centrotherm photovoltaics AG created centrotherm cell & module GmbH to house its solar cell & module business segment. centrotherm cell & module GmbH offers crystalline solar cell and module production equipment and related engineering services. In this interview with InterPV magazine, CEO Dr. Josef Haase talks about centrotherm’s market strategy, turnkey projects and equipment to the c-Si PV manufacturing industry.
Reported by Jeanny H. Lim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
centrotherm photovoltaics AG is one of the world’s leading technology and equipment providers for the photovoltaics sector. To help our readers understand you better, please give us a brief account on how centrotherm entered the solar photovoltaic business.
centrotherm started developing and engineering dedicated PV processing equipment almost 30 years ago. Working with and for the first major (European) entrants into the PV manufacturing industry, centrotherm developed itself from a pure equipment manufacturer into a leading technology, turnkey project and equipment supplier in the entire c-Si value chain. We have become the number one supplier to the c-Si photovoltaics manufacturing industry in 2010 and 2011.
Could you tell us some of the competitive edges that differentiate you from your competitors in the solar market?
centrotherm has for a long time been the only dedicated PV equipment supplier which is fully integrated in the entire value chain for crystalline silicon photovoltaics manufacturing. As such centrotherm is uniquely positioned to offer advantages to its customer base in terms of key process knowledge, latest equipment and process development as well as insights into the integration schemes at the interfaces to further reduce cost of ownership. One good example of interface optimization is the current development of mono-cast wafers which require specific knowledge from ingoting/wafering through cell manufacturing to module manufacturing. Also for us the ultimate goal is to maximize output at module level at the lowest cost. To increase our competitive edge in this area, we have recently completed the Solar Innovation Center (SIC) in Konstanz, Germany, where a fully integrated state-of-the-art production-worthy cell and module line has been set up. Our objective for this line is to develop production technology on production equipment that can be transferred directly to our customers without any changes to increase their cost-competitiveness. The SIC will be operational in Q1/2012.
Companies that cannot compete on cost should prepare for failure. Cost competitiveness is a need-to-have in solar, not a nice-to-have. How is centrotherm helping solar cell and module manufacturers in their cost battle?
Yield and efficiency are two key drivers in the current PV production industry. centrotherm offers unrivalled quality and stability with the supplied production proven equipment. Due to the in-house developments, for the last 5 years we have been able to offer our customers a >40% production cost reduction (CoO) per year per solar cell. Besides the focus on quality and stability, centrotherm is also continuously developing and improving cell technology for maximum output on module level. With the opening of the ct SIC, we will be able to decrease the time it takes to transfer the latest process technology into production.
centrotherm photovoltaics has bundled its Solar Cell & Module segment activities within a wholly-owned subsidiary centrotherm cell & module GmbH. Why did you make this organizational change?
centrotherm has founded the cell and module division as a part of the ongoing strategic focus on market orientation. By prioritizing customer care, project-oriented support and direct market implementation, we believe we can shorten the time to market of our latest developments and innovations and as such we will be able to further strengthen our existing technology leadership and increase the cost leadership of our customers. As a technology leader, we are constantly endeavoring to further expand our innovation leadership for high-performance cells and modules. We support our customers in optimizing their integration along the solar value chain in this context, in order to boost their competitiveness and strengthen their cost-leadership.
centrotherm has reached 20% cell efficiencies in the laboratory. How is your work progressing toward transferring this new development to mass production?
Typically centrotherm has achieved an efficiency improvement of the turnkey technology of 0.5% (ab.) per year at pilot production level. As of December, 2011, we achieved average cell efficiencies over 19.3% with related module efficiencies of well over 18.5%. This has made it possible to manufacture modules well over 270 Wp with a cost-neutral cost structure compared to the baseline technology. Further optimization of the production technology on cell level as well as using the latest available materials for new metallization schemes will see us achieving the targeted 20% cell efficiency within the foreseeable future without need for major CAPEX investments from our existing customers.
What is your perspective on the market drivers for your selective emitter and centaurus rear side upgrade technologies at this time?
At this moment, we see that the centrotherm customers who run the latest state-of-the-art technology on their cell lines maintain high utilization rates whereas lines with lower-end technologies have reduced─or even temporarily ceased─production. This leads to the conclusion that it currently only makes sense to produce at the highest efficiency levels; with the centrotherm upgrade offerings of laser diffused selective emitter and/or ‘centaurus’ backside passivation technologies, we can offer all customers an opportunity to compete at the highest level while maintaining a competitive cost of ownership structure.
What is your priority in 2012, business-wise and technology-wise?
As power prices surge worldwide with the fossil-based fuel industry showing increasing instability, 2012 will be a crucial year for the photovoltaics industry. This year will be pivotal as most tier 1 manufacturers will be looking to upgrade their remaining lower -end lines to be able to effectively compete in the market. We view the upgrade market as an essential part of the strategic push within the industry towards grid parity. By achieving cost leadership within the industry, grid parity should be possible to achieve in more regions than South Europe alone.
How do you evaluate your performance in 2011 and how much growth do you expect for 2012?
2011 has been the best year yet for centrotherm in terms of revenue; during this period we have been focused on adapting our organization to meet the requirements of the market. This optimization process will continue throughout 2012 while also adapting the company structure to meet the current market needs. These needs will cover the mentioned upgrade packages of existing lines to meet the stringent cost demands of the current market.
What are your expectations for the development of the PV market in Asia in 2012?
The signal that China is giving by becoming the biggest consumer of PV products in Asia, even outperforming Japan, will surely lead to a ripple effect, pushing more countries in Asia to adopt a positive policy towards renewable energy. In the quest for a more equitable energy mix (with less direct and indirect support going to existing fossil- based energy), we hope to see more countries in Asia becoming consumers rather than just exporters of photovoltaic products and in the process create a more sustainable industry. As Asia will increasingly adapt a more positive attitude towards photovoltaics and renewable energy in general, we expect that it will become one of the market drivers for our industry in the short term.
What have you been doing to grow your presence in the international solar arena?
As the leading supplier of technology, turnkey projects and equipment to the c-Si PV manufacturing industry, centrotherm has developed a worldwide support organization. To this end, we have set up sales and service offices all over Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, India and Singapore) and America with related spare parts services. Due to our extensive network, we see continuously expanding PV activities in South America and Africa. One of the currently pivotal turnkey projects is the fully integrated PV manufacturing plant (wafer, cell and module) we are building in Algeria. Serving as a showcase for Africa, we hope to see the rest of the African continent looking seriously into photovoltaics as an essential addition to the energy mix of the future.
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