Semi to solar: Kyocera’s mc-Si outlook, SEMI’s call for collab, IMEC’s microtrend roadmap

There are many opportunities in every part of the PV value chain to reduce cost, all of which will be needed to wean the industry off government subsidies, Kyocera Solar president Steve Hill, told attendees of MEPTEC’s recent Semiconductor to Solar symposium. Others sharing ideas with PV World were PV Group’s Bettina Weiss and IMEC’s Philippe Jansen.

December 1, 2009 – There are a lot of opportunities in every part of the PV value chain to reduce cost, all of which will be needed to wean the industry off government subsidies, Kyocera Solar president Steve Hill, told attendees of MEPTEC’s recent Semiconductor to Solar symposium.

Kyocera sees a world of opportunity; projects a high rate of growth in PV

There are a lot of opportunities in every part of the PV value chain to reduce cost, “especially if we are to get off government subsidies, which we have to do,” Kyocera Solar president Steve Hill told attendees of MEPTEC’s Semiconductor to Solar symposium (Nov. 19, Santa Clara, CA). Among the market growth opportunities he cited were cell/module efficiency gains, manufacturing cost reductions, installed cost reduction, test/certification, and next-generation technology.

For example, Kyocera has a 20% efficiency target for multicrystalline-silicon PV solar cells. The company has R&D projects in thin-film and other cell technologies, “but right now, we believe multi-crystalline silicon delivers the best performance at the lowest manufacturing cost,” Hill noted. The company also believes in using only grade-A polysilicon from semiconductor polysilicon manufacturers. “Other people have tried to use metallurgical grade or solar grade silicon, but we don’t believe you can get the performance you need with that material, after testing it.”

With respect to testing and certification value-chain opportunities, Hill explained that in the US, Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) has been the leading test organization, but now TUV has a US presence, along with other labs getting established and accredited. Still, with many people eyeing the US market, “there is a backlog,” he said. “UL doesn’t have the resources to turn things as quickly as they used to, so the queue at the labs to get new products certified has gone from maybe two months in the past to about six months now — this is a huge issue.”

Distributed generation of energy will also play a major role in the proliferation of solar; therefore, there will be opportunities in the storage technology sector. “Every high-tech company that I know of has made bold announcements about their ‘Smart Grid’ initiatives,” said Hill.

In closing, Hill observed that solar PV energy is gaining increased consumer acceptance, and though California is still the leader in terms of adoption, other states are coming on board. Additionally, the growing focus on updating the US grid infrastructure will create a paradigm shift; utility scale applications could be the largest segment within the next 3-4 years, Hill observed. “There have been over 4GW of announced utility projects in the last 18 months,” he said. “These projects are not just the 1MW or 20MW projects seen in the past, but 200MW PV projects in the US — which three years ago was unheard of.”

Because of Kyocera’s strong belief in the growth rate of solar PV, this year the company started building two new solar factories: a cell factory in Japan, and a panel assembly facility in China, both of which are due to come online in 2010. “None of our other business units have gotten that type of investment,” said Hill. “We know this will be a growth industry for many, many years.”

SEMI PV Group: Get people together

Bettina Weiss, senior director of photovoltaics for SEMI’s PV Group, told PV World that it’s important for SEMI’s members to get people together — continuing the conversation about collaboration, roadmapping, bottlenecks, challenges, and opportunities, throughout the PV supply chain. “Our main focus right now is the manufacturing segment,” she said. “But we need to understand adjacent segments just as much, especially since markets everywhere are policy driven.” Also on SEMI’s plate is assisting members who have to contend with bureaucratic details and obtaining funding. “These are the issues we’re concerned with: dialogue, understanding policy, and what drives market development around the world.”

IMEC: A business model for silicon PV

IMEC principal engineer Philippe Jansen discussed IMEC’s business model to accelerate silicon PV technology. PV roadmap microtrends, as IMEC sees them, are the reduction of substrate costs (i.e., thinner substrates) as well as manufacturing and module costs. “We feel the best way to address these is with open collaboration/innovation among materials suppliers, equipment makers, and module makers,” he told PV World. “By joining in open innovation, they will accelerate the roadmap, so better and cheaper products will be available in the future.” (For more information on IMEC’s solar PV technology, see PV World‘s interview with Jeff Poortmans at IMEC’s annual Tech Forum event in Belgium.)

Power optimization, revisited

Ralf Muenster, director of the renewable energy segment at National Semiconductor, discussed the company’s SolarMagic power optimizer technology. Much of he said, though, was best summed up by his recent online-exclusive feature for Photovoltaics World, which can be read here.

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