PV equipment suppliers emphasise cost reductions through new tools

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Schmid Group’s production-ready process for tin busbars, replacing silver, is said to shave 10 percent off of the cost of producing a solar cell, with a return on investment (ROI) within seven to nine months.

Meanwhile, an ROI of three months is possible for ISRA Vision’s electroluminescence (EL) inspection systems for photovoltaic cells and modules, according to the company, while Singulus, partnering with the Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin, has developed a technique that can reportedly increase crystalline silicon solar cell efficiencies to 20.1 percent.

But, in addition to investing in new production tools and inspection technologies to improve yields, increase efficiencies and, in the words of Darren Brown, DEK Alternative Energy Global Business Manager, "increasing miniaturisation of lines to increase output", the photovoltaic equipment segment is shifting more of its production activity to Asia, especially China.

Manz, headquartered in Reutlingen, Germany, now employs more staff in Asia than in Germany with R&D taking place in Taiwan, as well as its home country. The company has just opened a new fab in Suzhou, China, to lower production costs as over 95 percent of its photovoltaics business is now in Asia.

DEK, a U.K.-based supplier of screen printing tools for solar cell production, is also setting up a new location in Suzhou for demonstrators and process development.

The trend is another sign of the industry as a whole struggling to make photovoltaics profitable in very tough times. As one equipment supplier put it, "There is less demand and more companies chasing the business that is there."