TSMC: Making a market entry

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While many photovoltaic manufacturers are struggling to turn a profit, or even stay afloat amongst mounting losses, you could be forgiven for thinking this is the worst time to be entering the market. But that’s exactly what TSMC Solar is doing, showing off its new CIGS modules at the Intersolar Europe trade show and commencing shipments.

The company has entered the photovoltaic market with big plans and ambitions but also with a cautious approach. "It’s a good time to be small at the moment," said Stephen McKenery, the Managing Director of TSMC GmbH. At present, TSMC’s Taiwanese fab is tooled for 100 megawatts (MW) of production, however there is space for it to be ramped to gigawatt (GW) scale. McKenery told pv magazine that the present roadmap is for the company to reach one GW of production capacity by early 2016

Director of Marketing and Business Operations Marc Spaulding elaborated that while other manufacturers may have had the jump on TSMC Solar, in getting into photovoltaics earlier, the long-term outlook and support of its parent company means that there isn’t immediate pressure to turn a profit. "We have a couple of hundred million dollars of paid-in capital. So we didn’t start out with a small amount. And the parent company knows that solar is a long-term story not a short-term story."

While shipments began last quarter, TSMC Solar is currently attempting to build bankability and track record with its modules in various markets and climates. Spaulding confirmed that TSMC buildings themselves would be some of the first larger rooftop projects for the company, with the projects totaling 500 kilowatts (kW) to one MW in 2012. There are certainly a number of large new roofs to choose from with TSMC spending billions of dollars each year on new facilities.

Other than the sheer size of the TSMC semiconductor parent company – which has a market capitalization of around US$75 billion – Spaulding and McKenery were also keen to point out that the process knowledge of the in-house engineering team has also been of great assistance when setting up the new fab.

TSMC licensed the CIGS technology it is employing from U.S. developer Stion, in a US$50 million deal in 2011.

While concluding his conversation with pv magazine, McKenery showed optimism and even excitement in meeting the challenges of getting the modules in fields and onto roofs in Europe, Asia and North America and said that it will be a case of building reputation installation after installation. "We have low key approach, to back [our reputation] up with the technology and the product. Not boasting about what we’re going to do but doing it."