5 March 2010


Showa Shell to open US and Europe offices as it becomes Solar Frontier

Japan’s Showa Shell Solar K.K., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., says that this April it will open two overseas offices in Northern California and Munich (its first European office) as it aims to build its global network to facilitate 1GW per year of sales and delivery of its CIS (copper indium selenium) photovoltaic panels. The move is being accompanied by a global branding consolidation under the name Solar Frontier (the original name of its international sales subsidiary).

“We chose Solar Frontier as the name of our international division a few years ago,” says Solar Frontier’s CEO Shigeaki Kameda. “With CIS solar technology, our PV modules today combine compelling economics, non-toxic materials, lower energy consumption in production, increasingly higher efficiency, and greater potential,” he claims.

Last September, Solar Frontier said that it intended to open a third plant in Miyazaki Prefecture, southern Japan (costing ¥100bn) in mid-2011, which is expected to be the world’s largest CIS production facility, at 900MW. This will boost the firm’s annual production capacity ten-fold to 1GW, joining two existing plants in the prefecture, which began production in 2007 (at 20MW/year) and June 2009 (80MW/year), respectively. The new project involves buying a mothballed plasma TV panel plant and 400,000m2 of land in Kumitomi from Hitachi Plasma Display Ltd and installing CIS PV module manufacturing equipment.

“We can offer the full benefits of economy of scale to our customers,” says Brooks Herring, Solar Frontier’s director of International Business. “This is matched by the strong economics of panel performance we have developed through years of research, development, and testing in the field,” he adds. Economics are the key driver of a panel’s value, Herring says, which depends on the combination of efficiency, durability, stability, temperature coefficient, and degradation.

“Our gigawatt-scale capacity is an engineering decision as well as an economic decision because this is what we can do today for maximum production efficiency and minimum energy payback time,” Kameda says. “Moreover, our panel efficiency will continue to climb toward the aperture area efficiency of 16% on a 30cm x 30cm module we achieved recently in our laboratories [on a par with polycrystalline silicon],” he adds. “While the aperture area efficiency of panels coming off of the assembly line today are at a competitive efficiency of around 13%, we expect to reach 14.2% when our third plant starts operating in 2011, and approach 15% by 2014.”

After only starting commercial production in 2007, the firm aims to grow its share of the global solar panel market to 10% within the next five years.

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Showa Shell to boost CIS PV panel capacity to 1GW

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