Oerlikon Solar has cut customers' costs to "well under" USD$1 per watt

When asked what Oerlikon Solar has done to improve its equipment, which produced panels for about USD$1.30 per watt last year and USD$1.50 per watt in 2008, Mr. O’Brien said that aside from improved module design and laser scribing, Oerlikon replaced the reflector sheet embedded in the module for a better one that reflects more photons into the silicon layers and that doesn’t require a layer of white paint.

That change, he said, delivered a three percent gain in power and eliminated the painting step, therefore saving labor and reducing back-end materials costs for the reflector layer by 30 percent.

More reflection allows Oerlikon to reduce the thickness of panels’ silicon layers, which in turn enables its customers to deposit the layers more quickly and produce more panels in less time. In a process called light-induced degradation, amorphous-silicon panels usually degrade about 15 percent in the first 1,000 hours of exposure to sunlight, then stabilize. A thinner silicon layer reduces that initial degradation to about 10 percent, so that a 100-watt panel coming off the assembly line, for example, could be sold as a 90-watt panel instead of an 85-watt panel, he continued.

He went on to explain to pv magazine that the company additionally rejigged the design of the deposition clusters so that three deposition tools fit in a cluster, instead of two, boosting the deposition capacity – and throughput – by 50 percent. It also saved space by putting pumps and vacuum equipment on top of the deposition chamber instead of next to it, cutting the required floor space in half.

"We’ve been using the quiet time in the market to make improvements in our technology," he said. "Obviously the pressure’s still intense – our customers need to compete with Yingli and Trina. But we’re pretty confident that our roadmap will enable our customers to remain competitive in the market."