Monday, August 9, 2010

SunTech Dumps Thin Film, Wafer Research

This is a reminder that the downward pressure on solar energy is continuing unabated.  Crystalline panels are now at $1.85 a watt.  The next big break, already claimed by some, will be below $1.00 per watt.
It has taken a full thirty years, but it is now becoming ubiquitous and will be now adopted as a matter of convenience during the next decade.
Recall that absorbing and converting solar energy on a building sharply lowers the internal heat load.  It will never be a complete solution, but a tree can drop the air temperature by twenty degrees.  Maybe we can do as well one day.

Suntech Abandons Thin Film, Wafer Experiments
The crystalline silicon giant pays out cash. Why fight crystalline?

Suntech Power Holdings said revenue for the second quarter would come to $620 million to $630 million, higher than the $588 million pulled in in the first quarter and slightly higher than analysts' expectations. Gross revenue will come in at 17.5 percent to 18.5 percent.
The big news, however, is that Suntech expects a loss of $147 million to $179 million. The loss comes due to charges paid to wind down two side experiments: amorphous silicon panels and investment in wafer maker Shunda. Closing down the amorphous project will result in $50 million to $55 million in charges while Suntech will pay $106 million to $126 million to Shunda.
Suntech has experimented with thin film for a while -- and the results haven't been pretty. A big part of the reason has been the decline in crystalline silicon solar panels. Why make less efficient thin films when crystalline panels sell for $1.85 a watt?
Suntech has had three thin film experiments underway. It bought an Applied Materials SunFab system for making amorphous silicon panels. SunFab, however, resulted in high priced amorphous panels that weren't as efficient or cheap as panels made by competing equipment. Several Applied customers had already been experiencing problems when Applied decided to exit thin film itself.
Late last year, Suntech also quietly bought a controlling interest in CSG Solar, which makes crystalline silicon-on-glass modules. In March, Suntech chief marketing officer Steve Chan told us that CSG was being retooled. 
"[CSG] had made product and shipped it commercially, but it is no longer produced because the ASPs [average selling prices] have fallen so low," he said. "They are retooling the product to make it more cost-effective."
CSG had raised $35 million from VCs in 2009 before solar prices plummeted.
In March, Chan told us Suntech had an unnamed thin film project that was incubated in-house.Whether the announcement today impacts all three thin film experiments or just the SunFab amorphous effort is unclear, but there is a good chance that all three don't have long to live.
Branching out doesn't seem to be a company forte at the moment. Gemini Solar, a Suntech joint venture that develops solar power plants, landed a comparatively small 30-megawatt plant announced a little over a year ago, but has largely been inactive since. Gemini has undergone several changes since then too, according to sources, and not for the better. It's hard to say what the scope or target date of that project is. By contrast, First Solar and SunPower have racked up multi-megawatt deals in North America and Europe.

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