DuPont: Another Giant Mulling Over a Move Into Solar

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by Michael Kanellos

Old-line solar companies in the past few years have seen Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Chinese manufacturers come into their world.

The next wave of invasion may come from industrial chemicals.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) is contemplating ways to move into the market for building integrated photovoltaic panels, according to a spokesman. Chatter began after Tom Connelly, DuPont's chief innovation officer, said the company is "interested in moving beyond our current business. [...] You'll see us doing more in the area of building-integrated photovoltaics as we move forward," at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.

DuPont has produced encapsulants and metal pastes for the past several decades for PV makers. Tedlar, the material that serves as a back sheet for crystalline solar cells, is a de facto standard. Earlier this year, DuPont debuted a coating that could allow solar makers and OLED manufacturers to swap out heavy glass with transparent ceramic and polymer barriers.

Producing solar cells, however, would mark DuPont's first step toward being a branded manufacturer in solar. Arch-rival Dow Chemical (DOW) has already moved into producing building-integrated panels from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) in conjunction with Global Solar. (Dow also has an investment in tinyCIGS designer NuvoSun.)

Who else might join? Read Eric Wesoff's story about Corning's plans to produce substrates. 3M (MMM) markets materials for PV manufacturers and has even concocted reflective materials for solar thermal plants. All of these companies have worldwide sales organization, materials know-how, roofing expertise and factory capacity to burn. If DuPont or these other manufacturers decided to partner with a second-tier solar manufacturer or even a solar cell startup, the ingredients for a relatively overnight solar sensation would be there.

The large, electrical equipment makers, by the way, have already moved in. Westinghouse Solar has become the brand name for Akeena Solar and General Electric (GE) will have cadmium telluride panels out next year.

And that points up another trend: the rise of the 100-year-old startup. Expect to hear more about DuPont and these other companies at Solar Power International this week.

Disclosure: No positions

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