Solar Roundup: Suntech Offers Mid-Size Panel, Tianwei Sells to Thailand and More

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 |  Includes: AMAT, SRWRF, STP
by: Greentech Media

By Ucilia Wang

Solar companies have rolled out new panels and announced contracts and investments as the 24th annual European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference is underway in Germany this week.

The highlights:

Suntech Power (NYSE:STP): The Chinese panel maker is rolling out a mid-size panel with a new power output and a new product called Wd. The new, multicrystalline silicon panel could produce 220-watts or 225-watts of power (guaranteed to generate that amount or 5 watts above it) and weighs about 44 pounds, the company said. Suntech is marketing the panel in the residential and commercial markets. The company's website indicates that the panel is available in Europe and Asia.

Engineering panels with varying sizes and weights has become more common as the solar market develops to cater to customers with different installations needs and even design tastes (see Green Light post). SunPower and Sharp, for example, have rolled out new panels. Armageddon Energy has designed a hexagonal panel and racking system that is supposed to make installation easy for residential rooftops.

Tianwei SolarFilms: The amorphous-silicon solar panel maker said it has signed a deal to sell 70 megawatts of panel to Thailand Green Energy Co. Tianwei, based in China, began mass production at its 46-megawatt factory in August this year. The factory equipment came from Switzerland-based Oerlikon Solar, and the technology could yield about 7 percent stabilized efficiency for the panels.

Amorphous-silicon solar companies offer an alternative to conventional silicon panels. Advocates say amorphous-silicon panels could be made cheaper and therefore produce less expensive solar electricity. With the rapid pricing for silicon panels, however, some industry analysts have questioned whether amorphous-silicon panel makers, many of them fairly new to the market, could compete.

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT): The Santa Clara, Calif.-based factory equipment maker announced several new tools for making silicon solar cells and their components. They include an equipment to cut silicon ingots into squares, a product that the company said could provide twice the cutting speed and lower the cost by up to one-third. Applied and DuPont said they would collaborate to develop tools for improving silicon solar cell efficiencies.

Applied typically has devoted more of its publicity efforts to promoting its equipment for making amorphous silicon solar panels. It competes fiercely with Oerlikon Solar. Both have customers in Europe and Asia, and most have begun mass production only in the past year.

SolarWorld (OTCPK:SRWRF): The silicon solar panel maker plans to triple its factory production in Germany, its home country, to a total of 450 megawatts by the end of 2010. The announcement has a whiff of patriotism: "We are producing at the highest quality level in Germany," said CEO Frank Asbeck in the release. "Even in a more hotly contested solar market quality Made in Germany is a trump card."

SolarWorld doesn't only produce solar panels in Germany. It has a solar cell factory in Hillsboro, Ore., and it assembles the cells into panels in a factory in Camarillo, Calif. The company opened its solar cell factory last year to better tackle the growing U.S. market.

Konarka Technologies: The organic solar panel said its products would be used in several lines of portable chargers that are set for market launch in the fourth quarter of this year. The Lowell, Mass.-based company has developed a conductive polymer that could convert sunlight into electricity and easily printed onto different, flexible materials.

Organic solar films promise to be cheap, but they are simply aren't able to convert as much sunlight into electricity as panels made with silicon and other semiconductors. Making chargers to power consumer electronics and lighting fixtures are the technology's core markets for now. One of Konarka's competitors, Plextronics, recently raised $14 million to commercialize its technology.