Sliver Cell Plant Online, but Fighting Diesel Tax

Launching their monocrystalline Sliver cell technology at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference wasn’t enough excitement this year for the Australian company Origin Energy. Then, they opened the doors to their AUD$20 million (US $14.4 million) solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing facility for the technology in Regency Park, and plan to have their first solar panels available early in 2005.

Regency Park, Australia – July 14, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] The company’s sliver cells were developed in conjunction with the Australian National University’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems. Its promise lies in producing power from dramatically less silicon, the most expensive raw material for solar PV. According to Origin Enerrgy, the Sliver technology uses 90 percent less silicon than current conventional solar PV modules. For example, to produce 140 W of power, the sliver cell technology only uses the equivalent amount of silicon that would normally be used in the production of two traditional monocrystalline cells. A conventional solar module putting out 140 watts would use the equivalent amount of silicon spread out over 60 wafers to achieve similar performance. The manufacturing technology reduces costs by using less expensive silicon for similar efficiency and power output, and needing less capital to build a solar panel plant of similar capacity. The cells are micro-machined before they are assembled in a method similar to what’s used to make conventional solar panels. A grant for AUD$1 million from the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Office helped to fund the project. Designed to produce up to 5MW of PV modules per year initially, the plant will be readily expandable to 25MW per year should it meet all design objectives and prove Sliver technology can be applied at a mass produced scale. “We were very excited earlier this month when the launch of our technology at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Paris generated great international interest. Companies want to market our product as well as develop the full application potential,” Executive General Manager Andrew Stock said. Stepping on the company’s shiny solar coat tails, however, was the Australian Government’s proposal to reduce or eliminate many of the diesel fuel excise taxes between 2006 and 2012. Diesel fuel used for on-road vehicles and off-road machinery will get gradual reductions over the six-year plan. Excise taxes on fuel used by people living in remote locations for heating and electricity will be eliminated by 2006. PV technology has started to compete with diesel fuel in these locations, but Rod Meyer, who is a reporter for the Australian news source “The Age”, stated that the country’s “developing solar power industry faces significant cutbacks as a result of the Federal Government’s decision to remove diesel excise for stationary diesel generators.” Rebates from the Australian government are still in available for people who own PV systems at AUD$4.00 per watt up to $4,000, as advertised on Origin’s Web site. But any momentum the solar industry might have gained is threatened by reduced diesel costs. Meyer interviewed Phil Mackey, who is the clean energy chief for Origin, and Mackey said that the future of the new sliver cell production plant is in doubt because of the tax reform.
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