Value Chain Activity: Manufacturing Thin-film Modules
Manufacturing thin-film modules consists of depositing photovolatic material on a substrate, structuring it into cells to form an electric circuit and wire and frame it depending on application.
Barriers to entry
For development and small-scale production, there are few barriers, as companies like Aja International specialise in providing small-scale sputtering equipment. However, when scale becomes important, access to capital might become a barrier.
Upstream supply chain without bottleneck
Suppliers are chemical companies that produce high-purity metals such as CdTe, GaAs etc. The supply chain is less constrained than polysilicon and therefore much more reliable.
The future face of solar electricity with high efficiency at low cost has not been seen yet. But it will most likely emerge from thin-film technologies, probably with organic or other materials that are not in present-day solar cells. No wonder, this industry section experiences a very diverse mix of big-hitters (Sharp), start-up companies and universities. Companies with a long-term vision should be present in this field. Venture-finance companies may find it easier to get through the 2009 downturn than highly leveraged firms.
This is a very dynamic segment with lots of up-start companies, some venture-funded. There are also a number of companies that also produce crystalline technologies. Those companies tend to be in the amorphous silicon thin-film segment. The organic photovoltaics segment is mostly covered by research institutes rather than private companies.
The main distinguishing feature is again the efficiency, followed by appearance (flexible substrate or module) and temperature dependence. The close integration with building-integrated pv allows for a lot of product differentiation.
Cost is all important, as this is part of the value proposition of thin-film technology as opposed to crystalline-based. This is particularly treu in the amorphous silicon section where there are many producers. The cost leadership falls to FirstSolar, offering CdTe- based modules. FirstSolar's entire business model is based on cost and efficiency, built on economies of scale and optimizations in the supply chain (for instance with metal supplier 5NPlus).
The main competing technology is of course crystalline silicon-based, though in building-integrated pv there, crystalline module just don't provide the flexibility in shaping. However, with the huge drop in crystalline module prices, thin-film producers must look very closely at costs.
Here is a list of selected thin-film companies, ordered according the underlying technology. Companies tend to follow only one thin-film strategy or they split up into several legal entities, as is the case with Q-Cells. See notes on corporate ownership in the table.
|alti-solar||South Korea||Technology: a-Si. Currently: 50MW capacity. 100MW by 2010. Also plans for CIGS|
|Amelio Solar||USA||Technology: a-Si. Vertically integrated|
|Astronergy||Chint||China||a-Si, μc-Si thin-film technology. Also crystalline modules|
|Auria||Venture founded by E-ton Solar (23.9%), Lite-On (23.9%)||Taiwan||Technology: a-Si; capacity 60MW in 2008, add 60MW pa|
|Bangkok Solo||Bangkok Cable||Thailand||a-Si capacity 50MW, plan to be 100MW in 2010|
|Best Solar||China||Plan: 1GW thin-film (a-Si), 3GW crystalline capacity|
|Beyond PV||Taiwan||Technology: a-Si. Capacity 2009 - 15MW, 2010 40MW, 2012 160MW|
|Chi Mei Energy Corp||Chi Mei Optoelectronics||Taiwan||Technology: a-Si. First year - 2009 50MW, ramp-up thereafter|
|CN Solar Technology Co||China||Thin-film a-Si and accessories|
|DAI HWA||Dai Hwa Group||Taiwan||a-Si - 10MW production|
|Danish Solar Energy Ltd||Denmark||Thin-film: a-Si. Also produces crystalline modules|
|Energy Conversion Devices||USA||a-Si Thin Film Manufacture. Also active in other renewable energy areas.|
|ENN Solar Energy||ENN Group||China||Based on a-Si, 2009 capacity 60MW, plans to 500MW within years.|
|EPV Solar||Germany||Use a-Si|
|ersol Solar||Bosch Group. Now Bosch Solar||Germany||Thin-film tech is a-Si. The only wafer manufacturer in Germany, producing exlusively for solar market. Also crystalline modules.|
|Flexcell (VHF Technologies)||Owned by Mitsubishi, Reinet Investments and Ven Fin after Q-Cells sold.||Switzerland||Flexcell manufactures light, thin and flexible PV cells (25MW) using a-Si|
|Formosun Solar Corporate||Taiwan||Thin-film from a-Si|
|HHV Solar Technologies||Hind Hivac||India||25MW c-Si; 10MW a-Si|
|Kaneka||Japan||Technology: a-Si, capacity: 30MW|
|Kenmos Photovoltaics||Tayih Group||Taiwan||Technology: a-Si. Capacity: 10MW, to be expanded to 200MW by 2014|
|Masdar PV||A Masdar company, part of the Masdar initiative (Abu Dhabi)||Germany||Supplier of PV modules to Masdar near Abu Dhabi (UAE). Plans to build new plant in Abu Dahbi. Technology: a-Si|
|Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Ltd||Moser Baer Holding||India||Current capacity ~ 200MW. Technology: a-Si, also crystalline modules|
|Nanogram||USA||Silicon-base film multicrystalline Si|
|NexPower Technology Corp||Taiwan||a-Si technology|
|Polar Photovoltaic Co.||China||Technology: a-Si. Capacity 30MW|
|Schott Solar||Schott AG, Wacker Chemie||Germany||Thin-film technology: a-Si. Also in crystalline and CST technologies.|
|Sharp||Japan||Crystalline and thin-film|
|Sontor||Merged with Sunfilm AG||Germany||a-Si technology|
|SpectraWatt Inc||Strategic stake held by Solon AG||USA||Developer of silicon-based thinfilm technology. Filed for bankruptcy in 2011.|
|Sunfilm||50% owned by Q-Cells||Germany||Largest tandem junction thin film producer became insolvent in 2010.|
|XsunX||USA||Developer of thin-film a-Si tech|
|Xunlight Corporation||USA||2MW pilot production using a-Si|
|CIS / CIGS based Thin-Film|
|Ascent Solar Technologies Inc||ITN Energy Systems||USA||Developer of flexible CIGS|
|Avancis||50% owned by Shell, 50% owned by Saint Gobain||Germany||CIS thin-film technology|
|DCH Solar GmbH||Germany||Thin-film: CIS. Also crystalline modules|
|Global Solar Energy Inc||USA||Leading CIGS thin-film manufacturer on a flexible substrate.|
|Nanosolar||USA||Based on CIGS plus proprietary production methodology|
|Odersun AG||Germany||Thin-film modules from 2009 - CIS film in a glass-foil laminate.|
|Solar Frontier||Japan||CIS thin-film technology|
|Solarion AG||Germany||Production and marketing of flexible CIGS thin-film with 17MW capacity|
|Solibro GmbH||67.5% owned by Q-Cells||Germany||CIGS|
|Solyndra||USA||Cylindrical thin-film (CIGS) targeted at commercial roof-tops. Filed for bankruptcy in 2011.|
|Sulfurcell Solartechnik||with Vattenfall||Germany||CIS/CIGS technology in test|
|Wuerth Solar GmbH||Wuerth Elektronik GmbH||Germany||Technology: CIS|
|CdTe based Thin-Film|
|Calyxo||Q-Cells (93%)||Germany||CdTe/CdS (50% D/E)|
|First Solar||USA||Largest thin-film manufacturer - 2009: 1136MW. Technology: CdTe|
|Center for Advanced Molecular Photovoltaics||Part of Stanford University||USA||Research into small molecular and dye-sensitized molecular solar cells.|
|Molecular Solar||Spin-off from Warwick Uni||UK||Start-up company developing molecular photovoltaics|
|Orion Photovoltaics||Israel||In Research: Dye solar cells|
|Solar Energy Materials Initiative||Part of Oxford University||UK||Research into biomimetic solar cells: Including use of melanin and eumelanin, which may continue to deliver power even when light is off!|
|Signet Solar||USA||a-Si tandem, initial efficiencies 9-10%. Capacity 2008 (Dresden) 20MW, planned 60MW (2010). Customers include Phoenix and Alfasolar|
|Stion||USA||Thin-film start-up; Start production in 2010. Precise technology unknown|
|SunFlake||Denmark||Thin-film start-up with goal of 30% efficiency|
|Q-Cells||Thin-film products sold thru separate companies: Calyxo, Solibro, Sontor||Germany||See Calyxo, Solibro and Sontor|
|Sierra Solar||USA||Thin-film start-up|