Silfab's hopes of reaching 22 percent cell efficiency

In an interview, Franco Traverso states that the key to staying competitive, particularly in the face of Asian manufacturers, is to keep increasing cell efficiency. In terms of Silfab, the company has invested over USD$2 million to improve the efficiency of its solar cells, in collaboration with German laboratory, ISC.

"We have already achieved very interesting results," says Traverso, "and are exceeding on a commercial basis 20 percent cell efficiency. We think that before the end of this year, it will be over 22 percent. Additionally, our lab tests have already shown a whopping increased efficiency of 21 percent for monocrystalline cells. According to our plans, we should be able to implement the first monocrystalline solar cells production pilot line featuring 22 percent increased efficiency in 2012."

In addition to increased efficiency, Traverso believes that automization and optimizing the value chain are key factors for staying competitive. "The way to remain competitive for a western, or let us say, non-Chinese producer is to (…) be vertically integrated," he explains. "In my area, I see that many companies are not vertically integrated. We will see in the next future that those groups or companies, which are vertically integrated, will suffer much less from price fluctuations, and in terms of raw material quality – that is a problem that occurred during 2008 and 2010."

Another goal of Silfab’s is to build the first fully integrated PV value chain in North America. When asked how near the company is to achieving this, the Silfab president tells pv magazine: "This is something that we will see in the next 12 months. We will probably set up solar cell manufacturing over there within the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012, but much will depend on how the market will unfold in Ontario." The right scenario, he says, which would prompt Silfab to open a cell factory, is a growing market with the domestic content rule not only in Canada, but also in the U.S. "That says there will be job creation and high quality production, and that is the only way to create jobs in North America."

New tracker line

The company has already established itself in Ontario, with the opening of a Canadian subsidiary, Silfab Ontario, in addition to setting up a 180 megawatt (MW) PV module manufacturing facility. The plant’s total capacity is expected to be deployed in two phases: phase 1, scheduled to be completed on March 19, will see a capacity of 60 MWs a year achieved, while phase 2, will reach full capacity. Traverso says the plan is to realize this within 2011. ?

Silfab also intends to install PV projects in the region, starting this year. "We are joint venturing with our EPC contractor in Italy, with whom we have already built several solar parks," says Traverso. "We’re going to launch a product in Ontario for deploying our technology – solar trackers and solar farms. In 2011, we will probably go for the first five to ten megawatts of ground mounted solar parks in Ontario." Although the company has not signed any contracts, he is confident that one will be signed soon. He adds that Silfab will partner with locally-based companies, which provide services and maintenance to the solar farms.

Furthermore, Silfab Ontario is in the process of installing a new assembly line of solar trackers in the region, which is expected to become operative in the second quarter of this year. The new trackers will serve both the Canadian and U.S. markets.

US manufacturing base?

Does the company have plans to set up manufacturing bases anywhere else? "For the time being, we will concentrate on Ontario, but we will see in the next 12 months if the market in the U.S. will further develop – it might be that we will set up a new entity in the there too," explains Traverso. "But, it depends on the political situation, i.e. if the market conditions for renewable energy become more favorable, and whether state or national U.S. administrations implement new incentive programs, i.e. domestic content requirements, feed-in-tariffs, etc., which are geared to substantially promote solar energy’s growth in the country.

"Should this happen in the near future, Silfab might decide to open a new solar cell manufacturing plant in the U.S. with a capacity of at least 100 MWs – the minimum capacity we believe is required to compete in today’s economy."

In addition to installing PV in Ontario, the company also has a 100 MW project pipeline in Europe. Traverso says that 70 percent of the projects, mostly based in Italy, will be realized this year, although he is confident that the entire 100 MWs will be installed.

Watch out for the next edition of pv magazine, which includes the full interview.