Big leap forward for Oerlikon thin-film solar technology
Pfäffikon SZ, December 6, 2006 - Oerlikon Solar has been awarded a contract totalling CHF 320 million from German API GmbH in Offenbach. The order includes eight Kai 1200 systems, 40 laser scribing and 16 TCO systems as well as the associated processing equipment. Oerlikon Solar will supply turnkey production systems with an annual produced capacity of 160 MW. API will use these systems to construct the largest European plant for the manufacture of thin-film solar modules in Germany. API is backed by a group of Saudi investors who are entering the future market of thin-film solar power with this initial investment.
The expansion of Oerlikon's new solar business is exceeding all expectations. This division, which was only founded in early 2006, has already posted major orders from Schott Solar GmbH as well as ErSol Thinfilm GmbH with an order volume of over CHF 100 million. "The present order brings us into entirely new dimensions, both in sheer investment volume as well as in the customer base," says Thomas Limberger, CEO of Oerlikon. "This order also demonstrates the potential of Oerlikon thin-film technology, with its powerful growth rate and profit margins high up in the two-digit range."
The strong demand for production units for thin-film solar modules with amorphous silicon is based on the many advantages of this technology, both compared with conventional silicon cells as well as with other thin-film technologies. "We performed a detailed evaluation of a wide range of solar technologies, and the decision for Oerlikon's amorphous silicon thin-film technology was clear," explains Ekram Saleh, managing director of API. In comparison with conventional solar cells, which must be manufactured as ultrapure silicon, the thin-film technology uses 200 times less of the raw material. All of the materials in the thin-film module of amorphous silicon are environmentally compatible. In addition, large areas of 1.4 square meters can be processed by vapour deposition and fabricated in solar modules in a fully automated process. Overall, this technology results in tremendous commercial advantages: the energy costs for the clean thin-film technology are up to 40% lower than those for the currently common solar cells.
"Based on this technology, solar power also represents a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels or nuclear power over the long term," Saleh says.
Oerlikon is the sole supplier worldwide for turnkey production facilities for thin-film solar modules, covering the entire value chain from pretreatment of the glass substrate through coating to assembly of the modules. In order to also cover the process step of laser scribing with its own technology and equipment, Oerlikon acquired the English company Exitech a few days ago (see press release of December 5, 2006). Laser scribing is the key step of subdividing the coated glass surface into individual solar cells and configuring them in a functional module.
Oerlikon Solar already has a leading role in the future market of solar power with its amorphous silicon technology. This will be further supported by the next product generation currently being developed to industrial market maturity, multicrystalline thin-film technology (MyCSi). "This further improves our technological lead over the competition, especially from the USA," states Oerlikon CEO Limberger. With higher efficiencies of over 10%, multicrystalline solar modules achieve the levels of conventional solar cells at considerably lower manufacturing costs. The production facilities for amorphous and multicrystalline thin-film solar modules are compatible enabling the operators to retrofit their systems. The production systems for multicrystalline thin-film modules at Oerlikon Solar are currently undergoing industrial trials, with market introduction planned for the second half of 2007. "We have an excellent strategic position in this high-growth, billion-dollar market," says Limberger.