Reported by Jeanny H. Lim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Bosch brand is well-known throughout the world for long tradition, technical expertise and international presence. Why and how Bosch entered the solar energy market?
The Bosch Group entered the photovoltaics business in 2008 when it purchased Erfurt-based ersol Solar Energy AG. With this move, the company covered much of the value-added chain, from silicon crystals to modules. The purchase decision was driven by the strategic shift to a focus on products in the field of renewable energies. At the time, Bosch was already active in the wind power, solar-thermal power, heat pumps, and marine energy sectors and it continues to systematically expand these areas of its business.
Furthermore, Bosch acquired a majority shareholding in module manufacturer aleo solar AG in 2009. The company, which is headquartered in Oldenburg and Prenzlau, Germany, has many years of experience in building high-quality solar modules. Moreover, it has built up an extensive specialist sales and installation network across Europe. In the same year, Bosch began to expand the Arnstadt location, Germany, investing a total of over 500 million euros in the project. This investment is set to almost triple crystalline production capacity to some 630 megawatts by 2012. At the start of 2011, Bosch Powertec was founded in Boblingen to develop and manufacture power inverters.
From the time, the Bosch Group entered the photovoltaics business to end-2011, the number of Bosch associates working in PV roughly tripled to 3,500. The number of trainees rose to more than 150 with the opening of the technical and commercial training center.
What products and services are you offering in the solar industry?
The core business of Bosch Solar Energy is crystalline photovoltaics as well as thin film. As an integrated manufacturer, Bosch covers all the relevant process steps in the crystalline photovoltaics from the ingot to the wafer, the cell, the module, and the assembly system. What is more, Bosch develops and manufactures innovative solar modules.
Since 2009, Bosch Solar Energy has offered also turnkey solar power plants─either mounted on roofs, freestanding, or integrated into facades─on behalf of private and institutional investors around the world. It offers a range of services from planning through construction to surveillance of the facilities. The company can also arrange professional advice on financing and risk assessment.
In this highly competitive marketplace, what are the competitive advantages that differentiate you from your competitors?
First of all, the quality of our products. As an integrated manufacturer, Bosch covers all the relevant process steps, from the ingot to the wafer, the cell, the module, and the assembly system. What is more, Bosch develops and manufactures innovative solar modules with highest efficiencies. So we offer the whole value chain from a single source. That secures the high quality standard and excellent reliability of our products. That is why Bosch Solar Energy can offer also excellent guarantee conditions.
Could you introduce the roadmap for your solar business?
Bosch Solar Energy’s goal is to help photovoltaics become a significant part of the future energy mix. In order to achieve this, Bosch is continuously improving the performance of cells and modules, working to reduce manufacturing costs, and developing solar cell and module designs for the future.
A new, state-of-the-art research and development center develops crystalline photovoltaics; it opened in the summer of 2011 in Arnstadt, adjacent to the production site. There are about 120 Bosch Solar Energy researchers and developers in the global network. They are working shoulder to shoulder on the development of components and systems with leading research institutes as well as with Bosch’s central research and development department in Stuttgart and Singapore. In 2010 alone, Bosch Solar Energy registered 23 patents. At the start of 2011, Bosch Solar Energy developers achieved an efficiency of 19.7% in a silicon solar cell with the standard measurements of 156 x 156 millimeters. Now they reached even higher.
Efforts are also being made to internationalize the division. In March 2015, we will open a module manufacturing facility at Bosch’s Venissieux site in France.
In addition, we bought a ground property in Penang, Malaysia. The official signing ceremony was done on February 29th. That shows that we are convinced that photovoltaics is a business with extraordinary long-term potential. Our next step is to begin building a fully integrated manufacturing facility in Malaysia which represents an investment of 520 million euros. The planned facility will cover the entire value-added chain, from silicon crystals─known as ingots─and solar cells, to the modules which can be installed on roofs or in solar power plants. What is more, we will be applying new technology and processes in Malaysia for wafer, cells and modules with next-generation cells. The plan was, and still is, to reduce production costs through large-scale production at a location with favorable cost structures. However, the intense cost pressure means we have to achieve greater advances in technology and ensure that these can reach production standard before the capital investment is signed off.
It will probably take until the end of the year before we decide which technology will be used. This means the start of construction will also be postponed. We’re unable at this stage to share further details of our deliberations.
We will adhere to our strategy. The future facility in Malaysia is the cornerstone for our globalization targets and a milestone to reach economies of scale, in order to cut costs, as well as ensure competitive pricing.
The global solar market in 2011 suffered from substantial pressure on prices as well as overcapacity. The buildup of overcapacity, especially among Asian manufacturers, has had a damaging effect on the industry. How do you evaluate your performance in 2011 and how much growth do you expect for 2012?
The global solar market is very hard. We expected a sharp drop in prices last year. Admittedly though, we miscalculated last year: we estimated that in the fall it would be 20%, but it turned out to be almost 40%. So, we can, in fact, be very pleased that our sales “only” slipped from 880 to 800 million euros. In other words, unit sales were not so bad, and we even increased our market share. But nevertheless, due to the heavy price decrease, we had to do adjustments in our book values at the end of 2011 in a significant amount and it will take the following years that the Solar Energy division will make money and reach the target profitability. But one thing is sure: smaller competitors cannot keep up with the high levels of funding this industry requires, so there will inevitably be consolidations. I would expect roughly 20 major suppliers to be left, and these will dominate the market. I cannot predict where we will be in the rankings, but at any rate we plan to be one of the companies making a profit.
As a company headquartered in Germany, what are your expectations for the development of the PV market in Germany and Europe this year?
Needless to say, we do not expect Germany to remain the most important market. Due to the announced cuts in the German regulations, we expect a heavy decline of the German market of 60 to 70%. Therefore, we will internationalize our sales activities heavily. There are major markets in the southern European countries and in the United States. Another example is our negotiations with utility companies in South Africa. And for sure, Southeast Asia. That is why we decided to build up a new manufacturing site in the Batu Kawan region in Penang, Malaysia. With a planned investment of some 520 million euros, the construction project for the new manufacturing site is one of the biggest in the company’s history.
Penang lies in a strong growth region for the photovoltaics industry in what is known as the sunbelt. This includes the countries either side of the equator with very high levels of solar radiation. A PV plant with a nominal capacity of 1 kW will produce around 1,000 kWh of power on average each year in Germany.
In February, Bosch Malaysia announced the completion of Phase II of our Photovoltaic Solar Panel installation project at the Bosch Penang plant.
This is the largest photovoltaic system installation to have occurred in Malaysia to date with a total of 2,277 Bosch Photovoltaic modules installed and a total installation capacity of 546 kWp.
With the installation of this system, we aim to generate a total of 702 MWh per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 460 tons annually. This is equivalent to CO2 emissions in 150 passenger cars.
Jeanny H. Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to email@example.com.
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