Thin-Film Solar Gets Another Boost

Schott Solar, a German solar-cell and panel manufacturer, said Wednesday it began production at its new thin-film production plant in Jena, Germany.

The €75 million (approximately $108 million) plant will make standard-sized panels, as well as building-integrated systems -- such as solar-powered windows, roofs and facades -- from Schott's amorphous-silicon films.

The plant is expected to ramp up to its 33-megawatt annual capacity in the next year, the company said.

Schott has been operating a pilot plant in Germany since 1988, but the Jena plant is the company's first thin-film plant it considers to be mass-production. The company said it plans to expand its worldwide capacity for thin-film panels to 100 megawatts per year by 2010.

Meantime, Oerlikon Corp., which makes thin-film coating equipment, among other things, announced Wednesday it plans to double production capacity to 350 megawatts at its plant in Truebbach, Switzerland, by the end of 2008, and also has established a separate 1-megawatt pilot line as a customer laboratory.

The company also created a new segment, Oerlikon Solar, for its solar business and said it will separate out the segment's financial figures in company earnings reports beginning next year.

The news from Schott and Oerlikon are the latest additions to a series of announcements that show thin-film solar technologies, which use little or no silicon, are gaining traction during a worldwide shortage of solar-grade silicon.

First Solar, Sharp Corp. and XsunX are among other companies that have announced new production plans recently (see Thin-Film Production to Leap Forward).

In more good news for thin-film Thursday, First Solar (NSDQ: FSLR) heftily beat analysts' earnings expectations.

The company posted a third-quarter net income of $38.5 million, or 49 cents per share, excluding a one-time tax benefit of $7.5 million, or 9 cents per share. That's up nearly ninefold from $4.3 million, or 6 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Analysts expected an income of 19 cents per share, according to a poll by Thomson Financial.

Forecast: Strong Winds

The American Wind Energy Association on Wednesday raised its projections for new wind-power installations this year (see a PDF of the report here).

The association, which previously forecast a record-setting 3 gigawatts of new wind-power capacity in 2007, said the industry is on track to compete the installation of 4 gigawatts of new wind-power-generating capacity in 2007.

If the association is right, the year will have brought a 63-percent increase in wind-power installations compared with the 2.45 gigawatts last year. Four gigawatts is enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 1 million average homes, according to the association.

But the association said a long-term policy to promote renewable energy is "essential" to continue to grow the wind industry, implying the growth could be checked if the federal tax credit for renewable energy isn't renewed before it expires in December 2008.

To see a list of the projects completed this quarter, see www.awea.org/projects.