Exclusive Isofotón interview: Direct competition with Chinese manufacturers

Mr. Serrano, last autumn the Spanish photovoltaic market largely collapsed and the financial and economic crisis brought Isofotón to the brink of bankruptcy. Where does Isofotón stand today?

Things did indeed look bleak at the end of 2009; Isofotón had more than 300 million euros in outstanding bank loans and production had to be drastically curtailed. This June, the new owners contributed more than fifty million euros in capital and substantially strengthened the company. Now we are free from debt and able to further develop our business worldwide, as well as pursue new projects, since the debt of 300 million will be assigned to the balance of the former owners.

How has the capacity utilization of your production facilities developed?

Currently our production line in Spain is working at full capacity with an output of 120 megawatts (MW). In 2011, we want to extend this to an annual capacity of 230 MWs and within the next three years develop our annual production capacity of 500 MWs.

Exclusively at your past production location in Madrid?

Our main manufacturing site will remain here in Spain, but we also want to open a factory in China in 2012. However, the modules produced in Asia will be sold exclusively on the Asian market where Affirma has had numerous close contacts for years and was, among other things, a partner in the Chinese GCL Group when it came to last year’s realization of the largest solar park in China with its 20 MWs. Affirma also supplied the trackers for the project. TopTec also maintains close business contacts with China.

How do you plan to keep up in the company with the very large Chinese manufacturers of crystalline solar modules such as Suntech, Yingli or Trina Solar?

We realize that we are competing directly with Chinese manufacturers. But our strength lies in quality, not quantity. That is why we are gradually increasing our research and development activities, while enhancing the quality of our products. In September at the EU PVSEC in Valencia, Spain, we presented our best performing ISF-240 crystalline module with an increased efficiency of 14.5 percent and an output of 240 watts. By using three instead of the usual two conductive strips, the losses caused by electrical resistance are minimized and thermal dissipation improved by means of a new circuit and a waterproof wiring box. In addition, the ISF–240 has a new anodized aluminum frame with a protective layer of twenty micrometers in thickness which prevents corrosion.

What about product warranties and service?

This year we increased our product warranty from five to ten years and recently began to offer a 25-year linear performance guarantee. In the first year, 97 percent performance is guaranteed and the degradation amounts to 0.7 percent per year at the most for up to 25 years. Thus, contrary to conventional graduated warranties on the market, we assure that the module will generate more than eighty percent of its power output even after 25 years. Furthermore, we are continuing to expand our sales and service network, for example in Germany.

Apart from Germany, which export markets are you focusing on in particular?

We are concentrating on global markets such as France and Italy, where Isofotón has maintained a branch office since the year 2003, but also promising markets such as in Greece and Israel. The Chinese and Asian domestic markets are becoming more and more interesting, and we are also paying more attention to North America and Africa. For instance, we have projects with more than three MWs output in the pipeline in Tunisia and Algeria alone; and in Mozambique we have now been commissioned by the National Energy Fund for five projects for rural electrification, which amount to a total of six million euros. Our local partner is Mocitaly Lda, a company with which we also cooperate in other countries in the region. We are also involved in the area of high concentration photovoltaics (HCPV) in countries such as Morocco. At the end of September, we started a new HCPV test field there together with ONE, the national power supplier.

Aside from conventional photovoltaic technology, what roles do HCPV and concentrating solar power (CPV) play for Isofotón?

We are strongly committed to these technologies and cooperate with a half dozen other companies in the CPV consortium, and we are also involved in the Spanish test field ISFOC. HCPV and CPV have a lot of potential in many southern countries that have high levels of solar irradiation and a large share of direct sunlight.