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While First Solar keeps on trucking, others in CdTe thin-film PV pack keep on muddling

21 August 2008 | By Tom Cheyney | Chip Shots

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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?

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Reader comments

Melly, nobody (including DOE has EVER taken a look–let alone a close look–at the behavior of CdTe/CdS films in MEGA FIELDS during 25-30 YEARS operation under harsh DESERT conditions. Nobody! The tests they have done thus far consist of 2-3 small panel pieces tested on lab benches with results that are simply incomplete and totally irrelevant to the magnitude of the subject at hand–i.e. behavior of Cadmium in MEGA FIELDS, during 25-30 YEARS continuous operation under harsh DESERT conditions. I’d love to be proven wrong. Honestly! Thus far, however, not one single person has been able to–including the CdTe PV panels manufacturers, DOE, BNL, NIH, CEC, EPA, OSHA and NREL “specialists”. They all prefer to sweep it under the rug as irrelevant. Is it?
By ablazev on 30 March 2010
Melly, what I'm talking about is the dangers of MILLIONS CdTe PV panels, operating for 25-30 YEARS on THOUSANDS acres US DESERT lands. Millions lbs. Cadmium (in the CdTe/CdS thin films) spread over immense land areas; baking, cooking, freezing, breaking, outgassing, and who knows what else. Do you know exactly how the super large area of CdTe/CdS thin films will behave during 25-30 years of harsh desert treatment? Do you know for sure what the CdTe/CdS compounds will do during that long time of freezing and overheating? I doubt it, but I have a good idea what to expect, because I've been working with solar and thin films equipment and processes for 30+ years. And what I foresee is not pretty. It is rather dangerous and even deadly! And do you really believe everything THEY tell you? Remember what THEY told us about Asbestos? Or lead? Or Nicotine? Why go blindly into this one too? Why not ask Big Business to prove and guarantee the safety of environment and life in and around these LARGE SCALE fields during the LONG TIME DESERT operation—BEFORE it is too late? Why expose the next generation to another hazmat disaster?
By ablazev on 28 March 2010
Melly, the Germans are referring to CdTe panels operating under the cloudy, rainy German skies, and I have no problem with their conclusions. What I am referring, however, is TOTALLY different, new phenomena. It is the planned installation of CdTe panels on many thousand acres of US deserts, where the problems will be most pronounced. Present day CdTe panels are not designed, tested nor proven safe for such LONG TERM use in LARGE SCALE fields under HARSH DESERT conditions. And I assure you that CdTe/CdS thin film structures in these flimsy, frame-less panels will disintegrate and decompose within the 25-30 years continuous desert operation. The results of these destructive processes is what I'm worried about, and it is why I insist on thorough testing and a solid proof that the CdTe and CdS films will not outgass and/or leak, thus contaminating air, soil and water in the area. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, because the CdTe panel manufacturers and their supporters refuse to discuss the alternatives and are instead bullying us into believing that there are no dangers--something none of them can prove scientifically. I do, however, believe that there are clear and present dangers; very serious problems with deadly consequences, not unlike the Asbestos and Lead debacles we are now recovering from. So you make your own conclusions...
By ablazev on 25 March 2010
Melly, you have a blind faith in what THEY tell you about CdTe, without having any idea if it is true or not? This is how the Asbestos and Lead debacles started, and it is our responsibility to prevent another one. At the very least we must try to get INDEPENDENT and THOROUGH investigation of the properties and behavior of CdTe/CdS films in LARGE SCALE installations, during LONG TERM exposure to the DESERT elements. NONE of these applications (see capital letters above) have been addressed by ANY scientific tests and investigations to date.
By Anco Blazev on 23 March 2010
Apologies, one more bit for Anco Blazev: From the First Solar site: 'A peer review of major public studies on the environmental profile of CdTe PV organized by the European Commission Joint Research Center and moderated by the German ministry of the environment (BMU) in August 2005 concluded, "...CdTe used in PV is in an environmentally stable form that does not leak into the environment during normal use or foreseeable accidents, and therefore can be considered the environmental[ly] safest current use of cadmium."'
By Melly on 29 January 2010
In reply to Anco Blazev - I thought you might find this of import: 'In 2009, an in-depth assessment of the environmental, health and safety aspects of First Solar's CdTe PV systems and manufacturing operations was carried out under the authority of the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea. It concluded that, "During standard operation of CdTe PV systems, there are no cadmium emissions - to air, to water, or to soil. In the exceptional case of accidental fires or broken panels, scientific studies show that cadmium emissions remain negligible. Accordingly, large-scale deployment of CdTe PV can be considered safe to human health and the environment."' - from http://www.firstsolar.com/en/product_use.php Thank you for reading this!
By Melly on 29 January 2010
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..
By build a solar panel on 08 September 2009
Cd (Cadmium) in CdTe Thin Film panels is a toxic carcinogenic heavy metal, already banned for commercial use in EU and China. The planned installation of millions of such panels over thousands of acres US land is a potential biological disaster, similar to the Asbestos and Lead poison nightmares we still live in. The US scientific community must assume the responsibility to investigate the behavior of Cd in these panels, during their 20-25 years exposure to the elements, before they have been given a chance to spread their toxins over our land.
By Anco Blazev on 06 September 2009
i heard that solar panels use a lot of energy to produce - i wonder in reality how much energy is saved after considering the cost of production... thanks
By lauren on 08 December 2008
Dear sirs how can I make a (CdTe)solar panel at home. Thanks a lot
By Ali on 04 November 2008
Great to hear solar energy has made its way into the trucking industry as well. I certainly hope it catches on and continues to progress as it has over the last several years! Ryan
By Ryan on 31 October 2008
Glad to see them working so hard at it! I will be interesting to see which one comes out ahead... Bryan
By Bryan on 24 October 2008

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