Roth & Rau has been a specialist in the field of customized plasma enhanced thin-film deposition techniques in the nineties. In particular, Roth & Rau produced tailor-made equipment for applications in the semiconductor, optical or automotive industries as well as for R&D purpose. In the end of the nineties, silicon nitride─deposited by PECVD─has been found as a well-suited material for antireflection coating and passivation of crystalline silicon solar cells. Roth & Rau was awarded first orders from PV research centers (ECN in the Netherlands and ISFH in Germany) for R&D equipment for this coating process. Based on these prototypes, Roth & Rau had the first production tool in place in 2001. Actually it was the right product at the right time for the right industry. Beginning in 2002, the photovoltaic industry experienced a big boom, silicon nitride antireflection coating became standard in crystalline silicon solar cell production lines and Roth & Rau became market leader in this technology segment.
Thomas Hengst, Board Member and CSO of Roth & Rau, discusses competitive edges and recent developments of the PV equipment supplier.
Reported by Jeanny H. Lim (email@example.com)
Competition in the PV equipment market is fierce. Could you tell us some of the competitive edges that differentiate you from your competitors in the solar market?
From the early beginning, we developed equipment which fulfills the demands from the PV industry for good layer quality and high throughput at simultaneously low running costs. As solar cells are commodity products, their production must be simple, the equipment robust, easy to operate and easy to maintain. We focused on the inline working principle because of scalability and simple wafer handling on flat carriers. Other suppliers have chosen other approaches such as the modification of equipment from the semiconductor industry, which is typically batch-type equipment and made for smaller throughput.
In the photovoltaic market, what is your priority this year, business-wise and technology-wise?
Business-wise, it is the strengthening of our presence in our key markets in Asia. Technology-wise, we plan the launch of some new products such as tools for the production of heterojunction cells and for the rear side passivation of solar cells. Both approaches offer a significant improvement of the cell efficiency.
Producing high-efficiency solar cells in a cost-effective way has always been the issue for the solar industry. How is Roth & Rau tackling it?
Especially the heterojunction technology is a great option for the cost-efficient production of solar cells. Besides the high efficiency potential of 20% and more, the production of heterojunction cells requires less production steps than conventional cells and the production sequence does not include any high temperature (=high energy consuming) processes.
What’s next at Roth & Rau as you strive to improve your technologies and drive solar manufacturing innovation?
Besides the new technologies already mentioned in the answer to the third question, we are working already on the next generation of coating equipment. Focus is to further reduce the manufacturing costs of solar cells.
What have you been doing to grow your presence in the international solar arena?
Our focus is the big Asian markets like China, India, Korea and Taiwan. Within the last 3 years, we founded sales and service subsidiaries in all of these countries. The biggest subsidiary is located in China. Currently, we are going to set up a local spare part production.
How do you evaluate your performance last year and how much growth do you expect for this year?
The performance last year has been impacted by some one-offs in terms of financial trouble of some customers as a subsequent effect of the financial crisis. On the other side─the order intake developed extremely positive and led to the record level in the order book in the company’s history. This year we expect a growth ratio in sales around 20%.
What is your prediction for the global PV market this year?
We expect a further year of strong growth. The domestic PV end user markets in Asia (e.g., in China) will likely start to develop as there is a great demand for more energy. We also expect further consolidation on all levels of the value chain with clear advantages for big players and fully integrated companies. In the equipment sector, we expect that more domestic competitors in Asia will enter the market.
Meyer Burger announced the launch of a voluntary public takeover offer to acquire Roth & Rau AG. Could you explain to our readers what this planned consolidation means to the solar industry?
Meyer Burger and Roth & Rau are going to form the first fully integrated equipment supplier. That means we have core competencies in wafering, cell processing and module assembly under one roof. We can offer the customers a wide portfolio of very competitve products, technologies and services. In terms of R&D, we expect numerous synergies especially refering to the interfaces between wafer & cell and cell & module. The overall target is to make solar energy cost competitive and we believe that we can offer our customers the best package to reach this target.
Jeanny H. Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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