Product differentiation highlighted as key survival tool at Intersolar Europe


The sun was beating down on the last day of Intersolar Europe 2012. While the halls were relatively quiet in comparison to day two, there was still a definite buzz surrounding the event. In addition to storage, inverters and product differentiation took center stage.

As pv magazine editor, Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger reported earlier today, inverters are currently a hot topic. Kostal's Markus Vetter highlighted their importance, which has risen due to the fact storage and grid regulation have become such key industry issues. Inverters, he said, have the potential to be the remote controls to steer this direction.

Meanwhile, speaking to pv magazine, Chris Beitel, business development manager from silicon cell and module manufacturer, Silevo underlined the importance of offering a differentiated product. This was also underscored by Panasonic's Christian Comes, yesterday. Looking around Intersolar, Beitel said, the majority of modules available offer little differentiation, discounting the brand name attached. However, many believe that it is essential, in order to survive the current difficult market conditions.

Silevo, headquartered in California with manufacturing operations in China’s Hangzhou, is preparing the first phase of its new Triex solar cell line. Combining a n-type silicon substrate, with thin film passivation and semiconductor oxide, Beitel said the company’s cells offer high performance – pilot tests have achieved an efficiency of over 21 percent – with low cost.

Silevo is currently in the process of setting up a 32 megawatt (MW) production line. With just six core steps, he explained the company has achieved a low CAPEX manufacturing model, allowing for production costs of US$0.98 or €0.75 per Watt. As such, he said, the company can offer similar efficiencies to SunPower, but without such high costs. In the next three years, when Silevo ramps up capacity, it hopes to achieve cell production costs of $0.60 per Watt.

The second phase is expected to see the company ramping up to around 220 MW. The production location is still undecided, but Beitel said regions outside of China are being considered, including in Europe and the U.S. The fact that the cell offers differentiation, he said, means there are fewer survival concerns with manufacturing outside of Asia. A final decision is expected to be announced by this September or October.

In terms of modules, he said OEM manufacturer, BP SunOasis will package Silevo's cells. In the future, the company will also manufacture some modules in house, but it will retain OEM operations, since it is relatively cheap to ship large volumes of cells abroad and then have them assembled into a module locally. Module efficiencies are expected to reach between 17.5 and 18.5 percent. Overall, US$55 million has been raised by the company in two financing rounds.

Trade case

Taiwanese cell manufacturer, TSEC Corporation said that since the preliminary dumping determination, it has seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in orders from Chinese companies. This, said Robin Chien, has been seen by most of the Taiwan-based manufacturers. However, he doesn't expect the boost to last for long – just three to six months. Going forward, he said, Chinese manufacturers will look for other solutions, including opening up other manufacturing locations or partnering with other firms outside of China.

TSEC suffered in the last two quarters of 2011, due to the cheap cell prices being sold on the market. However, in the first two quarters of 2012, the company has seen an upturn. It is currently planning to ramp up capacity, but is finding it difficult to hire workers. It is looking for 100 new factory workers and aims to ramp up capacity to 500 MW in July. After this, it will consider increasing this to 750 MW, depending on the market circumstances.

On display for the first time were the company's new PID-resistant Sigma T Series solar cells, which include 6" multi-crystalline, 6" mono-crystalline and 6" mono-like cells. Every cell coming off TSEC's production line is now said to be PID resistant.

Football and parties

Today, pv magazine, along with sponsor, Suntech, announced the winner of pv magazine's e-scooter solar superhero campaign. Congratulations to Mert Sayli, who won an e-scooter after correctly answering that a c-Si photovoltaic installation in Southern Europe has an approximate energy payback time of 24 months.

With a nod to the UEFA Euro 2012, many stands were equipped with football paraphernalia and a number of visitors could be heard cheering as table football tournaments got underway. As aforementioned, the halls were quieter today, perhaps due to the many stand parties which took place last night. The Upsolar beach party was particularly well attended, as was ReneSola's evening event in Munich's town center.

Although the final visitor numbers are yet to be confirmed, it is obvious they were lower than in previous years. Despite this, the event can most definitely be thought of as a success, with many remarking on the high quality visitor numbers.

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