How does that additional 72 MW of cadmium-telluride thin-film PV module-making capacity planned by First Solar for its Perrysburg, OH, facilities stack up against the rest of the CdTe competition's current production levels? According to recent data compiled by NREL and presented at Intersolar North America/Semicon West, First's extra chunk of factory output would exceed the total megawatt-nameplate of AVA Solar, PrimeStar, Calyxo/Q-Cells, Antec, Avendi, and ASP combined. The same data show the CdTe Gang of Six Followers projected to reach 280 MW by 2010--by which time First will have passed the gigawatt mark.
One of those CdTe wannabe players, Calyxo, has apparently hit some bumps in its manufacturing ramp, according to information revealed in Q-Cells' first-half 2008 financial report issued last week. The German company, better known for its crystalline-silicon solar cell prowess, owns 93% of Calyxo (bought from US-based Solar Fields a few years ago, although the American unit still does R&D).
The CdTe concern makes up part of Q-Cells' overall thin-film technology platform that also includes equity interest and ownership in associated companies working on copper indium gallium (di)selenide (Solibro), micromorph silicon (Sontor), crystalline silicon on glass (CSG), and a-Si on flexible plastic (VHF-Technologies/Flexcell).
Q-Cells said in its ad hoc announcement (still don't get what's ad hoc about such carefully worded releases) that "with regard to the new technologies, a total production volume in all thin-film subsidiaries of between 10 and 20 MWp is expected for 2008 (previously [projected] between 25 and 50 MWp) due to the delayed production start-up, particularly at Calyxo" [emphasis added]. The company noted in its most recent overview report that the "optimization of [Calyxo's] first line" will continue "until the end of 2008," with the "ramp-up of the next line (60 MWp) starting from mid-2009."
The same report shows the efficiency of CdTe cells manufactured using Calyxo's atmospheric (as in nonvacuum) vapor deposition process still badly trail First Solar's module numbers. Although the Q-Cells' quasi-unit has seen lab efficiencies around 16%, its "current best own modules" aperture area figure is 6.5% and its short- to midterm module target range is 7-10%, as long as "normal expected" yields, uptimes, throughputs, and generally stable operating conditions prevail.
Calyxo figures it can break even with about 6% efficiencies, but what good is that if your big, market-leading competitor can achieve at least that level of conversion prowess on its worst factory-performance day? First Solar's chairman/CEO Michael Ahearn said in the most recent conference call that the company's average module conversion efficiencies were up to 10.7% for the quarter.
It doesn't take an Olympic gymnastics judge to see that 4.2% is a huge conversion-efficiency gap to overcome for Calyxo--and food for thought for any other CdTe early stager trying to get into the game.
Q-Cells capacity ramp plans for the next few years are aggressive on both its core cSi business and its thin-film forays. By the end of 2010, the company says it will have more than 2.5 GWp of total capacity, of which over 400 MW will come from the various TFPV concerns--including at least 85 MW from Calyxo. But as long as there are delays in qualifying the manufacturing process at its 25-MW pilot line, the likelihood of Calyxo adding its first volume plant (60 MW) by the end of 2009 remains in doubt.
As for other CdTe followers, AVA Solar claims it will have its pilot line up and running the second half of this year, with its volume production facility ready to go in 2009. PrimeStar, flush with resources from its now-majority owner General Electric, hasn't offered specifics of the company's production roadmap, other than to say it's in a "rapid ramp." Other players, such as Antec and Avendi, have been missing in action of late.
So the question remains: which of the CdTe Gang of Followers will be the first to offer a serious, production-worthy, commercial alternative to First Solar?