The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

The Rise of Korea's Solar Ambition

China and Taiwan together have been the world's key source for solar cells and panels. Now a long-time manufacturing rival is elbowing its way into the fray for a piece of the growing solar market.

The rival is Korea, and its keen interest in becoming a big solar manufacturing hub could give rise to a competitive landscape that is familiar to those in the semiconductor and consumer electronic businesses. Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and LG have long fought for market supremacy in areas such as chips, LCD panels and mobile phones.

The same intense competition could take place in the emerging solar market. Samsung and LG already are making solar panels, though not at the scale of some of their Asian competitors who also happen to be among the top 10 manufacturers worldwide. Just last week, a Silicon Valley startup, Stion, said it was getting a $130 million equity investment led by a group of Korean companies. The round, incidentally, also included those from Stion’s existing investors such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.  

As part of the funding agreement, Stion said it will build a factory in Korea and invest $35 million into the new operation. The startup, founded in 2006, also plans to develop production equipment with AVACO, one of the lead investors of the new round and a seller of factory equipment for making LCD panels. Stion’s technology involves depositing a compound of copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) on glass.

The deal for Stion sounds similar to the investment deal another CIGS startup, HelioVolt in Texas, received earlier this year. HelioVolt received $50 million from SK Group and began looking to build a factory in Korea.

These investments represent a big bet by Koreans on a technology that has yet to go mainstream. CIGS thin film developers have promised to be able to deliver solar panels that can compete in price and efficiency against silicon solar panels, which have around 80 percent of the global market. CIGS technology development has largely been clustered in the United States and Germany, though the largest CIGS thin film maker is Japan’s Solar Frontier, which opened a 900-megawatt factory in early 2011.

Many CIGS startups have taken a lot longer to develop the processes for mass producing solar panels. They also have faced the difficult task of raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build a factory that is large enough to compete, particularly at a time when many investors in solar manufacturing have yet to earn the handsome returns they were expecting initially.

Two CIGS companies in the United States have turned to the federal government for loans. One of them, Solyndra, went bankrupt in September this year and caused a big uproar over its $535 million loan and whether the taxpayers will be able to recoup at least some of the money. Another one, SoloPower, recently raised more private money to complement the $197 million federal loan it received earlier this year to build a factory in Oregon.

Seeking investors outside of the usual circle of venture capital firms has become popular for these solar startups, which seek not only money but also technology development and marketing help to hopefully ensure their survival. One CIGS company, MiaSole, recently hired a new CEO and stated publicly its desire for a partner that could help it grow.

Korean companies aren’t just looking for solar investment opportunities in the United States. Hyundai Heavy Industries formed a joint venture with Saint-Gobain of France, and the two began building a 100-megawatt factory in Korea earlier this year. The factory will produce CIGS solar panels using technology from Saint-Gobain’s Avancis.

It’s too early to say whether all these new factory plans will help to turn Korea into a major solar manufacturing center. Chinese and Taiwanese companies such as Suntech Power, JA Solar and Motech Industries will certainly not be willing to give up their market dominance easily. New entrants into the market also have continued to crop up in these two countries.

For example, Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of consumer electronics, including Apple’s iPhone, is plotting its entry into the solar market, Bloomberg reported last week. Foxconn reportedly is planning a solar cell factory in China.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing also is getting its new 100-megawatt factory ready for the first commercial shipment in early 2012. The factory uses technology licensed from Stion. 

Untitled Document


Sunrise in Pakistan as the Country Delves into Solar PV

Robert Harker Pakistan has joined the list of countries that are exploring solar power as a means to bridge critical energy generat...

Global Renewable Energy Roundup: China, Kenya, Turkey, India Seeking More Renewables

Bloomberg News Editors China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to make up for sh...

Why Smarter Grids Demand Smarter Communications Networks

Mark Madden

Historically, utility networks and communications networks have had little in common.

The Importance of “Switching Costs” to the US Residential Solar Industry

Paula Mints The DoE and numerous organizations and governments globally are focused on driving down the cost of solar convinced t...


Free ImagineSolar Online Course Demonstration

ImagineSolar will be holding another live demonstration of PV250e: Solar PV Economics a...

Canadian Solar Announces Partnership in 200 MW Tranquility Solar Power Project

Recurrent Energy signed an agreement with Southern Power to partner on the Tranquility ...

AWS Truepower Announces Major Expansion of its Due Diligence Team in Response to Growing Market Demand

AWS Truepower, an international leader in wind and solar energy consulting and engineer...


NATiVE Recognized for Excellence at 2015 Greater Austin Business Awards

NATiVE Recognized for Excellence at 2015 Greater Austin Business Awards NEWS RELEASE AUSTIN, Texas – Aug. 27...

Solar Energy Means Jobs, Savings, and a Low-Cost Future [infographic]

There are a lot of utility-sponsored legislative and regulatory attacks on solar energy lately, and we put together t...

How To Get People To Do Stuff

It’s no secret that psychology and sales go hand in hand. If you understand the principles of human psychology ...


Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Intersolar North America 2016

Exhibition: July 12 - 14, 2016; Conference: July 11 - 13, 2016 Intersola...

Intersolar South America 2015

Exhibition and Conference: September 1-3, 2015 Intersolar South America ...

Intersolar Europe 2016

Exhibition: June 22-24, 2016; Conference: June 21-22, 2016 Intersolar Eu...


Less Is More

When you’re giving a presentation, one of the easiest things to do...


One of the biggest challenges we face as efficiency sales professionals ...

How To Optimize Your Meeting Schedule

Do you spend more time in meetings than you do actually working? While m...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now