The Week in Solar

Collection of stories that caught our attention 

Organic Solar cells coming online

  • Hundreds of companies have applied for related patents, with over 1,600 patent applications in Japan alone.

New Polysilicon technologies

  • The standard fabrication for silicon is called the Siemens process. One of the largest silicon makers, Michigan-based Hemlock Semiconductor, has nearly doubled capacity this year to 19,000 tons and will double again by 2011. Siltronic and Samsung started production at a new plant last month. Other large producers are also planning expansions.
  • New Technology #1 Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) says it is the world’s largest provider of solar silicon and PV wafers. The company sold 3,600 tons to PV plants last year and 2,400 tons to electronics fabricators. Rather than the Siemens process, the firm developed a fluidized bed reactor. REC expects to more than double capacity in 2008. Its plans are to focus on solar moving forward, so as current contracts to deliver electronic grade silicon expire, it will move the output to solar.
  • New Technology #2 Reaction Sciences Silicon Products (RSI) won the 2007 MIT Ignite Clean Energy business plan contest for an entirely new way to make silicon crystal at one-third the cost. Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute had this to say about RSI:
  • This new breakthrough process could have a dramatic impact on the cost of future solar cells, accelerating market growth and future grid parity.
  • RSI makes silicon at $7 to $9 per kilogram versus $25 to $30 for a Siemens plant. (Sorry, couldn’t locate a price for a fluidized bed reactor.) Remember: This stuff is selling for $65 to $120 per kilogram, so getting the price down to $7 plus a reasonable profit is going to make a big difference to the price of finished solar cells. The cost of silicon in current PV cells is about $1.50 per watt. RSI claims it can reduce it to 25 cents per watt in five years.
  • RSI’s advanced solution was invented by the company’s chief technology officer, Steven Amendola. He bolted together several standard chemical industry processes that use fairly standard equipment. Nothing too sexy, nothing too risky, just some reliable well-proven workhorses that happen to be a lot cheaper.
  • And the main reason they’re cheaper is that they don’t produce electronic grade silicon. Electronic grade silicon is eight 9’s pure (that is, 99.999999% pure), but solar grade silicon — the “hot dog” grade, if you will — is merely six 9’s pure (or, 99.9999%). Both the Siemens process and REC’s reactor make silicon that is eight 9’s pure. Not only can RSI use simpler, cheaper processing but they can start with a lower cost raw material instead of metallurgical quality silicon.
  • A simpler process means a simpler plant, too, one that can be built in half the time at a much lower cost. RSI expects that a typical 5,000-ton plant can be built in 15 months. Its first plant — a 1,000 ton per year pilot plant in Pennsylvania — has slipped one quarter, as is typical, but should start running this quarter.

Polysilicon prices are already falling in lon-term contracts

  • The current price for polysilicon is as much as $300–400/kg. But with this new capacity coming on-stream, long-term contracts are now being signed at prices nearer $60–70/kg – and we shall see this will start to have a dramatic effect on the cost of PV modules in the future.

National Semi’s device to boost solar efficiencies as much as 45%

  • The module houses intelligent analog ICs and other technical components. This module is connected with each solar cell module (including multiple solar cells) when used. Accordingly, a system combining three solar cell modules in series and two in parallel requires six SolarMagic modules.
  • Using the SolarMagic module can increase the amount of power generated by as much as 45%.
  • The SolarMagic module prevents the solar power system’s power generation from decreasing due to shade caused by buildings and trees, for example. SolarMagic has another effect to minimize the negative impact caused by mismatches among solar cells. A mismatch is the variation of power generation performance among solar cells.

Some useful posts from the message boards

Solar market pricing

  • Solar cell spot pricing has maintained at US$3.50-3.70/W, versus US$2.90-3.40/W for long-term contracts, the industry players observed. For many leading solar cell makers, “spot” transactions may also include sales to existing customers at a higher price, the industry players noted e.g. when customers need additional solar cells over their previously agreed volume, the additional cells are quoted at spot prices.

WRF conference call

  • Matters as a guidance on polysilicon prices, one poster has cut out some valuable pieces. It seems to say that solar growth is strong (no surprise there) but poly prices have topped

The whole transcript is here

Funding needs

  • A take on which solar is in need of funding

LDK pitch, polyplants give it a leg up

  • A nice sales pitch for LDK. If their timing is right and poly prices hold up for a year more or so he has a point. But only as long as poly prices stay high.