Abu Dhabi is shopping its way into the solar industry.
Masdar PV, the solar subsidiary of the multibillion-dollar cleantech effort, will invest approximately $2 billion into thin film silicon solar plants. The first plant, in Erfurt, Germany, will be open by the third quarter of next year. A second facility in Abu Dhabi will be open by the second quarter of 2010. The two plants will have a production capacity of 210 megawatts.
Masdar PV wants to have 1 gigawatt of capacity by 2014, which would make it one of the largest manufacturers in the world relatively quickly. The world will have approximately 10.2 gigawatts of solar manufacturing capacity in 2008 and the figure is expected to climb to 12 to 15 gigawatts by 2015, according to the Prometheus Institute. The largest manufacturers right now have just under a gigawatt. Sharp is expected to hit 1.6 gigawatts of capacity by 2010 while Q-Cells and Suntech Power Holdings will hit a gigawatt around 2010. Those are the three largest manufacturers in the world.
And how are they going to get there? With help from Applied Materials. The semiconductor equipment maker is selling Masdar three SunFab thin film lines. Think of the SunFab line as a solar factory in a box. Applied produces turnkey production lines and then sells it to well-heeled customers. Applied customers will have around 278 megawatts of capacity in the ground by the end of this year and the figure is expected to climb to 4.2 gigawatts by 2012.
Signet Solar, a solar start-up coined by ex-chip execs, just unfurled an Applied-assisted plant. It took only ten months to build.
The lines produce thin film silicon panels. Thin film silicon isn’t as efficient as converting light into electricity as silicon solar panels, but they cost less. Thin film panels cost around $1.50 to $2.50 a watt to produce while crystalline cells cost around $2.50 to $3.75 a watt. (The figure includes the cost of manufacturing a module only and not other expenses such as installation.)
Still, Applied and its partners will need to boost efficiency over the coming years to stay competitive, said Travis Bradford of Prometheus.