Renewable Energy World has an article on a Japanese entrant into the thin film solar market - Solar Frontier Opens Largest Thin-film Plant in the World.
One of the world's largest solar module factories, perched atop the bucolic foothills of West Japan's bamboo and pine-covered mountains, began operating in February.
This fully automated facility – capable of producing about 1 GW of thin-film solar modules – is the result of more than three decades of research and development by an oil company, which hopes to eventually generate 50% of its revenue from sales of renewable energy products and services.
“We won’t take anything less than 10% of global market share” in the next seven years, said Shigeya Kato, chairman of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., which has a 100% subsidy in module factory operator Solar Frontier. “The market has grown so much that even a 1 GW plant capacity won’t reach 10%.”
Solar Frontier said it could eventually build an overseas plant, but it must first prove to Showa Shell’s board of oilmen that its uniquely black solar panels can translate into black gold in the competitive, global thin-film industry.
The company invested 100 billion yen, more than $1 billion, at its Kunitomi plant in Miyazaki Prefecture on the southwest island of Kyushu. Recouping that investment will be challenging, Kato said, because the Yen is trading low compared to the dollar and euro. Further complicating Solar Frontier’s efforts is the weak Japanese economy, which economists say will likely sink deeper into recession in the wake of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that caused an estimated $300 billion in damage. Still, Solar Frontier leaders say demand for solar energy could be a bright story for this struggling country.
Solar Frontier’s Kunitomi factory produces modules that use a version of the copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) technology. More than one-dozen cleantech writers last week toured the factory, which the company claims is capable of producing 112,000 modules (130 W to 150 W each) per week.
In recent press releases, Solar Frontier has said its copper, indium and selenium (CIS) modules are more environmentally friendly than conventional thin-film because they do not use toxics like lead or cadmium. That marketing strategy takes aim at conventional, thin-film panels based on cadmium telluride (CdTe). Squarely in Solar Frontier’s sights is First Solar, the world’s leading thin-film panel manufacturer, which has also invested in bringing to market a competitive CIGS module, though its current modules are based on the CdTe platform.