Intersolar Europe: utilization rates high, for some

20. June 2013 | Intersolar 2013, Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Intersolar Europe | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Manufacturers at Intersolar Europe are reporting high utilization rates at facilities thanks in large part to booming business in Japan.

Intersolar Europe 2013

Some booths at Intersolar Europe have welcomed very large crowds, while others have experienced sparse traffic.

As the second day of the Intersolar Europe trade show wound down, some manufacturers have reported high utilization rates at their facilities. Hanwha Q CELLS CEO Charles Kim said that its cell and module operations in Germany and Malaysia were running at 100% capacity, a marked turnaround from when the company was sliding into insolvency in 2012. Japan's Solar Frontier described its operations as running at "full blast."

In October 2012, Korean Hanwha SolarOne completed its acquisition of German cell and module manufacturer Q CELLS. Since then, the company has been able to ramp up its production back to enviable utilization rates, allowing it to reduce manufacturing costs.

Hanwha Q CELLS CEO Charles Kim told pv magazine on Thursday that the company had seen buyers regain confidence in the company since the acquisition of the German manufacturer by the Hanwha Group's solar operations.

Hanwha Q CELLS' sales are understood to have dropped off when the firm was in insolvency. In 2013, by contrast, Kim said the company has seen "strong sales" in Europe and the U.S. and in the booming Japanese market. "As Q CELLS came out of insolvency our customers' confidence in Q CELLS was restored." Kim said that in North America, Hanwha Q CELLS was supplying modules through its well established project development and EPC business.

Japan is also providing strong demand for Hanwha Q CELLS. Kim said that the company is set to supply 300 MW of photovoltaic cells and modules to Japan, almost one-third of its output. "Japan is a big market for us and we are fully leveraging the Hanwha network in Japan." Various business units of the Hanwha Group have had offices in Japan for more than 30 years.

Kim cited his personal experience of doing business with the Japanese trading company Marubeni. "When I was a department head at Hanwha, many years ago, I was in charge of purchasing technology from Marubeni. We have that kind of relationship," said Kim. On Wednesday Hanwha announced that it had signed a deal to supply 82 MW to Marubeni for a project near the town of Oita.

Still looking at Japan, domestic thin film producer Solar Frontier has told pv magazine that not only is it running at full capacity, but that its modules are sold out through the second quarter of 2014. Atsuhiko Hirano, director of global sales and marketing, said that while there are some modules in the company's warehouses, they are fully accounted for. Solar Frontier is operating its 900 MW Kunitomi facility and two smaller older fabs.

Hirano said that over 80% of the companies production was being sold in the Japanese market.

"We are producing in mass production at full blast," said Hirano. When asked whether this means Solar Frontier is on the path to post a profit in 2013, Hirano replied that he was confident that would occur. "If I say definitely then I am going over the edge of what my capacity is," said Hirano, "but we are on the right path." In the first quarter of 2013 Solar Frontier posted a profit in its project development business and Hirano added that the company's production and project business will likely have turned a profit by year's end.

Solar Frontier is producing modules with 14.7% from its gigawatt-scale facilities at present. Hirano said he was not concerned by the high efficiency of champion modules produced by rivals. When the Intersolar Europe opened its doors this week, CIGS rival TSMC announced that it had produced a champion module with 15.6% efficiency.

Wolfgang Lange, Solar Frontier's European head, added that he's happy to see others advance the cause of CIGS technology. "If other companies join the club to promote CIS, then we welcome it!" Solar Frontier refers to its thin film semiconductor technology as CIS, despite the presence of gallium.

The Intersolar Europe trade show concludes on Friday. 

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