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Soitec To Shutter German CPV Manufacturing, “Regroup” at Its San Diego Facility

Soitec, one of the few remaining active concentrating solar photovoltaic (CPV) manufacturers, announced that it plans to shut down its 40-megawatt (MW) plant in Freiburg, Germany, according to reports from Photon and several German outlets.

In a financial release last week, Soitec stated that it is “assessing the option to regroup its solar manufacturing operations at its San Diego, California facility in order to improve the cost-base structure of the Solar Energy Division.” Indeed, the company intends to consolidate its manufacturing efforts to “only high-volume manufacturing” at its 280-MW manufacturing plant in San Diego, which opened its doors in late 2012, according to Camille Darnaud-Dufour, vice president of communications. The San Diego plant is currently operating at 140 MW of capacity.

Research and development, marketing and product development will remain at the German site, confirmed Darnaud-Dufour; however, according to Photon, Soitec will lay off around 70 of its 200 workers there.

Soitec has made some recent positive strides lately. It teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems to develop its first four-junction cell (“smart cell”), which scored 43.6 percent efficiency at a concentration factor of 319 suns. CPV technology thrives in areas of high direct solar insolation (DSI), and uses special optics (mirrors or lenses) to concentrate sunlight on these highly efficient photovoltaic cells, which are mounted together on a glass plate and placed on a tracker. Its new “smart cell” is manufactured with what it calls “smart cut” and “smart stack” technology that it says allows cells to stack without lattice matching. It hopes to reach 50 percent efficiency by 2015.

In July, Soitec completed its 1.5-MW Newberry Solar 1 plant in San Bernadino, Calif., the largest CPV plant in the state. In June the company announced a 1-MW pilot project in Saudi Arabia (the country will use the plant to determine future CPV deployment). Soitec is also set to complete its 44-MW plant in South Africa by 2014, which will be the largest CPV plant in the world, and some of its modules will be shipped there from its San Diego facility. 

CPV technology is well-suited for areas close to Soitec's Calif. plant, and it is eager to break into surrounding markets (it recently installed pilot projects in Chile). "We are already very active in the San Diego area and in Latin America," said Darnaud-Dufour. "[Soitec] technology is best where DNI is high, [the] sun belt and Chile are very good examples."

Soitec’s full restructuring plan is “still in discussion,” and Darnaud-Dufour noted that more information would become available in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for updates. 

Read more solar energy news here.

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