Oerlikon Solar launched new thin-film silicon solar production equipment today that’s cheaper and more efficient than its previous product line, an achievement the company says closes the gap with industry giant First Solar.
The company, based in Switzerland, is touting its latest product as record-breaking in having the lowest module production cost. Its equipment, used by solar panel makers who manufacture thin-film silicon panels, can cut costs to 50 euro cents per watt (about 64 cents per watt), with a stabilized efficiency rate of 10 percent.
First Solar’s cadmium telluride solar panels, in comparison, have an average efficiency of 11.2 percent, but cost 76 cents per watt to produce, GigaOm notes.
The company also announced another record-breaker: a new champion cell that achieves 11.9% conversion efficiency, created in partnership with Corning, an experiment that showcases the potential of thin-film silicon, which companies have been abandoning as of late.
Oerlikon is one of a handful of remaining companies trying to make a name in thin-film silicon technology. Investors initially poured into thin-film when silicon prices were at a high, but have since soured on how long the technology takes to produce returns, not to mention compartively low efficiency rates. Though Oerlikon’s cheap manufacturing rate and 10 percent efficiency is a good news for thin-film, it’s still more than half the 22 percent efficiency rate of crystalline silicon-maker SunPower.
Oerlikon’s former rival, Applied Materials, axed their thin-film business in July — laying off 500 workers in the process — and Chinese solar company Suntech announced last month it would drop its thin-film silicon efforts and refocus on crystalline silicon technology.
Oerlikon chief executive, Michael Buscher, told Bloomberg that the new equipment would likely increase orders, with first buyers likely coming from Asia. The company has been coping with a decrease in demand, and forecasts a loss of $10 million this year.