Change of focus for Applied Materials

Applied Materials (AM) is changing its business setup. It seems the SunFab line for the manufacture of thin film silicon modules is hardly selling any more. For this reason, the PV supplier will not be offering machines in future.

“We are going to concentrate on facilities producing crystalline silicon solar cells,” CEO Michael Splinter told the Financial Times Deutschland’s Monday edition. He imagines this will generate better business, given the stronger demand for classical silicon solar modules. Until now, Applied Materials had, according to the report, delivered a total of 15 “SunFab” lines to eleven customers. However, two PV manufacturers – Signet Solar and Sunfilm – were forced announce their insolvency due to a lack of commissions.

Experts see a general problem for producers of thin film. In contrast to the manufacturers of crystalline PV products, they have been able to reduce their production costs less dramatically and have, for this reason, fallen behind the competition.

Despite huge hopes, silicon thin film has not been able to establish itself on the market. According to a report of the European Commission’s Joint Research Institute, the circa 150 thin film firms have a market share of around 20 percent worldwide. As the report has it, 1,500 megawatts (MW) of the total of 7,400 MW of newly installed PV capacity in 2009 were thin film modules.

First Solar took up around three quarters of that with its cadmium telluride base panels.“There is no new investment in thin-film silicon at the moment,” the FTD quoted Arnulf Jäger-Waldau of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

However, this is not always the case, as various key industry players have proved. In addition to Oerlikon solar presenting its new "ThinFab" line at this year’s EU PVSEC in Valencia, Spain, companies like Sharp, Nexpower and Inventux are also currently making substantial investments in the thin film silicon sector.