Moser Baer, an Indian company with aggressive plans to build solar panels and develop power plants, will begin mass production of thin-film panels this month.
The New Delhi company will make the amorphous thin-film panels from its 40-megawatt manufacturing plant in Greater Noida, said Moser Baer executive vice president and CTO Rajiv Arya, who spoke on a panel at the Thin-Film Solar Summit in San Francisco Tuesday.
The company already has lined up $500 million worth of deals to sell its thin-film panels to European customers, which include Ralos Vertriebs and Colexon Energy, both in Germany (see Moser Baer India Signs $500M in Thin-Film Contracts).
Moser Baer began producing panels in small quantities in July. The panels on average can convert 6 percent of the sunlight that strikes them into electricity, Arya said.
Thin-film panels are less efficient than those made with crystalline silicon, which dominate the market today and can reach an efficiency of 18 percent. But thin-films can be made cheaper. Amorphous silicon panels also are able to convert low light better than silicon panels, thin-film proponents say. That means thin-film panels can work longer during the day to produce electricity.
"The overall energy you produce is much higher from amorphous silicon. It gets up early and goes to bed late, so it works harder than crystalline silicon modules," Arya said.
In Greater Noida, the company is building a 65-megawatt thin-film production facility. It also is constructing a 100-megawatt plant for making crystalline silicon cells, which are assembled into panels at a nearby factory.
The company already has an 80-megawatt crystalline silicon cell manufacturing plant and a panel factory that can produce 80 megawatts worth of panels in Greater Noida.
In the city of Chennai, Moser Baer is building a 500-megawatt thin-film production plant. The plant will be built in three phases, with the first 167-megawatt capacity being completed by December 2009. The rest will be completed by Aug. 2010, Arya said.
Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, is attracting other solar companies thanks to the state government's offer to subsidize the costs of building manufacturing plants. Signet Solar, based in Menlo Park, Calif., plans to build an amorphous silicon production plant there, the company said earlier this year.
Amorphous silicon companies are mostly at the beginning of commercially producing panels. Aside from Moser Baer and Signet, other solar companies also have announced ambitious factory-building plans (see Sharp Guns for U.S. Thin-Film Market and Sanyo Builds New Factory, Enters Thin-Film Fray).
Aside from making solar cells and panels, Moser Baer also plans to build solar power plants to take advantage of India's new feed-in tariff program announced earlier this year.
Feed-in tariffs have played a key role in the worldwide solar energy boom. Solar equipment makers and power plant developers look for such incentives that sometimes draw criticism for supporting an industry at the expense of consumers.
In a typical feed-in tariff program, utilities are required to buy all the electricity generated from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, and pay rates that are higher than the prices for conventional power. The government sets the rates, though utilities can pass on the costs to customers.
Under India's feed-in tariff program, solar power producers will get 15 rupees per kilowatt-hour, or roughly $0.30 per kilowatt hour. Each producer can develop up to 5 megawatts of projects under the program.
The rate will be in effect for the first 50 megawatts worth of projects. The government, which already has gotten 2 gigawatts worth of applications, is working on a second phase of the program that would increase the cap to 1 gigawatt.
Moser Baer plans to develop three projects of 5 megawatts each and use both the crystalline silicon and amorphous silicon panels, Arya said. But the company will start slow and is now building a 1-megawatt system in Punjab.
"India has aggressive plans to open up the market, and it will give us thousands of megawatts in the next three to five years," Arya said.