Oerlikon Solar is pulling ahead of Applied Materials in a race to dominate the amorphous silicon thin-film solar market, wrote Weston Twigg, a senior research analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, in a research note Monday.
Both Oerlikon and Applied don’t expect to ink new sales contracts in the near future, a result of the tough market conditions. But Oerlikon has sharpened its competitive edge by lowering the initial capital costs to install and run its factory equipment, and by its recent alliance with Tokyo Electron, Twigg wrote.
Oerlikon’s customers have produced about 800,000 solar panels, compared with the 100,000 panels made by Applied’s customers, Twigg wrote. Oerlikon also promises to lower the cost of making panels using its equipment to $0.70 per watt by 2012, compared with $0.80 per watt from Applied, he added.
In comparison, First Solar, which makes cadmium-telluride thin-film panels, is alreadt producing at $0.98 per watt.
In the last few years, Oerlikon and Applied have competed fiercely for customers in Europe, Asia and the United States. The two companies offer what’s called a “factory in a box??? -- a complete set of equipment for making solar cells and assembling them into panels.
Their first-generation equipment produces solar cells with a thin layer of amorphous silicon, the key ingredient in converting sunlight into electricity. Both companies also have developed a second-generation technology that adds a second layer of microcrystalline silicon to boost the cells’ power output.
Oerlikon’s partnership with Tokyo Electron also bolsters the Swiss solar company’s competitive edge, Twigg said. Tokyo Electron is becoming Oerlikon’s sales representative in Asia, where both Oerlikon and Applied has a number of customers. The relationship will intensify the already fierce competition between Tokyo Electron and Applied in the semiconductor and flat panel display markets.
Tokyo Electron is the world's second largest semiconductor factory equipment maker, behind Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied. Oerlikon’s parent company, Oerlikon Group, also makes factory equipment for the semiconductor industry.
Although Tokyo Electron has a joint venture with Sharp to develop factory equipment to make solar thin films, it appears that the Tokyo Electron is developing the equipment using Sharp’s patents for Sharp's own use, Twigg said during an interview. So the joint venture shouldn’t pose a threat to Oerlikon’s business, he added.
“Oerlikon is removing some anxiety about Tokyo Electron,??? Twigg said. “By getting behind Oerikon’s technology, Tokyo Electron is bringing a lot of credibility.???
Wind power is the world’s most developed renewable energy source after hydroelectric dams, but it has one big problem — wind doesn’t blow at the same speed all the time, making variable output from wind turbines hard to integrate into the electricity grid.
Japan Steel Works is aiming to ease that problem by building wind turbines with batteries included in them, according to Nikkei via Asia Pulse. The maker of steel products including nuclear plant pressure vessels plans to start selling the turbines, built in conjunction with battery manufacturer Meidensha Corp. next year, according to news reports.
Whether the added cost — as much as twice that of conventional wind turbines — will make it worthwhile remains to be seen. But the two Japanese companies are hardly alone in seeking ways to store wind power, whether to better integrate it into the grid moment-by-moment or store it for use at peak electricity demand times.
American Superconductor Corp. (NSDQ: AMSC) makes D-VAR devices that stabilize voltages from wind turbines to better integrate their power into the grid. The company also licenses its wind turbine designs to customers that build them, many in China (see American Superconductor: The Quiet Wind Player).
Ultracapacitors can serve in place of batteries to smooth wind power going to the grid. Maxwell Technologies has sold ultracapacitor systems to provide backup power for wind turbine blade pitch control systems built by Germany's LTi REEnergy.
As for large-scale wind power storage, methods include long-term standbys like pumped hydroelectric power to capturing energy as compressed air in underground caverns, as well as batteries, flywheels and superconducting magnetic storage (see a Department of Energy list of case studies).
The Iowa Stored Energy Park, a project created by a group of the state’s municipal utilities, is seeking to prove that compressed air can serve as a reliable backup to wind power.
Others are using sodium-sulfur batteries for wind power storage (see Storing Wind Power With Sodium Batteries).
Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) is testing a system to store power from an 11-megawatt wind farm in Luverne, Minn. using a 1-megawatt, sodium-sulfur battery capable of holding 7.2 megawatt-hours of energy from Japanese company NGK Insulators (see GridPoint to Manage Wind Power Battery Storage).
American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) installed 6 megawatts of NGK's batteries in 2007 to support its wind operations, at a cost of $27 million. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which partnered with NGK to develop its batteries, got the ball rolling in 2001 with two 6-megawatt storage systems in Japan.