I had a chance to ask Dr. Winfred Hoffmann some questions about the Schott Solar’s EFG (Edge-defined Film-fed Growth) technology. EFG is a process for pulling an octagonal tube from molten silicon and was the precursor to Evergreen Solar’s string ribbon technology. Schott Solar has approximately 40MWp of EFG-cell capacity, but production expansion is limited by the availability of a special, flowable silicon feedstock single sourced from a fluidized bed reactor process at MEMC (NYSE:WFR). I would expect to hear plans from Schott Solar about EFG capacity expansions coming on line in late 2007 or early 2008 as more silicon feedstock becomes available.

I learned of a Russian vendor for III-V solar cells during my research for a feature post on the compound semiconductor value chain. Saturn Joint Stock Company (Saturn JSC) is based in Krasnodar, Russia, and recently purchased an MOCVD reactor from AIXTRON AG (NASDAQ:AIXG) for the mass production of III-V solar cells. AIXTRON is a notable PV equipment vendor not present at the EU PVSEC Exhibition.

Spectrolab (NYSE:BA) had a poster presentation with details regarding III-V terrestrial solar cell products with roughly square footprints. There are two versions; CD0-100 and CD0-225 are 1 and 2.25 square centimeters in size respectively. If I can get the data sheets, I will write a post regarding their specifications.

I was able to confirm the obvious, and Concentrix is in fact using RWE Space Solar as the primary vendor for their III-V solar cells. Spectrolab is being considered or qualified as a backup supplier.

With about 90% market share, Umicore (EBR:UMI) is the market maker in Germanium (Ge) substrate wafers for compound semiconductors like III-V solar cells. Four (4) inch wafers dominate the market today, and each 4 inch wafer requires about 6-7 grams of Germanium with typical thicknesses of 140-180um. Germanium wafers are available as thin as 100um driven by weight constraints for space applications.

Two oral presentations by First Solar were cancelled on Tuesday; one was to be confirmed so there may not have been any conspiratorial intrigue involved.

Also, I am happy to report the bratwurst gap at EU PVSEC was closed on Tuesday when a sausage stand was brought into the courtyard to mitigate the crazy lunch lines created by 2,500 plus attendees. Much work is still needed to improve the lunch time service efficiency, and a major capacity expansion may be announced for 2007.


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