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

No End In Sight? The Struggle of Solar Equipment Makers

The solar cell and panel manufacturing business isn't showing clear signs of recovery, and that has taken a toll on those who develop the equipment to make the factories run.

Tokyo Electron announced Friday that it has broken up a joint venture with Sharp for developing machines for making amorphous silicon thin films. The two companies formed the alliance back in 2008 and came up with chemical vapor deposition tools.

Back then, amorphous silicon thin films still seemed like a promising technology, when startups and larger rivals were announcing ambitious plans to build factories. But there were also hot debates about the technology’s chances of making it big. A former photovoltaic program manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tom Surek, told the audience of a solar conference in 2009 that the costs and the anticipated price declines for amorphous silicon — as well as copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) thin films — made those technologies uncompetitive.

And here we are today. Neither amorphous silicon nor CIGS plays a significant role in the gigawatt world of solar business. Venture-backed Signet Solar, an amorphous silicon thin film startup, finally filed for bankruptcy, two years after it shuttered the operation, reported the San Francisco Business Journal this week.

Centrotherm, which has worked on standardized CIGS thin film manufacturing, filed for bankruptcy in July this year.

Tokyo Electron hasn’t given up on amorphous silicon thin film though. Earlier this week, the company said it had completed the purchase of Oerlikon Solar, the Swiss firm that was Applied Materials’ chief rival. Applied Materials stopped selling its SunFab line in 2010 to focus on catering to makers of crystalline silicon solar cells. Earlier this month, Applied said it needed to pull back its solar investments even more than it previously anticipated, though it has yet to provide details.

Applied’s other big rival, GT Advanced Technologies, meanwhile, is pushing hard to expand into non-solar markets. The company just bought Twin Creeks Technologies for a cool $10 million and plans to use Twin Creeks’ technology not just for solar but also for making LED chips and scratch-resistant screens for consumer electronics such as smart phones.

“If you don’t plant seeds, your farm shrinks,” GT’s CEO, Tom Gutierrez, told financial analysts earlier this month.

Twin Creeks had raised nearly $100 million when I wrote about the launch of its equipment to make ultra-thin silicon wafers in March this year. While making super thin wafers can cut costs, the savings aren’t as significant these days. The prices for silicon were falling quickly during the time when Twin Creeks was finalizing its equipment design and ready it for the commercial rollout.

Investors will be hard pressed to put money into solar equipment development like what had been done with Twin Creeks, which is too bad because photovoltaic technology has a long way to go to improve how well it can convert sunlight into electricity. 

Lead image: Black stormy clouds via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

Six Observations about the US Solar Industry Mid-2015

Paula Mints In the U.S. mid-2015, deployment of solar technologies into all applications is at a pivotal point with several facto...

Indian Solar Market Ready to Takeoff

Renewable Energy World Editors Mercom Capital Group, a global clean energy communications and research firm, released its quarterly update on the In...

Study Reveals Room for Sales Response Improvement in Growing Solar Industry

Scott Ankley Solar installations have grown by more than 600 percent across both residential and commercial properties in the past...

Why Renewable Energy in Latin America is a Winner

Carlos Candiales Renewable energy in Latin America has made some important gains over the last decade and seems positioned to continue...

PRESS RELEASES

Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 Continues to (R)evolutionize at SPI

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) prepares to showcase its recently launched tracking syst...

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University recently completed a proj...

Early Bird Registration Deadline for GRC Annual Meeting is This Week

The deadline for early-bird rates for registration for the biggest annual geothermal ev...

Redesigned HydroWorld.com Video Gallery

Hydropower news and information, and interesting promotional announcements are now avai...

FEATURED BLOGS

Transitioning to Net-Zero Living

Judith and Jeffrey adore living in Belfast, Maine – a quaint harbor town of Belfast, Maine. They previously res...

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles in Australia

In order to avoid increased congestion, further greenhouse warming and lessen Australia’s reliance on imported ...

The Coming Multi-trillion Dollar Energy Investment Drive

In coming years, a multi-trillion dollar low-emission energy investment drive will get underway. Three catalysts wil...

The Perfect Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is a concise statement that grabs attention and communicates value, ideally leading to a next step...

FINANCIAL NEWS

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...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

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

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Solar Power International 2015

Solar Power International, ranked as the largest solar trade show in Nor...

International Energy and Sustainability Conference 2015

The fourth International Energy and Sustainability Conference will be he...

Intersolar North America 2016

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

COMPANY BLOGS

A Mind Trick For Call Reluctance

The more you think of yourself as the connection between a product or se...

Persistent Or Pesty?

There’s a fine line between being persistent and being a pain in t...

Obama’s Clean Power Plan A Good First Step

On Aug. 3, President Obama unveiled the final version of his eagerly ant...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS