177W modules rolling off Solar Frontier’s production lines


While many photovoltaic module manufacturers, and particularly the thin film producers, suffer under the weight of market oversupply, Solar Frontier has been enjoying being located in the center of the booming Japanese market. The company has maintained its R&D programs and has recorded a new 177W module record.

The record was achieved recently and announced during Thin Film Week in Berlin, Germany.

Solar Frontier also announced a second milestone, during Sugiyama’s presentation. He said that Solar Frontier has now produced 1 GW in cumulative output from its manufacturing hub in Miyazaki, in Japan’s south. While the 900 MW Kunitomi plant contributed considerably to this achievement, output from the company’s two far smaller fabs was included in the 1 GW cumulative production figure.

Last month, Solar Frontier said it had restarted production at its 60 MW Miyazaki No.2 plant, after closing it only months previously. "We decided to restart the older fab," Sugiyama told pv magazine. "There is the Japanese market of course."

Sugiyama would not be drawn as to what utilization rate or annual output the company was currently operating at, other than to say that the fab is in full operation and that all lines are running.

The 177W module was realized in part due to Solar Frontier’s continuing R&D efforts, explained Sugiyama. He pointed to the company’s R&D base in Atsugi, 60km outside of Tokyo as being responsible for the efficiency progress. In Atsugi the company operates a laboratory and pilot plant.

"We will develop a process in our laboratory with a smaller scale substrate and we will verify that process in a pilot plant which can process up to the same format as the (production) product," said Sugiyama, explaining the process. He added that this results in shorter lead times for improvements or innovations.

In terms of cost reductions, the diminutive technologist pointed to reducing material costs as a way to make progress in that area. "At the same time we are improving efficiency because that is the easiest way to reduce the costs, you don’t have to change anything about the component," said Sugiyama.

In terms of the Japanese market, Sugiyama told pv magazine that it has not been difficult for the company to develop its downstream business channels. He noted that, at least in the rooftop space, Solar Frontier had been involved in installations since the 1980s. "We have been in this business for at least the last 20 years," he said. "So we have dealer channels and a strong network in the downstream business especially for the rooftop business in Japan."