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South Korea enters PV solar market

Posted: 12 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar cell? photovoltaic market? DRAM?

South Korean display giants including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics will join the global rush to make photovoltaic solar cells starting next year, accelerating a cost reduction drive that some say will look like the DRAM market on steroids.

Korea could deliver more than $8 billion in solar modules generating 2.6GW by 2013, according to market watcher DisplayBank that sponsored a conference on the topic, which led to projections of a coming boom/bust cycle.

"I think you will see a rush to commoditization faster than anything you have seen in electronics previously," said Martin Mesmer, a former solar industry manager who acted as a moderator for some conference sessions.

"We have abundant materials and a process that is rapidly becoming well understood. The differences will be in execution and understanding of the system to reduce costs," he added.

As many as 150 companies are pursuing the emerging market for microcrystalline-based thin film solar cells, said Sean Wang, president of ITRI International, a branch of Taiwan's government-backed technology research institute.

"It's not just the Koreans but the Taiwanese and otherseveryone is looking at what sort of opportunities there are beyond flat-panel displays, and solar is one of the biggest," said Tak Tanaka, a senior director of the display group at Applied Materials which sells gear to make solar cells.

Solar panel drive
The Korean government has been rolling out a rising array of incentives and subsidies to create a domestic market for solar panels. Samsung and LG can address that market leveraging their experience with the large glass substrates used in their 8.5-generation display fabs.

"What we don't know is what solar cell technology they will choose," said Tanaka. "Certainly it will be thin film, but which one? I believe they are still doing feasibility studies," he added.

That leaves the Korean giants significantly behind some fast-moving startups such as Signet Solar, which has raised more than $150 million to outfit its first line in Dresden. It will ship its first 8.5-gen panels in October and is now raising cash for a second Dresden line and plans to start work on a facility in Chennai, India next year.

"This is one industry where scale does matter," said Keshav Prasad, VP of business development for Signet.

The company has already secured contracts for modules capable of generating 150MW. The startup hopes its modules can help drive the cost of installed solar systems down to $3.50/W by 2010 and $2.50/W by 2012, igniting mainstream markets

Despite his company's ambitious goals, Prasad foresees tough times ahead as multiple companies strive to lower costs of solar cells. Tanaka of Applied said Signet is one of four customers currently producing cells with its equipment. Another dozen Applied customers are gearing up plans, he added.

"Coming from the silicon industry we know when there is a boom there will be a bust so we want to have long term partnerships," said Prasad.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times





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