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The victory march of thin-film solar technology’s continues

ErSol doubles its thin-film module production capacity thanks to Oerlikon Solar

  • ErSol places further order worth CHF 30 million with Oerlikon Solar
  • It will be the first to receive Oerlikon’s newly developed coating system for transparent conductive oxide (TCO) besides the KAI 1200 production system
  • This raises the relative efficiency ratio of the solar modules by 5-10%.
  • Future-proof high-tech jobs are created in eastern Germany and Switzerland

Dresden, September 5, 2006 – ErSol Thin Film GmbH (ETF), a subsidiary of ErSol Solar Energy AG, today ordered a further production system from Oerlikon Solar for the manufacturing of thin-film solar modules. The order is worth over CHF 30 million. The corresponding contract was signed today by the two CEOs, Karsten Weltzien of ETF and Thomas Limberger of Oerlikon.

“The new production system enables us to double our production capacity for thin-film solar modules to 40 megawatts a year,“ says ETF Head Karsten Weltzien. The order is a testimony to the solar industry’s trust and the high demand for our innovative thin-film technology,” adds Thomas Limberger. Oerlikon is currently the only system manufacturer capable of supplying industrial production systems for thin-film solar modules with complete process technology. The ErSol system is due to be delivered in the first quarter of 2007 and will be ready for production in the third quarter.

ErSol had already placed a first order for a 20 megawatt system worth CHF 33.6 million in March 2006 with an option on further orders. The next large-scale order has now followed just a few months later. “To meet the enormous demand for photovoltaic production, we have decided to invest in additional technology. We are assuming that the share of thin-film technology in the overall PV market will have reached 20% by 2010,” says Dr Claus Beneking, CEO of ErSol Solar Energy AG, explaining the reasoning behind ErSol Group’s decision to engage in this innovative PV technology. “It is crucial for us to be among the technology leaders in the thin-film field right from the start. The cooperation with Oerlikon is the best foundation on which we can achieve this target.”

In parallel with the extension of the production capacity, ErSol’s facilities in Erfurt are set to be expanded. “We are creating future-proof high-tech jobs here in eastern Germany,” points out Dr Claus Beneking. Thin-film solar technology is not only relevant from an ecological point of view, but is also increasingly becoming an important business factor. “The solar market will, in future, be worth billions – and Germany and Switzerland are among the leading players worldwide,” explains Oerlikon’s CEO Thomas Limberger. Oerlikon, too, is expanding its site in Trübbach, Switzerland. The Oerlikon Solar business unit, set up at the beginning of 2006 with a staff of around 28, now has over 130 employees, and further rises are planned.

The ErSol order is a further milestone in the victory march of thin-film technology for solar systems. Oerlikon’s technology has a number of advantages over conventional crystalline cells. First, the thin-film process makes extremely clean silicon wafers redundant. These wafers are rare and expensive, and are likely to stay so in the foreseeable future. Second, the production of solar energy with thin-film modules is far more economical. Production costs can be reduced by over 30% compared to production using conventional crystalline modules. Given the high productivity of Oerlikon Solar’s systems, generating solar power at competitive prices is likely to become feasible in southern regions in the mid-term future. And third, thin-film technology enables the direct production of solar modules measuring 1.4 square meters – a great advantage when it comes to the installation of solar systems and solar parks.

Recent innovations mean that Oerlikon is actually extending its technological lead. With its new TCO system now being produced for ErSol, Oerlikon Solar is the first manufacturer to cover the entire production process from untreated glass to finished solar module. The first process step – the coating of the glass with transparent conductive oxide (TCO) – was hitherto carried out by the glass supplier as an additional service. Oerlikon, however, has the facilities to produce TCO not only more cost-effectively, but also to a considerably higher level of quality. “We are the first system manufacturer in the world that has fully integrated the TCO coating process,” says Oerlikon CEO Thomas Limberger. “Based on this integration, the relative efficiency ratio of the solar module can now be enhanced by 5-10%.”

 

Picture 1: The complex and critical photovoltaic absorber layer is deposited in the KAI 1200 in one process step. In the picture the input chamber which is loaded with 20 glasses before pumping.
Picture 2: The robot unloads the glasses of 1.4 sqm, which have been coated in the KAI 1200 chamber with a silicon absorber layer of less than 0.3 μm.
Picture 3: After coating 28 sqm of coated solar module area are unloaded from the KAI 1200. By parallel processing in the patented PlasmaBox ® reactors perfect film quality is obtained together with highest throughput.
Picture 4: The operator at the controlls in front of the safety fence. The KAI 1200 operates fully automatic in production and is depositing the solar modules at a takt time of less than 2 minutes.
Picture 5: The thin film solar modules are extremly well suited for building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) thanks to their size and attractive look.

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