by Ed Korczynski, Senior Technology Editor, Solid State Technology
Dr. Charles F. Gay, currently VP and GM of Applied Materials’ solar business group, is a renowned expert in PV technology and business, having been president of Arco Solar, Siemens Solar, and ASE Americas, as well as director of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. He found time in his busy schedule to talk with me about the incredible growth in solar business, and to explain recent changes in the photovoltaic (PV) technology landscape.
“The speed of innovation has ratcheted up quite rapidly, and there are two themes that have affected the industry over the last several years,” explained Gay. One is the scale of the industry, growing at over 40% over the last decade. This has created a dynamic where a company like Q-Cells can just show up in the market and rapidly rise to be No.2. Suntech at No.3 was virtually nonexistent three years ago.
Secondly, as the business has grown, so has the scale of manufacturing. Until recently, crystalline PV lines mainly ran old 150mm wafer equipment obsoleted from IC lines by newer 200mm tools. Less than a decade ago, a world class PV line was capable of producing <5 MW/yr of cells, while today Sharp alone has over 700 MW/year of total fab capacity. Typical PV lines today are 50-100 MW, and a company wanting additional capacity builds multiple lines on site, or starts locating lines around the world depending upon customer demand.