The plant, located outside the city of Miyazaki in Japans south, is the largest CIS factory in the world. The first modules from the plant were shipped in February 2011, after a construction and fit-out time of 16 months. The Solar Frontier production team has been incrementally increasing the production output of the plant over the previous six months.
Solar Frontiers Brooks Herring told pv magazine that the short timeline, from investment to all lines being in commercial production, is significant. "Clearly theres a sense of pride, we took the investment decision on this in September of 2010, so less than two years later were now up and running. All lines are in commercial production so a big sense of pride when you see the end of result."
The highly mechanized plant employs 800 people and, when in full production, this means that per employee over one megawatt (MW) of CIS thin-film modules are produced. Representing a 100 billion Yen ($1.28 billion) investment the plant, called Kunitomi, is an ambitious move. Solar Frontier is not only backing its ability to design, build and operate an efficient module plant but also on its CIS thin-film technology.
150W modules, at 12.2 percent efficiency, produced at the plant were made commercially available earlier this month, although the average watt performance of the Kunitomi modules is between 140W-145W. The company claims that an enhanced overall output level – per kilowatt hour (kWh) – can be achieved by Solar Frontier modules due to the modules lower heat coefficient and resilience to low light or shading. A "light soaking" effect, where the output of the panels increases after a period of exposure to light, is also a factor to the higher kWh output claimed by Solar Frontier.
Earlier this week the company also announced that Munich Re has provided warranty insurance for its modules worldwide. This is the first time Munich Re has done so for a Japanese solar panel manufacturer.