Construction Begins on ErSol’s 40 MW Thin-Film Module Plant

A groundbreaking ceremony held this past weekend in Germany officially kicked off construction of a new solar photovoltaic (PV) thin film manufacturing facility.

The facility will be owned and managed by BildErSol Thin Film GmbH (ETF), a subsidiary of ErSol Solar Energy. Once complete in the year 2008, the facility is expected to produce approximately 40 megawatts (MW) of thin-film solar modules. More than Euro 80 million [US$101 million] will be invested in this first stage, which is expected to sustain 120 permanent jobs at the Erfurt site. UNAXIS S.A. of Switzerland, a specialist in thin-film and vacuum deposition technology, will provide manufacturing equipment for the production lines. A production area of about 6,000 square meters (sqm) on a site of approximately 35,000 sqm is due for completion by the summer of 2007. The site includes adequate space for future expansion of production. The medium-term annual capacity target is 100 MW. “We have already received the first enquiries from customers in Germany and abroad,” said Karsten Weltzien, who is one of two managing directors of ETF. “They are proposing to use our thin-film modules for the construction of large greenfield photovoltaic installations.” Weltzien and Dr. Lutz Middlestadt have been with ErSol Solar Energy AG for a number of years. The company trumped up its thin-film approach, as many others have, as being insulated from the silicon supply shortage currently cramping the wider solar PV industry. The active layer of the thin-film module is thinner than that of a traditional crystalline module by more than a factor of 100. The amorphous silicon is applied directly to an approximate 3 mm thick glass substrate with a conductive coating. Compared to conventional crystalline silicon technology, PV thin-film modules based on amorphous silicon thus offer significant potential for the saving of silicon as a scarce raw material. Overall module efficiencies, however, are almost always lower than traditional silicon-dependent crystalline. Regardless, there is considerable interest in these thin-film technologies because of the difficult silicon supply situation. “Amorphous thin-film technology has the potential to achieve an efficiency level of 10 percent and more. Thin-films also offer advantages in terms of costs. By 2010 we are assuming production costs of approximately Euro 2 per Watt peak (Wp) for crystalline modules. By comparison, production costs for thin-film modules could fall substantially below Euro 2 per Wp,” said thin-film specialist Dr. Claus Beneking, who, prior to joining ErSol AG, worked as a scientific assistant at the Julich GmbH Research Center, where he was responsible for setting up and managing a laboratory for silicon thin-film solar cells. ErSol, however, said that thin cell technology is additional to crystalline technology: It cannot replace conventional crystalline cell technology, for example in small PV roof installations, but offers interesting potential for building integration and large systems. “The strengths of this cost-effective technology are clearly evident, the production of thin-film modules on the basis of amorphous silicon is viable and the raw materials used are available in virtually unlimited quantities — in addition to being harmless,” said Beneking, head of ErSol’s New Technologies division.