Oerlikon Solar sees a shining future despite dark clouds over Wall Street

Wafer processing equipment and personnel. Courtesy: OerlikonI blogged about Oerlikon last summer.

Wafer processing equipment and personnel. Courtesy: Oerlikon

I blogged about Oerlikon last summer. Now the publicly-traded, Swiss-based company has come out with a new version of its turn-key thin solar panel manufacturing gear. Oerlikon Solar has developed new equipment that promises 50% more manufacturing capacity and 16% more efficient power output from each new solar panel.

Oerlikon builds and configures a turn-key thin film solar panel plant for you or your utility company. They've built two such plants in Germany, one on Taiwan. More on order both in Asia and Europe. One future plant is going into China, already a major player in standard solar panel manufacturing. It will be China's first thin-film plant.


I spoke recently with Chris O'Brien of Oerlikon Solar of North America. He says the current capital drought has reduced capital spending globally, but as that eases there is pent-up need for solar powered generation across the globe. In the past political and economic policies have been large drivers of solar investment. O'Brien said current U.S. federal law give solar tax credits an eight-year run. And the new law is far more favorable for home solar installations. In the past the limits was $2,000 worth of credit. Now homeowners get 30% of total cost with no top limit. The federal law now crucially extends the tax credits to utility companies and high income individuals so we'll be seeing solar-powered swimming pools, tennis court lights, spas and bar-b-ques in Hollywood and Hilton Head pretty quick now.

In Europe there are policies that push utilities and industries to use renewable energy sources. That's also driving solar installations there.


At utility scale, O'Brien says, their thin film solar panels will within a few years provide electricity competitive with other renewable technologies, and even with new traditional fossil fuel plants.

In Germany the law creates a firm twenty-year contract between the solar panel owner and the electric utility. The owner knows going in the capital costs and the twenty year buy-back income on the electricity that is expected to be produced. It allows firm business plans on a commercial scale.

Some American states have laws for "net metering." You generate electricity on your store or home roof and you get to use all you can generate and it comes off your utility bill. No direct payments and the electricity "price" varies from one state or utility company to another. Not all states even have metering laws. Some cities like Berkeley and Boulder are bolder--they are offering residents no cost solar panel financing with the home or business owner paying back the cost over twenty years as part of a real estate tax bill, making the entire cost tax deductible.

Solar energy in the U.S. is still an tiny portion of the total energy supply.


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