Category Archives: Intersolar North America

July 23, 2009 – At Intersolar North America last week (July 14-16) optimism ruled, despite a continuing global recession, slow recovery of lending, soft demand, and crashing prices. Examples of hope could be found everywhere at the show. Ad hoc conversations held reports of strong growth, albeit several months in the future, with most believing that the US stimulus would eventually stimulate something.

The photovoltaic industry and all of its various participants are nothing if not resilient. On the supply side of the market (manufacturers of technology), losing money was a reality for over thirty years. On the demand side of the market (installers, system integrators, et al), a hyper competitive marketplace, a long sales cycle, and expensive system components often led to razor-thin margins. Early participants in the photovoltaic industry felt like — and were — pioneers in an energy market where solar was not considered competition for conventional energy.

During the early years of the industry when overall volume was much lower, remote (off-grid) applications provided ballast to the volatility of the grid-connected application. Grid-connected application requires incentives or demonstration programs to continue growing, whereas remote applications are already economically viable. Though affordability and workable business models continue to constrain growth, the remote applications are already at grid-parity. In fact, for the remote applications, grid-parity is a non-issue.

The point is that the photovoltaic industry knows how to suffer; it has had a lot of experience over time. Technology sales are a push — not a pull — for the grid-connected application. Except for a four-year period from 2004 through 2008, manufacturer margins have been painfully thin, and industry volume relies on the unreliable grid-connected application. In the early years a dip in grid-connected demand was hardly noticeable; at 94% of total industry sales, however, it is more of a deep dive. The table below provides a not-so-brief history of industry volatility along with a forecast for 2009 for three scenarios, recession, conservative and accelerated.

PV industry growth in MWs, 1974-2009.

So…what now?

With a slowdown in sales from 17% to 32% all but assured, an atmosphere of doom might be expected, but at Intersolar the view was solidly on the positive future. Today might be gloomy and instant gratification always delayed, but technology, business model, and market development continues. Obviously, PV industry participants are made of tough stuff.

Along with its pioneering spirit and basic optimism, the 2004-2008 boom proved to the industry that it was right to believe in its eventual success. Make no mistake, this is essentially an industry of true believers — and recent technology revenue growth has made the art of being a true believer much easier. In 2004, driven by accelerating cell and module prices, technology revenues increased by 72% over the previous years. In 2005, revenues increased by 39%; in 2006 by 43%; in 2007 by 65%; and in 2008 technology revenues increased by 80% over the previous year. Unfortunately, in 2009 revenues may decrease by as much as 40% from 2008 levels, with the current softening in sales and steep decrease in technology prices. (The figure below offers a view of technology revenues and a forecast, from 2003-2013.)

Technology revenues, 2003-2013.
CLICK HERE to view larger image

Lessons learned?

If there is a lesson to be learned from industry enthusiasm in the face of significant and daunting obstacles of technology development, market difficulties, and potential near term unprofitability it may be as simple as this: If a thing is worth doing, it is worth continuing to do despite the obstacles. Profitability will return to the photovoltaic industry, after a while. Strong demand will return to the industry, but it will take hard work and some time for market development and recovery. Costs will continue to decline and prices will continue to dance with the market, sometimes up and sometimes down. New participants will enter bringing with them new and challenging ideas — some of which will have no impact whatsoever, and some of which will prove industry-changing. Through it all, the industry will prosper on the visions of optimists like the ones who attended Intersolar North America, who see adversity and still believe.

Paula Mints is principal analyst, PV Services Program, and associate director in the energy practice at Navigant Consulting. E-mail: [email protected].

This article was originally published by Photovoltaics World.

July 21, 2009 – Preliminary numbers are in from last week’s Intersolar North America, where the show more than doubled its exhibition participation and “exceed[ed] organizers expectations for the second straight year,” according to a statement put out by group.

More than 560 total solar exhibitors presented at both Intersolar and the co-located SEMICON West, with 444 solely on the Intersolar side up from 210 a year ago, a 111% increase, the group noted. Combined, the two events hosted ~17,000 visitors, roughly the same as in 2008; the Intersolar NA conference, with 170 speakers in 25 tracks, attracted >2000 visitors. (SEMI’s own preliminary numbers, released during its market analysis update on Tuesday afternoon, indicated a +4% increase in preregistrations across both events, with SEMICON West-only exhibitors numbering ~695, down about 23% from 2008.

“The US solar market has incredible potential, and with the support of industry associations, including the SEMI PV Group, ASES and CALSEIA, we are creating an opportunity for solar professionals to come together and discuss continued development for the US market,” said Markus Elsaesser, CEO of exhibition and conference organizer Solar Promotion International GmbH, in a statement.

Videos and photos showcasing Intersolar NA can be found at the group’s Web site.

At Intersolar, held in conjunction with SEMICON West in San Francisco this week, Linde Electronics, supplier of ultra-high purity bulk and specialty gases and services to the semiconductor, flat panel display, PV and electronic packaging industries, held a roundtable discussion.

Watch the roundtable, featuring Paula Mints, Navigant; Chris O’Brien, Oerlikon; Christopher Beitel, Applied Materials, and more industry representatives, Linde Electronics Photovoltaic Roundtable Discussion.

Catching up with Sumika

July 13, 2009

by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor, Photovoltaics World

July 13, 2009 — Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd. and its U.S. subsidiary Sumika Electronic Materials, Inc., recently earned a supplier excellence award from one of the world’s largest microelectronics manufacturers. PV World caught up with Ken Campmann, GM of Sumika’s epi operations, before Intersolar North America, for an update on the company.

Among the products Sumika offers for the worldwide solar market are GaAs-based epitaxial wafers, materials that enable volume production of a variety of end products including high-efficiency solar cells (where the company is currently working with several development partners), as well as cell phone power amplifiers and LEDs. The intent is to use epitaxial core competencies established over the years to produce and supply GaAs- and germanium-based wafers to partners.

In 2003, Sumitomo purchased ATMI’s III-V epi division (which included Sumika) and put it together with the sales and marketing of Sumitomo Chemical’s IT-related businesses (e.g., photoresists) to form Sumika. The company recently branched out into solar applications, where it is working with a couple of different companies, Campmann told PV World. One is RSL Energy, a joint venture between Sumitomo Chemical and RoseStreet Labs formed in 2006 to develop and manufacture full spectrum solar cells. RSL Energy has patent licenses from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (the interband, or “I-band” solar cell technology) and Cornell University (an indium-nitride-based solar cell). Sumika is also working with other companies on a triple-junction cell grown on germanium.

I-band technology uses a single semiconductor material that absorbs at three different wavelengths, vs. traditional CPV triple-junction technology that uses three different materials that each absorb at a different wavelength to cover the solar spectrum. Having just a single junction cell is simpler for manufacturing, noted Campmann. “You don’t have to worry about losses due to tunnel junctions — so you can make a single cell that covers the entire solar spectrum,” he noted. Dilute nitrides (III-V-based, with a bit of nitrogen) are one set of materials that are being evaluated for I-band solar cells. The biggest challenge, according to Campmann, is finding a material with good optical qualities that still has the properties required for absorbing three wavelengths. — D.V.

by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor, Photovoltaics World

June 17, 2009 – Oerlikon Solar announced during Intersolar Munich that it had achieved 11% initial power conversion efficiency on its full-size micromorph (a thin film technology) modules (1.4m2), or 151Watts of initial power. That news, along with unbridled optimism about the future of crystalline silicon (c-Si) exhibited at the recent Intertech-Pira Photovoltaics Summit, provided the backdrop for an interview with Oerlikon’s Chris O’Brien, head of market development, North America.

The company says its micromorph technology boosts solar-cell efficiency by adding a second microcrystalline absorber to the amorphous silicon (a-Si) layer, which converts the energy of the red and near-infrared spectrum, facilitating efficiency increases of up to 50%. The company ran a batch of five full-sized modules through its pilot line in Switzerland, using the same manufacturing process and materials already in use by the company’s end-users. The initial 11% efficiency will probably stabilize to ~9.7% on those five modules, O’Brien told PV World, but “what was encouraging about the results is that the absolute number was a significant boost over what we’re guaranteeing today [and] the spread among the modules was quite tight [3W] — so that gives us confidence that this is a replicable result.”

Micromorph thin-film cell cross-section. (Source: Oerlikon Solar)

Based on data from 10 identified end-users, Oerlikon is on track to meet its roadmap goal whereby end-users will be able to produce panels at a cost of $0.70/W by the end of 2010, O’Brien said — a cost that the company believes will put end-users in a competitive position with respect to the broader renewables market, and would allow delivery of solar-generated electricity at a price of ~$0.09/kW-hr for one large scale project currently being developed in California, “a very competitive price in the large wholesale markets,” O’Brien noted. To meet its roadmap goal, the company is continuing to improve efficiency in its micromorph technology, and improve its manufacturing process (e.g., throughput, yield, etc.). By the end of 2009, after two years selling its end-to-end solution, it will have 600MW cumulative capacity installed at different sites in Europe and Asia, O’Brien noted.

O’Brien also addressed the points frequently being discussed at technical conferences (like Intertech-Pira) — i.e., grid parity — and the seeming concurrence among industry insiders of a constant 80%/20% split (or maybe 70%/30%) of market share that favors c-Si over thin-film PV. “There’s so much interest in thin-film technologies in general because they have dramatically simpler manufacturing steps and use much less material when making a module compared with c-Si,” explained O’Brien. For its part, Oerlikon expects thin-film “will grow to at least 25% of market share by 2012,” he said. “There will continue to be a strong market for c-Si, but the fastest growth will be in thin-film technologies because of inherent cost advantages.”

O’Brien also believes that current market conditions for c-Si are somewhat distorted — he told PV World that he has heard estimates of anywhere from 1-2GW, or 20%-40%, of last year’s market volume in c-Si is in excess inventory. “There is a lot of product looking for a home and c-Si modules are being offered in large volume for very low prices,” he said, and he doesn’t expect this situation to persist in the long term. Oerlikon believes there is a potential market that becomes addressable once its goal (i.e., modules at $0.70/Watt) is met, he said, and end-users will have an even greater potential to sell not just into today’s incentive-driven markets, but into much larger emerging markets for solar energy that is competitively priced with other conventional or renewable energy options.

Regarding grid parity, though, O’Brien thinks it’s a simplistic notion. “Delivering energy value is one part of the equation, but there are many other factors,” he noted. “In the case of large projects in the West, there are issues such as having access to electricity transmission, policies that help project developers interconnect to the grid in a relatively simple way, etc. There are numerous other steps that are part of the process to effective grid integration — but a pre-requisite to that happening is reaching a value point where solar is competitive effectively against the other peak energy alternatives.” Responding to recent observations that in Hawaii the price of solar-generated electricity has already gone below grid parity and has not yet “taken off,” O’Brien believes it has more to do with these other factors.

In summary, O’Brien believes that the overall PV markets will increase and thin-film will need to deliver on its technology roadmap, and he disputes the market share pessimism. “When thin-film gets to $0.70/W, it will get a larger share of the market,” he said, suggesting that there is a very large market for any solar tech that can deliver electricity in the $0.10-0.12/kW-hr range. “We have a clear path to this point,” he added, whereas “it’s not as clear to me that c-Si has a clear pathway to that same operating point on a sustainable basis.” The thin-film path, then, depends on significant improvements in the technology’s cost structure and a return to equilibrium in c-Si module prices. — D.V.

This article was originally published by Photovoltaics World.

by James Montgomery, News Editor, Solid State Technology

July 30, 2008 – There’s a lot of optimism and interest crowding the photovoltaic space, and this was certainly the case witnessed at several Intersolar presentations during SEMICON West (Weds. 7/16), offering different takes on the direction of the PV market. The first of these offered a decidedly contrarian view about the future (or lack of it) for many PV businesses.

Eric Wesoff, senior analyst with Greentech Media, started his high-energy presentation by immediately changing its focus away from technologies and more toward the emerging PV market in general, calling it “innovation in a frothy market.” Few other markets offer the growth promise that PV solar does, tracking at 40% growth for the past decade (see Figure 1) and now a $20B market with promises of 30% annual growth “for decades to come,” he said. Most PV capacity announcements today tout hundreds of megawatts in the next year or two (notably Kyocera, SunPower, Schott, Yingli, and First Solar) with a few handful at the top planning gigawatt-scale production (including Q-Cells, Suntech, Solarworld, Brightsource, and Sharp), but it won’t be long before we’ll start hearing about (and requiring) terawatt-scale expansion, he said (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Global PV market has shown consistent 40% growth. (Source: Prometheus Institute/Greentech Media)

The surge in interest in the PV sector has generated concern whether this is just another hot market bubble as has been seen in the past (e.g. telecommunications and the early Internet buzz). Wesoff sees no such “bubble” in PV, though there are some similarities, e.g., massive VC investments for technology brought forth prematurely from labs. He criticized the “irrational exuberance” among investors, noting that VC money in 1H08 amounted to $1B, with PV taking up 15%-20% of the entire VC asset class. Those other bubbles likewise saw a huge influx of VC money invested in premature technologies, and ultimately resulted in a limited list of survivors, successes, and technology advances, he said.

Figure 2: Cumulative solar installed capacity, in GW. (Source: Greentech Media)

The stampede of new entrants to get a piece of the PV market has generated a “herd mentality” among VC supporters who are scrambling to find the small handful of good IPO candidates, out of the lot which is already likely to include some well-known names such as Nanosolar, GT Solar, and even carmaker Tesla, Wesoff noted. He put up two slides stuffed with the names of >100 new entrants to the PV market — all of whom expect to grab the clichéd 10% marketshare in their PV technology niches, ranging from flexible substrates to quantum dots to inks. “For slightly used thin-film equipment by around 2009-2010, here’s your list of people to talk to,” he quipped. One company in particular Wesoff referred to as a “money oxidizer” whose infamous achievement to date has been a solar panel technology that utterly failed to work in sunlight. Another company has its eyes on another VC round later this year and projects a $1B valuation, without having shipped a single product or booked a single sale, he pointed out. These firms and many others seeking to make a name in PV, Wesoff scolded, are simply “prematurely liberated from the lab into a frothy market.”

For now it’s still too early and expensive for PV technologies such as CIGS and organics, with the mix still mostly silicon vs. thin-film (90%/10%, maybe moving closer to 80%/20%), Wesoff said (see Figure 3). But he reiterated that scale of production seems to be the main hurdle, not technical challenges.

Figure 3: PV technology breakdown by % and region. Note nearly half of all US production was thin-film based in 2005-2006. (Source: Prometheus Institute/Greentech Media)

Ultimately, it won’t be investors or technology that drives solar. Wesoff noted that in Germany, seen as a global leader in PV, the weather is generally ~200 cloudy days/year. Finding ways to better utilize the sun’s energy in such an environment isn’t what drives the market, he said — it’s establishing the political will to support such businesses and technology development and use. Session host Eicke Weber from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, frequent participant in various Intersolar talks during the week, was seen nodding in agreement from down the table. — J.M.

by Graham Jesmer, news editor,

July 15, 2008 – Sunwell, a wholly owned subsidiary of CMC Magnetics, announced that it has ordered another two end-to-end thin-film silicon production lines from Oerlikon Solar. One 60MW line will be delivered to the existing Sunwell production facility in Taiwan; the second line with 120MW capacity will be shipped to a new site currently under construction.

Both lines use Oerlikon Solar’s micromorph tandem cell technology that, according to the company, can raise module efficiency by up to 50%. CMC’s goal is to reach annual production output of 1GW as demand for thin-film solar panels continues its unprecedented growth.

“With this order CMC signals a long term strategy to continue with Oerlikon’s leading proprietary micromorph tandem cell technology. This sets the stage for an aggressive roadmap to increase efficiency allowing them to head towards grid parity in the near future,” said Jeannine Sargent, CEO of Oerlikon Solar.

In a related story, Oerlikon Solar announced an agreement with Flextronics at the opening of Intersolar North America (colocated with SEMICON West) in San Francisco, CA. Flextronics, an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider, will support Oerlikon Solar’s scalability requirements for global production capacity, allowing the execution of more simultaneous projects in multiple geographies, including the company’s recently announced facility in Singapore.

“The facility in Singapore and the partnership with Flextronics will extend our global presence in the rapidly growing solar market. This will extend our lead in terms of production capability, delivery time and cost,” said Uwe Krüger, CEO of Oerlikon group.

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is spearheading the development of what it hopes will be a world-class solar industry cluster. “This project is a significant boost to this growing sector, and shows how our existing strengths in manufacturing, particularly in precision engineering, have evolved to support exciting new areas,” said Ko Kheng Hwa, managing director of the Singapore Economic Development Board. G.J.

November 6, 2007 — SAN JOSE, CA — SEMI, the global industry association of companies providing equipment, material, and services for the manufacture of semiconductors, displays, photovoltaic cells, and related products, as well as Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe GmbH & Co (FWTM) and Solar Promotion GmbH, organizers of Intersolar, the world’s largest trade fair for solar technology, today announced a partnership to host Intersolar North America. The new exposition will be the largest trade event serving the full solar energy supply chain in the United States, and will be held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on July 15-17, 2008, in conjunction with SEMICON West, the world’s first and most prestigious industry event dedicated to microelectronics manufacturing.

The rapidly growing worldwide market for solar thermal and photovoltaic products, equipment, materials, and services is being driven by the rising cost of fossil fuel, increasing attention to global environmental degradation and technological advancement in cost-effective solar energy. Recent estimates project the global solar photovoltaic (PV) market to grow from US$13 billion today to over $40 billion in 2012, when electricity produced by PV technology will reach grid parity in many parts of the world. To help companies take better advantage of these unprecedented opportunities, both Intersolar and SEMI have been serving the solar energy supply chain with trade events, market promotion, and other market development activities for several years.

Intersolar, held in Munich, Germany, has become the world’s largest tradefair for solar technology and focuses on the areas of photovoltaic technologies, solar thermal technology, and solar architecture. Currently, SEMI organizes a range of PV-related events including PVJapan, the PV Fab Managers Forum and PV-focused technical events at major expositions such as SEMICON Taiwan, SEMICON China, SEMICON Europa, and SEMICON West. This agreement comes as a response to the rapid expansion of solar energy markets worldwide and the need for cooperation between all the major industry participants to serve the increasingly global supply chain and customer base.

“Like semiconductors, solar energy is poised to become an essential and ubiquitous part of modern life, and is one of the largest and fastest-growing technology sectors on the planet. Furthermore, similar manufacturing technology is pervasive in the two industries,” says Stanley T. Myers, president and CEO of SEMI. “With nearly 20 percent of the SEMI membership actively involved in PV manufacturing technology, the co-location of SEMICON West and Intersolar is a logical and highly complementary collaboration.”

“We are pleased to join forces with SEMICON to increase the value of our respective expositions,” says Dr. Bernd Dallmann, CEO of Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe GmbH & Co. “Intersolar addresses the full spectrum of solar technologies. Like SEMICON, there is a focus on photovoltaic technology. With an additional focus on solar-thermal, architectural, components, and other related products and technologies, Intersolar will contribute a wider audience. Together, SEMICON and Intersolar present a broader range of opportunities for exhibitors and buyers,” says Markus Els

November 8, 2007 – In an effort to deepen industry ties to perhaps the best high-growth application area for many equipment suppliers, SEMI is partnering with the organizers of global solar trade fair Intersolar to cohost “Intersolar North America,” the largest event serving the solar energy technology supply chain in the US, at next year’s SEMICON West (July 15-17, San Francisco’s Moscone Center).

Held annually for the past eight years in mid-June in Freiberg, Germany, Intersolar welcomed a record 32,000 visitors this year (30% growth from 2006) on solar technology topics including photovoltaic technologies, solar thermal technology, and solar architecture. Next summer the show moves to roomier facilities in Munich, where organizers expect 800 exhibitors and more than 35,000 visitors.

Intersolar North America will address the entire solar energy supply chain including solar thermal energy and photovoltaics. Exhibitors expected to participate are involved in PV cells, modules, and inverters; polysilicon, materials, and equipment supplies; components and subsystems; solar thermal applications (heating, process heat, cooling); and architectural/construction services. A day-and-a-half conference on PV technology and solar thermal energy will also be held. The event will occupy portion of Moscone’s West Hall, and attendees can go to both exhibitions with no additional fees or badges (the PV conference is an additional fee).

Combining the two shows makes sense due to the similar manufacturing technologies — nearly 20% of SEMI members are actively involved in PV manufacturing technology, noted Stanley Myers, president/CEO of SEMI, in a statement, adding that both areas are quickly becoming ubiquitous technologies in modern life.

Like SEMICON, [Intersolar has] a focus on photovoltaic technology. With an additional focus on solar-thermal, architectural, components, and other related products and technologies, Intersolar will contribute a wider audience. Together, SEMICON and Intersolar present a broader range of opportunities for exhibitors and buyers,” stated Markus Elsasser, CEO of Solar Promotion GmbH, one of the organizers of the Intersolar events.