Thin Film Intelligence Brief 1 – 14 February 2012

Permit issues cause share price slide for First Solar Companies mentioned: First Solar, US Department of Energy, Strata Solar, Chint/Astronergy, Corning, Bekaert Advanced Coatings, Soleras, and Stanford University

Thin Film Intelligence Brief 1 – 14 February 2012

Permit issues cause share price slide for First Solar

First Solar’s share price fell the most in almost two months after permitting issues delayed a US loan guarantee for a power plant in California. Another possible contribution to the slide in the share price was a downgrade status made by Collins Stewart.  The shares have declined 72 per cent in the past year.

First Solar sold the 230-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One plant to Exelon Corp. for $75m in September. First Solar will reportedly have to buy re-purchase the plant if the project cannot win final construction permits and qualify for a $646m US Energy Department loan guarantee, First Solar said yesterday in a regulatory filing.

However, if the permitting issues are overcome then the project will be landmark project for the thin film solar industry worldwide.

Chint/Astronergy and Strata Solar supply North Carolina PV project

Chint/Astronergy was awarded the contract to supply modules for one of the state of North Carolina's largest solar PV projects.

North Carolina-based Strata Solar and multinational solar panel maker, Chint/Astronergy, used a total of 22,000 panels to complete the 5 megawatt Kings Mountain solar power plant, which is one of North Carolina's largest solar farms. The new power plant will generate enough clean energy to offset the electricity usage of over 600 average homes.

"Kings Mountain Solar is a strong example of how sustainability has transformed into a mainstream, economic force across the state," said Markus Wilhelm, Chief Executive Officer of Strata Solar. "We are thrilled to work with Chint/Astronergy in fostering environmental responsibility and bringing clean energy and employment growth to North Carolina."

Corning ships first PV glass substrates order

Glass and ceramics specialist, Corning, has created solar photovoltaic glass that it claims is lighter, more efficient, and stronger than traditional thin-film solar module glass.

The company has already secured its first commercial order for the PV glass substrates, according to company and news reports.

The company has been developing the PV glass for the past three years and has had extensive customer engagement, according to the glass manufacturer.

According to the company, Corning’s PV glass substrates can increase current thin-film module efficiency by 20% to 30%. The glass has high transmission, allowing more sunlight into the semiconductor layer. Corning’s substrates are also high-temperature tolerant. Because the glass can withstand higher temperature deposition, more uniform semiconductor films may be applied, which increases overall conversion efficiency.

John Duke, business director for Corning Photovoltaic Glass Technologies, said, “Corning is committed to offering innovative glass substrates that enable increased solar conversion efficiency. This is just the beginning.”

Corning claims that its photovoltaic glass substrates are also 50% stronger with less than half the thickness of the glass commonly used today in thin-film PV modules. Corning’s photovoltaic glass is being produced at its Harrodsburg, Kentucky plant.

Bekaert and Soleras merge

Bekaert Advanced Coatings is to merge with Soleras. The deal has emerged as a result of private equity firm Element Partners acquiring the two companies. The new company will be called Soleras Advanced Coatings.

The new company will supply key hardware and material targets for the manufacture of thin-film PV modules, as well as for a variety of other industrial applications, including the production of displays for touch-screen devices.

BAC is the trade name of Bekaert’s industrial coatings division. Both it and the Maine-based Soleras develop equipment and rotatable targets for thin-film sputter deposition. The acquisition of BAC includes the division’s facilities in Belgium, China and Wisconsin, USA.

The headquarters of Soleras Advanced Coatings are to be located in Deinze, Belgium, with Maurice Murphy as its CEO. Murphy was formerly CEO of PPC Insulators.

PV nanoshells could boost thin film solar cells

Engineers at Stanford have created photovoltaic nanoshells that harness a peculiar physical phenomenon to better trap light. The researchers are confident that the results could dramatically improve the efficiency of thin-film solar cells while reducing their weight and cost.

"Nanocrystalline-silicon is a great photovoltaic material. It has a high electrical efficiency and is durable in the harsh sun," said Shanhui Fan, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and co-author of a recent research paper focused on hollow spheres of photovoltaic nanocrystalline-silicon. "Both have been challenges for other types of thin solar films."

The downfall of nanocrystalline-silicon, however, has been its relatively poor absorption of light, which requires thick layering that takes a long time to manufacture, said a university news report.

"The light gets trapped inside the nanoshells," said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science engineering at Stanford and a senior author of the paper. "It circulates round and round rather than passing through and this is very desirable for solar applications."

The researchers estimate that light circulates around the circumference of the shells a few times, during which energy from the light gets absorbed gradually by the silicon. The longer the shells can keep the light in the material, the better the absorption will be.

"This is a new approach to broadband light absorption. The use of whispering-gallery resonant modes inside nanoshells is very exciting," said Yan Yao, a post-doctoral researcher in the Cui Lab and a co-lead author of the paper.

"It not only can lead to better solar cells, but it can be applied in other areas where efficient light absorption is important, such as solar fuels and photo-detectors."