Solar Frontier's 'next gen' fab on track

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Solar Frontier is on track to see 15% CIGS modules beginning to roll of production lines at its new 150 MW fab in as little as five months. While the MP4 Tohoku facility and expansion of Solar Frontier’s manufacturing capacity may be small compared to the GW-scale expansions currently underway amongst some Chinese c-Si producers, the company reports that manufacturing process evolution employed in the fab will result in reduced production costs and an improved product.

“The Tohoku Plant manufacturing process… [employs improvements in] the formation of the CIGS absorption layer (the heart of CIS thin-film modules), the patterning process, and electrode formation,” says Satoru Kuriyagawa, Solar Frontier’s CTO. “With significant advances in all areas, this factory delivers faster, more compact and more efficient production, in turn enabling significant cost reductions.”

Module voltage and current improvements have also been delivered by the new processes being employed, reports Solar Frontier, resulting in more flexible system design and the efficient cabling and wiring of arrays.

Solar Frontier CEO Atsuhiko Hirano, in an interview with pv magazine featured in the September edition of pv magazine, said that the MP4 Tohoku plant is set to deliver cost reductions of about one-third.

“Its [the Tohoku fab’s] production is more efficient,” said Hirano. “We can reduce the cost both in terms of capex and opex. In addition to smaller capex, production efficiency is also being increased, so the opex is smaller too.”

IHS figures have Solar Frontier’s production costs at slightly less than $0.80/W, however it is difficult to ascertain exact costs as it is not something that Solar Frontier is willing to reveal.

Blueprint for expansion

Solar Frontier plans for the Tohoku fab to be a blueprint for future facilities to be established outside of Japan. The company is currently conducting a feasibility study into establishing a factory in New York State and has long been active in the MENA region – which could also potentially be a location for expansion.

Solar Frontier vice president Brooks Herring told pv magazine, at the recent SPI trade show, that the decision to build the Tohoku fab had not been an entirely political one. While the location of the facility and the availability of municipal incentives had factored in the company’s decision, it was always a part of Solar Frontier’s plans to expand its operations with a new fab design.

Currently Solar Frontier operates approximately 1 GW of manufacturing, with the bulk coming from its 900 MW nameplate Kunitomi fab. Solar Frontier intends to ostensibly supply the commercial and residential rooftop markets in Japan with the output of its new facility.