5 December 2011

High-tech engineering key to solar manufacturers’ survival during coming consolidation

On 15 November, Manz AG of Reutlingen, Germany, which supplies integrated production lines for crystalline silicon solar cells and thin-film solar modules (as well as lines flat-panel displays), signed a letter of intent to acquire the copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar module innovation line of Würth Solar GmbH & Co KG of Schwäbisch Hall. Founder & CEO Dieter Manz provides answers to five questions regarding the upcoming deal.

  1. What was the state of the industry when Manz acquired the Würth Solar’s Innovation Line in mid-November?

Political instability in Western industrialized nations (particularly in Germany) concerning the further development of feed-in tariffs led to considerable worldwide overcapacities at solar module manufacturers and, as a result, a rapid decline in prices for end products. This trend, which is painful for manufacturers, had a positive effect on the industry as a whole however - at current prices, photovoltaics (PV) is becoming increasingly interesting for large markets with lots of sun, such as the USA, India and China. In these markets, solar power will soon be viable without large subsidies. “That is why I expect the current sales crisis to end in approximately 9-12 months,” says Manz. Until that time, module manufacturers need to cut their costs in order to maintain their market position, since the prices for modules are definitely not going to go up, he believes.

  1. Manz has collaborated with Würth Solar on CIGS thin-film technology for the past year and a half. Why this technology exactly?

Of all the thin-film technologies, CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) has the greatest potential to cut costs and increase efficiency. Our partner Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg (Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, ZSW) in Stuttgart, Germany has already achieved record efficiencies of over 20% in a laboratory setting (almost as good as the top efficiency for polycrystalline silicon cells). CIGS modules can also be produced extremely affordably, and not just compared to crystalline silicon technology. Manz believes that CIGS thin-film technology is the last step toward solar power being able to compete with other sources of energy without subsidies. Such grid parity has already been reached in individual markets, such as California, and will soon be reached in Germany too.

  1. Why did Manz acquire the production line from Würth Solar now?

Würth Solar decided not to invest in expanding its production, and in the future wants to focus on the sale of solar modules (based on its strategy, Würth is a commercial enterprise and not a manufacturer). Together with Würth Solar, in the past year and a half, Manz has developed CIGS into a record-breaking technology when it comes to the efficiency of thin-film modules - in Schwäbisch Hall, a module efficiency of 14% has been achieved for a mass-produced panel. Manz is now converting Würth Solar’s production line (which has a capacity of 30MW) into an ‘innovation line’ (with a capacity of 6MW). In the future, this line will be used to test new machines, new materials, and new processes. Such process optimization should not only be carried out in a lab – what’s needed is an environment similar to a mass-production setting, says Manz. Due to the long-term growth of the PV industry and grid parity being achieved in large markets, global players such as electronics companies will soon enter the PV market, it is reckoned. “We want to be ready when that happens - with a technically mature complete package,” says Manz.  

  1. What added value can potential customers gain from Manz’s acquisition of the Würth Solar Innovation Line?

“We have cut the CIGSfab’s production costs by 25% since the beginning of our partnership with Würth Solar in July 2010. And we can go much further, as our technology road map shows,” says Manz. The goal is to develop CIGS into the most affordable solar technology. To achieve this goal, Manz is acquiring a mature technology from Würth Solar as well as 118 CIGS specialists. “As a result, we have the largest team dedicated to this technology in the entire industry,” it is claimed. “We can help potential customers quickly begin production in their new factories and minimize their investment risk. This combination is one-of-a-kind in the engineering sector,” Manz continues. “As an engineering firm, with CIGSfab we have an important key to solar module manufacturers‚ survival during the upcoming consolidation. Most solar manufacturers do not have any other choice - either they give up or invest in a new future technology such as the CIGSfab. Business as usual in the solar industry is not an option.”  

  1. Will Manz now become a module manufacturer itself and be forced to sell solar panels?

Manz is reducing production capacity in Schwäbisch Hall to a fifth of its original size. “Our focus is on innovation, not production,” notes Manz. The modules produced in Schwäbisch Hall will either be sold through Würth Solar or to potential buyers of CIGSfab. “For the latter, this is an ideal way to prepare for their own market entry with identical modules, so they are ready when their own line begins operation,” Manz concludes. 

See related items:

Manz to acquire Würth’s CIGS PV module innovation line by early 2012

Manz presents record 14%-efficient thin-film PV module at EU PVSEC

Manz awarded €3.8m for German project to boost efficiency and cut cost for CIGS PV

Tags: Manz Würth CIGS PV module CIGS

Visit: www.manz.com

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